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At Madrid's Amor de Dios flamenco center, dancers are finding their rhythm again

Students at Amor de Dios Flamenco Center practice for their upcoming showcase.
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Students at Amor de Dios Flamenco Center practice for their upcoming showcase.

Updated July 4, 2022 at 8:15 AM ET

The pandemic placed competitive flamenco dancing on pause in Madrid.

And for the dancers at the legendary Amor de Dios flamenco center, a return to in-person events means a return to the stage.

Some members of NPR's All Things Considered team – Michel Martin, Miguel Macias, Tinbete Ermyas and Kira Wakeam – took a break from covering the NATO summit to get a better understanding of flamenco and its impact on the dancers.

That meant a class with instructor Carmen Rivas, known professionally as Carmen La Talegona, at the center.

The showcase involves a number of acts, performed by different students.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
The showcase involves a number of acts, performed by different students.

Rivas has traveled across Latin America and Europe. For her, Amor de Dios has been her second home since she moved to Madrid from Córdoba at 17.

While the pandemic limited the ability of flamenco artists to perform live, Rivas believes that it made the general public more aware of the dance's power as a storytelling medium.

"People want to express everything they feel and, using movement, percussion and singing as the medium ... it is musical and not just a spectacle."

Students at Amor de Dios observe each other's moves.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Students at Amor de Dios observe each other's moves.

All Things Considered host Michel Martin learned this lesson firsthand.

"Flamenco incorporates so many artforms from around the world," Martin says. "You see the emotion of opera, and the precision that you find in other classical dance traditions."

"It reminded me of our own step and tap because it's got that fierce percussion rhythm."

Rivas says that isn't a coincidence. Flamenco is transforming with the help of global influences in ways previously considered impossible.

"The older generation gets their inspiration from the great teachers, in Vuitton Manolete, Carmen Amaya, Farruco, Antonio Gades," she said.

"But other dance cultures are inspiring us younger people. Especially African and Black dance traditions, they are enriching flamenco."

One of the numbers in the showcase involves movements with a flamenco "Mantón."
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
One of the numbers in the showcase involves movements with a flamenco "Mantón."
Concentration is key when performing flamenco.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Concentration is key when performing flamenco.

For producer and self-described fashion lover Kira Wakeam, the clothes also caught her attention.

"One of the first things for me was these amazing skirts, these traditional skirts that the students are wearing called the bata de cola, which directly translates to a tail robe," she says.

"These are sort of the long, heavy skirts that you've seen on flamenco dancers that flow and move as they dance. And honestly it was really just mesmerizing."

Student at Amor de Dios performs a number with a <em>bata de cola</em>.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Student at Amor de Dios performs a number with a bata de cola.
Attire is a key aspect of flamenco, from tap shoes, to nail color, and the traditional flamenco dress.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Attire is a key aspect of flamenco, from tap shoes, to nail color, and the traditional flamenco dress.
Another number in the showcase involves performing with a hat, the so-called <em>sombrero cordobés</em>.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Another number in the showcase involves performing with a hat, the so-called sombrero cordobés.

The artform has become a way for senior producer Miguel Macias to reconnect with his native Spain — though he didn't get into flamenco until he immigrated to the U.S.

"Growing up in the south of Spain, flamenco was everywhere, but actually my parents didn't really play flamenco."

At Amor de Dios, he became choked up when the teacher began to sing.

"It just really touched me, the way everything was happening is such a pure artistic way in front of us."

Carmen Rivas, known as Carmen la Talegona, after a rehearsal with her students.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Carmen Rivas, known as Carmen la Talegona, after a rehearsal with her students.

For Rivas, flamenco dancing is less about learning a series of components than it is about abiding by an honor code.

"I always say that every person in the world has a story to tell, and from that story, there is a technique that is made."

In her travels, Rivas has seen how flamenco affects people emotionally.

"People will cry. They have a need to tell their stories and use this medium of movement to relieve their pressures and feel their culture."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Students listen to Carmen attentively as she gives final instructions for their upcoming showcase.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
Students listen to Carmen attentively as she gives final instructions for their upcoming showcase.
One of the youngest students in the class has a solo performance, and it's mesmerizing.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
One of the youngest students in the class has a solo performance, and it's mesmerizing.
A student walks down the hallways at Amor de Dios, full of history.
/ Olmo Calvo for NPR
/
Olmo Calvo for NPR
A student walks down the hallways at Amor de Dios, full of history.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Cat Sposato