In the last few years it's become more and more common for non-Spanish dance students to move to Spain to study Flamenco seriously. Usually these are students who are already some of the best in their class in their own country and feel that they are capable of much more. They often have the ambition of wanting to become professional Flamenco dancers and for some their ultimate ambition is to dance professionally in Spain - though this is something very few of them will achieve.
Because in their classes in Spain they will be in competition not only with all the other very talented Flamenco dancers who are also drawn there from all over the world, but also of course they'll also be in competition with the amazingly talented young Spanish dancers. Back in their own country and in the class they attended there, they could be a big Flamenco fish in a small Flamenco pond, with all the adulation and expectation that came with it. But once you're in Spain that all changes.
Everyone in your class is an amazing dancer and exceptional is the new normal. You have to become a totally committed dancer who would rather take a dance class than eat that day! It's no longer enough just to be good. As a guiri (a non-Spanish person) it's not enough to be as good as everyone else in your class - you have to be BETTER than them. You have to be the one who stands out in a sea of remarkable, committed and exceptionally talented dancers. Now that's hard!
And that's the reason why not many make it onto that list of non-Spanish dancers performing professionally in Spain. Though there's a lot more names on that list now than there were even 20 years ago, when the idea of a non-Spanish dancer working professionally in Spain was almost unheard of.
One of the reasons why more young non-Spanish dancers are "making it" in Spain is because they are now able to negate the biggest difference there always used to be between them and young Spanish dancers. Because for so many years young Spanish dancers were ALWAYS going to be better, with more technical ability, more knowledge and more experience - for the simple reason that they began their classes so much younger - as very young children. As older children of 10 or so, they were already performing regularly with their dance academies and entering junior Flamenco dance competitions and by the time they were in their teens they were entering professional competitions, auditioning for dance companies and attending top level classes.
In comparison, non-Spanish Flamenco dancers usually began their studies in their 20s or even in their 30s. It was unusual to find dance students in UK classes who began learning Flamenco younger than this and this meant that by the time anyone moved to Spain to dance in a more serious way, they were already at least 10 years older than the Spanish students around them - but with at least 10 years less experience!
However, this all started to change at the end of the 90s. In the 10 period of the late 90s through to 2010, we started to see the first wave of Flamenco dance students in the UK who had started dancing when they were young children, and were now in their late teens and ready for classes in Spain. These were also the first generation to have been regularly attending intensive high level courses in Spain and the UK, studying in classes with amazing teachers and in the same classes as the talented young Spanish dancers of the same age.
For these youngsters and for the others who have come after them - that was a real game changer. Suddenly we have young Flamenco dancers here in the UK who have been dancing Flamenco since they were tiny and have had mostly identical dance experiences to their Spanish counterparts. This has allowed them to mature and grow in talent at the same age and in the same way as their Spanish counterparts, which has in turn allowed them to shine just as well at auditions and to perform professionally in some really good companies, clubs and theatres in Spain.
One of these young people is a young man I have known for most of his life. When I first met him he was a very little boy who sat shyly at the back of adult classes, drinking it all in and absorbing everything he saw and heard. By the time he was an older child he was dancing in the adult classes and by his early teens he was already the best in his class - better than anyone else around him and making his mark at the many intensive courses he attended in Spain. In his later teens he moved to Spain where he worked professionally almost immediately. He was judged by the Spanish as a dancer only - they didn't care where he had been born, all that mattered to them was his top quality dancing.
Now he's back in the UK (maybe for a while, maybe for longer - only time will tell) where he's been performing and teaching. I'm really excited that you're going to have the chance to see him dance - maybe some of you have already seen him dance, but if you haven't, he'll be starring in our first Spanish Night (South) of 2017.
On Saturday 14 January, as part of the company "Tormenta Flamenca", Ollie Giffin will be dancing at our first Spanish Night of the new year, at Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot*. A great location as the venue has perfect sight lines, but still keeps that intimate feeling of being up-close to the performance in a way that theatres never offer us. Ollie is still a young man and who knows what exciting performance opportunities await him - but right now I just want as many of you as possible to come along and see him dance in this show.
Flamenco is such an amazing dance form, but you really don't need to take Flamenco dance classes to enjoy it. If you are a dance student (of any age), then watching great dancing can be very inspirational - but it also hugely enjoyable to watch if you'll never put a pair of dance shoes on your feet again. The power and passion of Flamenco music and dance is like no other. If you've never seen a live Flamenco show then I urge you to see one - and if possible, not in a theatre but in a more intimate venue where you'll almost be part of the show, you're so close to the energy of the performance.
Even 20 years ago it would have been unthinkable, but now when I look at the little children dancing in their weekly Flamenco classes I wonder "which of these little dancers, these niños Flamencos, will grow up to be professional dancers in Spain?" and the answer is - who knows, but now we know it's perfectly possible if that's what you really want.
If you have the talent.
* Tickets for this show are available from the box office Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot. Please follow this link to purchase tickets: https://www.cornerstone-arts.org/whats/spanish-night-spring-2017