In Spain it’s quite normal to be asked “are you a Flamenco?” and what they mean by that is “are you a Flamenco dancer or musician or someone who neither dances, plays or sings, but loves Flamenco and go to as many shows as possible and surrounds yourself with Flamenco?”.
This wording of this simple question tells us that Flamenco is not just a dance form or a type of music or song, it’s also a social life - it’s a lifestyle.
If you live in Andalucia, whether you are Spanish or not, living the Flamenco lifestyle is one of the big draws for many people who got there for holidays or to live. You can find the Flamenco lifestyle in many Spanish towns and cities, not just the main centres of Flamenco like Sevilla, Jerez or Madrid – though in these places you find it in abundance. You’ll also find it wherever there is enough Spanish people living in one place to make a community, so for example, if you live in or around London it’s very easy to be part of the Flamenco scene there, the many different classes, countless Spanish bars, different Flamenco shows, events, Flamenco clubs or peñas and of course parties. All of which combine to allow you to enjoy a Flamenco based social life.
But what about the many Flamencos who live in other parts of the UK?
This is something we discussed almost from the time that Camino del Flamenco was set up. We knew that if the students who came along to our classes were going to keep on coming, year after year, and if we were going to attract a constant stream of new students we had to give them the ability to “be Flamencos”. To take part in and attend as many shows and events as possible and develop a social life based around their shared enjoyment of Flamenco.
We’re based in Oxfordshire and if you don’t know the area it would be tempting to think of it as rolling green fields with a few locals leaning on their fences with a straw in their mouth - or maybe doing a spot of fox hunting before returning to the country pile to berate the servants. But actually, after London, it is the area with the largest Spanish community, with close to 70,000 people of Spanish descent or native Spanish living there, particularly around the city of Oxford.
The idea of creating a Flamenco culture, together with a desire to make sure our students were inspired by seeing really good quality Flamenco on a regular basis was how the idea for bi-monthly Spanish Nights began. We call them “Spanish Nights” so “it does what it says on the tin” and everyone understands what they are booking tickets for!
Every Spanish Night is slightly different, as each group that comes to perform brings something different, but all have the same basic premise and that is that we set it up like a peña in Spain, very social and with the audience seated at tables where they can chat between shows. We bring really good quality groups as we believe that even if you don’t know a lot about Flamenco, you’ll always know if something is good or not. So people come along, meet other like-minded people, have a laugh and chat and a dance – in fact enjoying a good night out. This will sound very familiar to anyone who attends any Spanish Peña regularly and in fact when we had a performance from a group in Sevilla last year they said how much like a typical Spanish peña it was!
This idea that studying a certain type of dance will also give you a whole social world is not just confined to Flamenco of course – you’ll find similar things with Salsa, Kizomba and Tango. Maybe it’s a Spanish/South American thing where the social life and the social dancing is part of the culture. But then what about British folk music and even British clogging and Morris-dancing? They have a massive social scene that goes hand in hand with learning to play and dance this folk art. However, even these have one big thing in common – they are the music, song and dance of the people, for the people, by the people and enjoyed by the people.
It starts from the ground up…….and out of the ground in Spain comes passion, a love of life and laughter, a need to be happy and carefree in the face of enormous odds and an energy and capacity for enjoyment rivalled by few around the world.
Here in Oxfordshire most of our students meet this for the first time in our classes, but this type of energy and enjoyment is very seductive and so we do our absolute best to persuade them to come along to our Spanish Nights. We know that we only have to get them into one…..and then they will just keep on coming until they become an essential part and a much looked forward-to part, of their lives.
It isn’t possible to really understand Flamenco, let alone enjoy it or love it, until you have seen it performed live by good professionals (or non-professionals who do it really, really well). Without this, coming along to weekly classes becomes just another dance exercise class and the only thing that students who don’t go to live performances is doing is massively cheating themselves.
In fact I’m going to go further at this point and say that I truthfully believe that EVERYONE should go to see a live Flamenco performance at some point in their lives. They may not necessarily be converted to “Flamenco love”, but until they do so they absolutely cannot even have an opinion on Flamenco.
So, you know what to do……..see you at the next Spanish Night!