DUENDE. Such an effervescent word. It’s so mysterious and longed for. It’s that special quality of a moment in flamenco or of a flamenco artist.
“Ese bailaora tiene mucho duende.”
That dancer has so much…… what IS the word? Expressiveness, soul, charisma.
But it’s not always there.
Duende can also be a moment in a performance where there’s magic and magnetism, when all are captivated by the pure energy.
I’ve been chasing that feeling, that moment while dancing my entire flamenco career. I have felt that wonderful feeling while dancing when all was balanced. I felt strong, centered, in the moment. I felt supported by the cuadro. I felt the special energy from the audience. The feeling is very cathartic.
While doing some decluttering (project during COVID, ya know) I found this magazine with an amazing feature on Flamenco that I’ve had stashed since 1991!
Back in 1990 I was getting ready to start my junior year at UC Berkeley as a Comparative Literature major. But I was also a very successful belly dancer slash San Franciscan bohemian. I had lost interest in academics and arrived on campus and said to myself, “I’m quitting school to go study Spanish in Spain.” I already spoke Spanish (or Spanglish, LOL) but it sounded like a great idea.
And that’s what I did. I quit college, went to work, saved my money and left for Spain. (Don’t worry, I went back to school and double majored in Dance -with an emphasis on Dance Ethnology- and Spanish Language & Literature.)
I had always wanted to be a flamenco dancer but alas I didn’t start learning flamenco in Spain when I first had the chance. I stayed in Barcelona for a few months having too much fun. Then I traveled throughout Andalucía and western Europe.
I had tried to sit in on a flamenco class in Sevilla, but the teacher told me NO and that scared the crap out of me. So funny now to think of it because as a teacher I would have done the same thing.
Along my travels, I ended up in Berne, Switzerland visiting a friend and landed in a used book store where I found this amazing magazine that has inspired me for *cough* close to 30 years! It would be a few more years, though, that I was able to start my true calling in life of flamenco by taking classes with Yaelisa in San Francisco and then finally moving to Madrid.
Back to the magazine. The woman on the cover is singer/dancer La Pescailla. This image to me conveys everything about flamenco. She’s passionate, empowered, expressive, beautiful. I’ve kept the magazine throughout the years to remind me about how I wanted to be as a flamenco dancer.
Chasing that DUENDE.
The funniest part of seeing this picture now is that I think she looks the way I felt traveling alone as a 21-year-old in Europe: passionate, empowered, expressive, beautiful. And it feels good to know that indeed I’ve had moments in flamenco and in everyday life feeling what she’s expressing.