Friday, December 4, 2009

Olé! Q&A with Flamenco Instructor Julie Baggenstoss

Julie Baggenstoss is on our faculty this year, teaching a course called Dances and Dance Forms. This course features a different dance form each year (past forms include West African dance and Kuchipudi from India), and this year's form is Flamenco. Julie (pictured) answered a few questions for us about her experience and about Flamenco as a dance form.

How long have you been involved with flamenco dance and what drew you to it?
I have been involved with flamenco dance for 13 years. I was first drawn to flamenco by chance. After dancing all of my life, I wanted to try a different form when I was in my early 20s. I opened the Yellow Pages and saw a choice of belly dance or flamenco. I chose the latter, most likely because during my teenage years, I had been introduced to “Spanish tap,” the men's footwork portion of Mexican folkloric dance. The rhythms and use of the feet were interesting to me, initially.

Where and with whom did you study flamenco? Are you still studying?
My first teacher was Teresa Romero Torkanowsky, in New Orleans. I've also studied with Ulrika Frank in Atlanta, as well as a number of teachers in Spain. Some of my most influential teachers in Spain are Manuela Reyes, for her outstanding technique class, and Soraya Clavijo for her edgy style and instruction in improvisational dance. I currently study with teachers who offer workshops in the United States. I am studying flamenco singing now more than dance, but I am still studying dance. Most recently, I've been learning from New York-based dancer La Meira; Antonio Hidalgo, who does everything in flamenco, from dance to direct music to produce; and Marija Temo, who teaches singing, guitar, and dance as a whole flamenco package.

A few years ago, you were featured in People magazine as someone who made a career change to “follow your dream.” Tell me a little more about your life before your flamenco career and why you made the switch.
I was a television and Web writer, producer, and manager. The hours were long and often demanded my holidays. As I got older, I wanted more flexibility with my schedule. Trading full-time work for contract work gave me the opportunity to travel to Spain to develop my ability in flamenco. The more I learned, the more I realized that it would be possible to pursue a passion and make a living, albeit on a lower salary level then my previous career.

How does flamenco benefit your students—what do they gain from learning the art form?
Flamenco is beneficial on several levels, because it is deep and wide. There are the usual benefits, such as physical activity, mental exercise, and personal confidence. Much of flamenco takes place in the Spanish language, and students learn at least some Spanish vocabulary to communicate in class or understand song lyrics. Then, there is exposure to cultural differences. Flamenco is flamenco because of its influences: Spanish, Jewish, Indo-Pakistani, Moorish, and African cultures, all tied together by the gypsy lifestyle and its values, which are in opposition to many mores in the United States of America. Despite the cultural differences, many people who study flamenco realize that the emotional expression on which the art is based, transcends the gypsy experience that first gave rise to songs, dance, and music hundreds of years ago. Through this, students relate the experiences of people in another part of the world to their own lives. They learn about themselves, their own emotions, and perhaps get to express them through art.

How are you involved with flamenco in the Atlanta community (teaching, performances, etc.), and how can people interested in learning flamenco find classes or local performances?
I am involved in a number of projects and small businesses in Atlanta that produce and promote flamenco. I am a member of AIRE Flamenco, a live flamenco cuadro that performs throughout the Southeastern United States. I teach classes to the public at Several Dancers Core in downtown Decatur. And, I present national and international flamenco artists in workshops and performances in Atlanta. Information about the events that I organize and others can be found at Atlanta's flamenco website,

Are there any interesting facts/trivia about flamenco that you can share?
At its root, flamenco is an improvised art form. It began when gypsies sang out to express emotion hundreds of years ago when no one was recording history in a journal. It wasn't until the late 19th century that flamenco was presented on stage, and the public, non-gypsies that is, became introduced to this fascinating art form. Since then, flamenco has evolved and exists in two arenas: the original form of flamenco that is still improvised and takes place only at parties and private settings; and, the public presentation of flamenco on stage, with costumes, lights, and lightning-fast footwork. No matter in which setting you experience flamenco, you'll hear the performers and audience members shouting “Olé,” “Toma que toma,” “Vamos aya.” These are what we call a "jaleos," cheers of encouragement that are part of the exchange of emotional expression. So, when you're attending a flamenco performance, listen for these cheers. And, if they come from the person sitting next to you in the audience, don't worry; shouting at the performers is proper theater etiquette for flamenco.

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