When I first got to Sevilla, and people saw me dance at parties or wherever, they often were shocked to learn I'm American. How on earth could an American learn to dance flamenco? And with such 'aire.' A group of people nicknamed me the 'gitana de nueva york.' It was fun at first. It got me plenty of free drinks. Great. But really, being the sideshow as an American who really looks flamenco when she dances has worn off. Let's get over it and move on. Let's look deeper at the art, the art form, the content that is being expressed.
Anyone can dance flamenco if they apply themselves. Really, anyone. Beyond learning the steps and music, if someone wants to express themselves and dances from the inside out, they can be 'flamenco.' Music and dance are universal, even music/dance forms that were born in a specific country/culture. So let's stop looking at dancers as some ethnicity dancing flamenco, and just look at them as a flamenco dancer, a person, an artist. They either transmit something to you, or they don't. You enjoy their dancing and like their aesthetic, or you don't. Their country of origin shouldn't come into the picture if they have taken the time to truly study and understand the culture from which it was born, and then found their own way within that. Where someone is from shouldn't make them a better dancer or a worse dancer.
I'm definitely not the first American or foreigner to experience this. Even for very successful dancers of origins other than Spain, it is still an uphill battle for them. I have a friend who will be dancing at the Festival de Jerez (one of the biggest and most prestigious festivals in spain) and she also won a big competition here earlier this year, and still it's a struggle for her to be seen as a flamenco dancer, and not an American flamenco dancer.
I don't feel foreign to flamenco; it's the language I've chosen, or that chose me, to express myself.
Flamenco has always had this ethnicity struggle; originally it was the debate about whether or not a non-gypsy could really dance flamenco. Now it's whether or not a Spaniard or non-Spaniard can dance, and yet there still exists that first camp of thought that only the gypsies know how to dance. But flamenco is no longer something that can be learned solely in a living room. It is a complicated art form that needs to be studied. Even the Farruco's, who grow up surrounded by flamenco study the technique, internalize it, personalize it. Yes they have their own technique and style of dancing, but it's not something they were born with; they studied and continue to study. Yes, you have to 'live' flamenco in the sense that you need to understand the culture that gave birth to it and continues to nurture it--but nowadays, there are many influences, foreign and local, that nurture flamenco.
They key I think, is not to imitate. To understand the art form, and then use it as a means to express oneself. A dancer who copies another dancer's movements without understanding the intention behind the step cannot transmit or express. That means the understanding of the art cannot be skin deep, it has to be searched for from within.
And on that note I would also like to share the following video from Alonzo King, who is a contemporary ballet choreographer. He speaks about imitation and the creative process in this interview, and I think it applies wholeheartedly to flamenco and all arts.
(there's no way to embed the video, so please copy and paste the link)