“Flamenco is cool”

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Girls as young as four enroll in Matilde Coral ’s Dance School in Triana to begin learning the art of Andalusian dancing. Carmen, a little ‘bailaora ’, and María, her professor, explain their love for this traditional dance.

It is 5:15 pm on a Wednesday afternoon and sevenyear-old Carmen Pérez skips through the door with her grandma lagging behind. With a doll under one arm and a Disney Princess dance bag over her shoulder, Carmen is looking pretty in pink. She is dressed in pink tights, a pink leotard, pink high top converse, and a flowy pink skirt. She is the first one to arrive for her flamenco class at Matilde Coral’s Dance School, located at 82 Castilla Street, in the Sevillan neighborhood of Triana.

Carmen sits on one of the benches in the lobby to swap her pink converse for dancing shoes. “I dance because I like it and it’s cool,” she says bluntly. When a group of girls her age walk in, her face grows with excitement. They all scream one another’s name and run to hug each other. The little girls in their school uniforms go to the dressing room and emerge dressed in pink and ready for dance practice. They all run to their mothers and kiss them goodbye before stepping onto the hardwood floor. The instructor slides the door shut and the clacking of heels begins.

From the entrance of the school one can hear everything from flamenco and sevillanas to classical ballet music, accompanied by the clapping of palms. There are dozens of framed vintage pictures plastered all over the walls. The same bailaora is the focus of every image, wearing an array of beautiful flamenco gowns—the very Matilde Coral. She is known for her unique style and regarded as one of the most important flamenco dancers of her time. She defines her dance as “taking its own air from the environment itself, plateresque, very clean,
much improvised, very fresh, and very relaxed”.

Matilde Corrales González (her real name) founded her Escuela de Danza Matilde Coral in 1967 and was also an instructor until the age of 65, when she put away the flamenco shoes and retired. Alicia González, who has been the school’s secretary for 20 years, says the school has been very successful, although recently the number of students has dropped because of the economic crisis in Spain, leaving the number at around 60. Girls start practicing the dance as young as four years old, following in the footsteps of Matilde Coral who also started at an early age.

Matilde’s youngest daughter, María García Corrales, who’s 32 and has been dancing since she was eight, has vivid memories of watching her mother perform on big stages, glorified by her audience. She remembers the way her mother would light up a room when she danced. “I started to dance because it runs in my family. My mother was an instructor, my sister is an instructor and in the end, I ended up loving it. However, I dedicate the majority of my time to ballet rather than flamenco because I enjoy it more,” she explains. María helps her sister Rocío to run the school since her mother’s retirement.

María García teaches different age groups, including a handful of four to seven year olds. She says  sometimes it can be tough working with the little ones because they don’t understand the meaning of the dance. There are days they are excited and eager to learn, and others when they arrive in a bad mood. But overall she is happy to teach such a beautiful part of the Spanish culture to the next generation.

Alicia, one of Matilde Coral’s granddaughters, also decided to become a dancer and instructor. She remembers as a toddler going to her grandmother’s dance school to observe, and began taking classes when she was seven. Now she makes a living through flamenco. “Dance is a tough career path and if you decide to take the route as a dancer. You have to have a passion for it. It consumes a lot of your time and can be stressful. It can also be very therapeutic and I like to use it as a way of venting. I decided to take this path because I fell in love with it. It’s like a drug,” she says.

Alicia explains that as a little girl there were many times where she just wanted to stay home and play with her toys rather than go to flamenco practice. But as she got older, she learned to see the beauty in the art of flamenco and grew to appreciate it. If she has kids, she hopes they also follow the tradition of dancing.

It is now 6:30 pm and flamenco class is over. María slides the doors open, and the little girls run out in their long flamenco skirts and into their mothers’ arms, heels still clacking.