Let's Dance

An academic discussion of flamenco--followed by flamenco.

It’s rare to see students out of bed at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning, but East Duke 209 was packed beyond capacity for the opening lecture of “Flamenco Alive!: New Research in the Vital Art of Flamenco.” Perhaps it was the anticipation of the following weekend’s performance by the Flamenco Vivo dance company—or the promise of a master class led by Carlota Santana, Flamenco Vivo’s artistic director— but this was one academic symposium that got people on their feet.

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Their turn: Carlota Santana's master class at the Ark attracted students of all dance levels. [Credit: Alec Himwich]

Flamenco, the energetic style of dance and music that originated in the Spanish region of Andalusia, has transcended artistic expression to become a cultural touchstone, one seen as integral to the region’s cultural heritage. Part of the conference focused on scholarly reflections on the art form, with a panel of experts weighing in on the tensions between preserving its traditions and cultivating creative innovation. “It’s a productive tension,” said William Washabaugh, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who recently published a book on preserving flamenco. “It’s like rowing a boat: You’re facing backwards while going forward.”

Barbara Dickinson, a professor of the practice of dance and organizer of the symposium, was particularly excited about keynote speaker Meira Goldberg, who studies the black and African roots of flamenco. “Her research into African rhythms and influence is fascinating because of our African- American dance program,” Dickinson says. In fact, several students of African dance came to the event to broaden their cultural dance vocabulary.

But Dickinson also was determined to move more than the audience’s minds. Presentations were sprinkled with video clips and audio tracks that had participants tapping along. Those who signed up early enough went on to the afternoon session with Santana, who taught a similarly popular course through Duke’s dance program this past fall.

“Embodied knowledge is so rich,” Dickinson says. “When you get into a dance, you enter into the cultural values of the art form. You really enter into another world.”

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