Falling for flamenco

Laura Onizuka first encountered the art form in a video in Spanish class. Now she teaches the dance, including at an upcoming Lincoln City retreat

People come to the Oregon Coast for all sorts of reasons – the beach, the views, the seafood, the sea life. At the end of the month, they’ll come for a reason that may seem as foreign as the country that inspired it: to dance the flamenco. Portland dancer and instructor Laura Onizuka will share her talent and knowledge during the Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast, Feb. 28 through March 1 in Lincoln City. We talked with Onizuka about the art form – a combination of dance, song, and instrumental music from southern Spain. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Flamenco instructor Laura Onizuka describes flamenco as “celebratory, passionate, melancholy.” Photo by: Chris Leck

What is flamenco?

Onizuka: It’s an art form and it’s music, dance, rhythm, language, communication. There are different facets: singing, guitar, dancing. It’s categorized by singing styles, based on the regions they come from and the influences from other parts of the world. For flamenco as we know it today, the place you want to go is Andalucía, Spain. That’s where great flamenco is being born. Madrid would be the hub. A lot of people go there to collaborate and just grow.

What can you tell us about its history?

It’s so complex. Some people say it comes from Gypsies in India originally. Some say that’s not true. It has influence from the Gypsies, Spanish folklore, musical influences from South America and Africa. So much of it was in the oral tradition, so there are not necessarily records of this art form until more recently. There’s a lot of romanticizing the Gypsy culture, but it’s about a lot more than that. People are still arguing about it and figuring it out. Where did it become the flamenco art form? In southern Spain. That’s not disputed.

Participants in the Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast receive instruction in baile (dance) and palmas (hand-clapping) and learning about letras (flamenco songs). Photo courtesy: Laura Onizuka

How did you come to flamenco?

I saw flamenco in a Spanish class video in college. Everyone got to watch a different video from Spain. I chose flamenco. I was intrigued. A few years later, I graduated and went to Spain to find out more. That was 20 years ago. At first, I’d done it as a hobby, then I started workshops with visiting artists from Spain. I wanted to have high-quality flamenco and I was in Oregon so it’s kind of hard. I used to be an elementary school teacher and my friends started asking me to teach flamenco. When I finally gave in and said OK, all of a sudden it was what I was doing and I stopped teaching elementary school.

My favorite thing to do is lead people to Spain. It’s sort of like the coast trip, but on a bigger scale. It’s important to be aware of where this art form comes from. It’s a culture, not just some dance moves. That’s why I love to have people here from Spain and to take people to Spain and give people resources in Spain. It’s important to respect the art form, and that means listening to the music, seeing it in its place of birth. Not everybody can do that. But everyone can participate in a workshop here. Everyone can go online and see real flamenco.

What is it that speaks to you?

Students at a flamenco retreat practice “palmas,” the rhythmic hand-clapping that accompanies the dance. Photo courtesy: Laura Onizuka

It’s the emotions that it evokes. It just makes me feel a lot to see it and to do it. It can be celebratory, passionate, melancholy. Passionate is how people describe it, but it is a lot more than that. It can be intense. Beautiful. It can be ugly too. It can be raw, polished. It can be all of those things.

What should participants expect to experience at the Oregon Coast retreat?

I focus on dance, because that is the area I’ve studied the most. We also sometimes study a song or two. I don’t know how to sing flamenco, but I know how the songs work with the dancing. We look at the relationship between the singer and the dance. That is an essential part of flamenco. It’s a language. You have to understand how the singing works and how the guitar works and how the rhythm works. We look at the singing and rhythm in relationship to the dancing. Also, it’s really about gathering together with people who share a common interest. Flamenco doesn’t appeal to everybody, so it’s nice to gather with others who have a similar love for this art form.

*

This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.