Flamenco fever lures Spanish dancers to Asia

Flamenco fever lures Spanish dancers to Asia

27th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Riding the flamenco wave from Spain to Asia has proved lucrative and successful for many flamenco dancers looking for work in the field.

Madrid -- Flamenco fever is gripping swathes of Asia, luring hard-hit Spanish dancers and breathing new life into a centuries-old art that touches the soul of Spain.

Like dozens of other flamenco artists, Tomas Arroquero travels every year to Asia to work for several months. The lean 40-year-old Australian, whose parents are Spanish, has taught flamenco in Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong since he moved to Spain in 1995 to explore his passion for flamenco.

Without job opportunities on the other side of the globe many flamenco artists say it would be impossible to work year-round and dedicate their lives to the song, music and dance of flamenco.

Chinese dance students practicing Spanish flamenco dancing during an evening class at the Jazz du Funk dance school in Shanghai

"It is very difficult to sustain yourself full-time in flamenco in Spain. There is so much going on, so many good artists in Spain. Interest from outside provides opportunities," said Arroquero.

Teaching jobs are especially important since they provide the most stable and reliable source of income for many flamenco artists, said Yuko Aoyama, a sociological geography professor at Clark University in the US state of Massachusetts who has studied the trend.

Globalisation raised fears of a common global culture drowning out local art forms like flamenco but instead it has generated new audiences and much-needed sources of income for performers, she said.

"The commercialisation of art and the expansion of markets for art is typically viewed as a bad thing but actually without these markets these arts themselves would find it more difficult to survive," said Aoyama.

Examples of other local arts that have received a boost from interest from abroad include Romanian gypsy dance, Brazilian samba dance and classical Japanese calligraphy, she said.

Though its origins are obscure, flamenco's beginnings have been traced to the interplay of Arabic, Sephardic Jewish and gypsy cultures in the 15th century in the region of Andalucia in southwestern Spain.

Since then flamenco, with its colourful dresses with layers of ruffles known as "trajes de faraleas", has become an icon of Spanish culture which has also become popular among foreigners.

Early last year the regional government of Andalucia launched a bid to have flamenco declared part of the world's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations.

It is collecting petitions in support of the bid from around the world on a website that provides information in Spanish, English, French and Japanese.

There are no official figures for the number of Spanish flamenco teachers who travel to Asia to work each year. But in Japan alone there are over 600 flamenco schools that offer flamenco lessons to more than 60,000 students, according to the Japanese Flamenco Association -- meaning more than in Spain itself.

Demand for flamenco teachers has risen rapidly in neighbouring China, which overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy, along with the emergence of a growing, and increasingly Westernised middle class.

China, Shanghai : Instructor Maria Fernandee Garcia (R) leading a group of Chinese dance students as they practice Spanish flamenco dancing during an evening class at the Jazz du Funk dance school in Shanghai

As the number of Spaniards living in Asia is relatively small, most schools in the region resort to recruiting teachers directly from Spain.

Manuel Betanzos, who owns a top-ranked flamenco school in the southwestern city of Seville that shares his name, started giving classes in Japan during part of the year in the late 1990s.

He goes to the country each summer to give private lessons as well as lead workshops, as do the four other dancers who teach at his school.

"It helps economically and in reality it is a period when there is not much work here. Of course it helps flamenco thrive," said Betanzos.

Like most flamenco schools in Spain, Betanzos' institution also benefits from the influx of dozens of students from Asia, mostly from Japan, who come to Spain to study the dance form.

Not all flamenco performers who take up short-term teaching jobs in Asia do it for the money. Some, like Claudio Tejero, 36, were drawn by the opportunity to live abroad and experience another culture first-hand.

"I wanted to see what living in Japan was like but I would not return to teach there again. I prefer to teach in Spain, the students there lacked a certain spark," he said in Madrid.

Daniel Silva / AFP / Expatica

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