“When I saw the flamenco for the first time, it touched me. It opened something huge in my heart. I couldn’t breathe. I was overwhelmed by its power and sensational strength. I had to have it in my life” - Veronica Merande, 37 year-old flamenco dancer.
The flamenco stays with you. Without knowing the back-story, you can feel the weight of the message it bears through its rawness and honesty. There’s no façade. Just movement, song and beat drenched in emotion; a historical legacy of gypsies both past and present.
It has been described as “hot steel piercing through your heart” by a Spanish poet, which nails it on the head (pardon the pun) considering its roots. Gypsies were made to work in blacksmiths and potteries during the 15th century when Catholic monarchs took reign of Seville in Spain’s south, disrupting a once harmonious and peaceful society of Jews, Moors, Christians and gypsies. They were sadly casted alongside anyone else who was not Catholic to the nearby town of Triana across the river and considered not part of society or having purpose. Within these blacksmiths, workers wanted to express their day-to-day anguish and struggle. They struck the metal with fierceness and fashioned rhythmic beats as they sung stories (cante) of their persecution and discrimination. It was a way to vent but to also to communicate what had been silenced.
|The art of flamenco|
When the men were allowed to work outside of these blacksmiths and return to other industries of their choice, women began to dance (baile). They dressed in their finest dresses and combined Venetian and Indian movements (symbolic of gypsies’ migration from Rajasthan in India’s north to throughout Asia and then to Europe) to embody the words of their men. Later, clapping (palmas) and guitar playing (toque) were also introduced to the ensemble to create the flamenco routine we know today.
These stories have not been lost. They remain captured through flamenco performances, re-enacted in front of audiences in Spain and but also worldwide as the dance has grown and evolved in popularity.
Veronica is one of these flamenco dancers, keeping the tradition alive today in Seville where it all started. Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Veronica moved to Seville five years ago in a pursuit to connect on a deeper level with the art form that transfixed her from the moment she saw it. “In Argentina, I was performing at a top level but something was missing. I had a feeling inside. Seville was a fantasy place to me. I would watch every flamenco clip on youtube and only dreamed of possibly going there one day.”
That niggling feeling didn’t go away. Veronica listened to what her heart desired and made the leap. “I sold everything I owned, bought a one-way ticket for Seville and fare welled my family, friends and life in Argentina.”
Veronica, a leading lady in her own right, kindly opened up and shared with me her story – the life of a flamenco dancer. Through her story, she peels back the various layers of connection that envelop this captivating, centuries-old art form.
Veronica begins, “The flamenco is a very difficult and demanding performance. To be great, you have to know yourself and be sure of yourself. It forces you to go inwards and dig really deep to develop your own style and interpretation… And when you dance, you dance with your heart on your sleeve. You’re fierce in your movements but also so terribly vulnerable."
|In the lime light|
Upon arrival in Seville, Veronica dived head first into flamenco classes, trialing new teachers and styles. It was a dream to be in the heart of flamenco, but with the joy came challenge. “The first year was very hard. I was alone and my money was running out as I was spending all my savings on lessons. Finding a job proved impossible because of the financial situation in Spain. I started doubting if I had made the right decision.”
Veronica kept her spirits high and drew on her angst to enrich her dance. “This is what the flamenco is about. It’s how it originated among the gypsies. When you have to struggle, you explode and express through movement… You have to connect with your emotions and it’s hard to transform your emotions into an art like dance, but at the same time, it’s very empowering for the dancer. It’s cathartic.”
Through the flamenco social circles in Seville, Veronica found her current teacher, long time mistress of the art, Ana Japan. “I’ve had over 20 different teachers over the past 10 years that I’ve been dancing and Ana has given me something no other teacher has. She has allowed me to grow and change through my dance. She gives me tips but not a set structure. She encourages me to not give up, to connect with the beat of the music and to give my own interpretation,” Veronica shared.
|Ana knows how to captivate an audience|
Choosing the right mentor, like with all things, is personal. “It has nothing to do with the teacher’s dancing style or technique for me. It’s whether I connect with them... Whether they can help identify and push me through my blocks so I can grow and expand.”
Like the artist that Veronica is, she is also a clever creator of flamenco flower accessories, which is what has supported her Seville dream. “Making flowers was always a hobby of mine, but then I had the idea that I could sell my hand-made colourful flowers and bring the spirit of flamenco alive and it has worked.” Veronica has been selling her precious flower designs at the well-known flamenco tavern La Carboneria for the past four years. “These flowers were actually my in. After selling my flowers for a while and talking to the flamenco performers there, I was offered a performance slot and now dance three times a week in front of an audience… It’s funny how things work out. ”
|Veronica and I showing off her gorgeous flowers|
As the flamenco has become more international, it’s also lost a lot of its realness and authenticity; that certain zang that sets it apart. “So many people are striving for a certain level in the flamenco world but it’s endless. Women are trying to imitate famous dancers but it’s impossible because no one will ever dance the same. It is the individuality of your own interpretation which makes the flamenco an art,” Veronica added. It may indeed have the beat of classical dance, but don’t let this fool you. Flamenco takes that beat and then “breaks it” as Veronica puts it. “There should always be just something missing in its perfection. It needs to be as close to perfect as possible, but not quite, which is an extremely difficult intensity to maintain.”
After all this time, Veronica in all her modesty still doesn’t consider herself a professional. “It’s a life long journey… I’m still discovering the essence of a live performance. I’m learning. When something goes well on stage, you feel it. When something goes wrong, you also feel it.”
It was a dream to dance in Seville. Veronica’s next dream is to perform on the main stage in La Carboneria. “I’m just following the signs at the moment. When the time is right, I’ll beat my heals into that floor with my own flare and grunt. No one else’s style but mine. I can assure you.”
Feel the power of the flamenco here in this video, which is a culmination of performances I watched at La Carboneria, featuring both Veronica and Ana. If you are in Seville, do go to the La Carboneria (Address: C./ Levies, 18 Seville) and see Veronica in her fine form each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening from 12pm. If you fancy one of her simply divine flowers, she sells them every night. I have one :)
|His fingers moved at lightning speed. Absolutely mind-blowing|
How have you discovered your own style? Your own brand of you? Have you learnt more about you by just doing something you love? Maybe it’s been through the arts like Veronica, or traveling to an off the beaten track destination, or by changing jobs or through simply moving your body each day (team sport, marathon, beach swim. You name it). Probably all the above. What have you learnt (or learning) about you? Do share!