The Girl Who Did Not Want to Dance

This is Pastora / ISABELA MADRIGAL

Pastora Galván has danced for as long as she has been able to stand on her feet. Born into an important flamenco lineage, she is one of today’s most celebrated flamenco dancers in the world. Beyond that, she struggles every day to provide a happy life both for her daughter and herself.

“I define my flamenco style as a mixture: pure flamenco, with perhaps something modern. Because in my house, I have both. I have my parents, who are pure flamenco, and I have my brother Israel, who is more contemporary, more linear, like a Picasso. I’m in the middle, I love every type of dance. And I like to learn because I believe that you never stop learning. I like to take from here, take from there; but, honestly, what I carry within myself, like Israel, is pure, pure flamenco. It’s my family, right? You hear flamenco and it gives you goosebumps. Flamenco is a lifestyle, and it has been my life because my mother danced with us while she was pregnant. When a baby is in the mother’s womb, the baby hears what is outside. I remember when I was a little girl, my mother would put on flamenco for me to watch instead of cartoons. Or when she was feeding me, she would clap her hands and say, ‘Ole, ole con ole, my girl, here comes the spoon’.”


“So, I have grown up surrounded by the sound of heels tapping, guitars, and singing. When I left school, I would go to my father’s academy, and that is where I played. Or, my father would go to work at the Tablao de La Trocha at night, and I would cry because my father was leaving, and I was very much a daddy’s girl, and he would say, ‘Come on, get your pacifier, and let’s go,’ and I would fall asleep in the stroller, listening to flamenco. Or, at one o’clock in the morning, when little girls get sleepy, my father would push three chairs together and I would lie down, and he would cover me up.
And now, I am also a mother. I danced while I was pregnant with my daughter up until seven and a half months. And when I had her, I was giving classes, and I remember that she would cry, and cry, and cry. And well, how could I calm her? So I would pick her up and tap with my heels holding her in my arms, and she would fall asleep. What you heard in the womb is what you carry inside. I remember when I was dancing at the theater, I would bring Pastora, finish dancing, and breastfeed her.”

“It’s not that I liked flamenco or that it was something I wanted to do for a living; it’s just that I grew up on it. I felt different from the other girls. Today, I am grateful to my parents. At first, it was difficult, because I didn’t have time to play. I would finish school, eat, and run to the conservatory. And then I’d run home, do homework, eat, and sleep. And all of my friends…birthday parties, playing, going out. A weekend would come and I couldn’t go out. My father enrolled me in the conservatory so that I could have a degree I didn’t want. In the conservatory, I didn’t just study dance; I had to study anatomy, costume, body expression, contemporary dance, dance history, music, a little bit of makeup. These are things that benefit you if  you want to dedicate yourself professionally to dance or start an academy. And a dancer should know, if you break a bone, they want you to know which bone it is. So, there came a moment at fourteen years old, when I was tired. And my dad would say, ‘you have to go, you have to go.’ And I would respond,  ‘I can’t play with my dolls, I can’t play with my friends. I can’t do anything but dance, school, dance, school’.”
Well, when I finished the conservatory, my father wanted me to take the stage, and I was dancing from the time I was 18 to 20 years old at the Tablao Los Gallos, in the Santa Cruz neighborhood. And later, my father took me [with his company] to the United States. He has taken me to France, to Japan, to Peru, to Cuba, to England…This, he did because it’s what he would have done  himself. Also, when I was 21 years old, he entered me in a dance competition in Córdoba, where I won a national prize, and that was important for my career. After that, I began my solo career. But of course, although he helped me, I had to do the work myself. I had to show that I was worthy. Yes, today I see it, and I am grateful for it. I am grateful to my father. But, obviously, at fourteen years old, I was a little bored. My father was like Hitler.”

Pastora Galván / ANTONIO PÉREZ

“I have a stage persona, but she is part of me. I remember when I was a little girl, when I was in my father’s academy, I never wanted to dance. It turns out that when you have dance at home, you don’t pay much attention to it. All of the girls would dance, and I wouldn’t take it seriously. But my father, at the end of the course each year, would rent out an important theater, like Lope de Vega or Álvarez Quintero, and bring all the girls to dance to show their parents everything that they had learned. And when the time came for the performance, I wanted to dance. And I would get angry with my father because I would say, ‘I want to dance!’ and my father would say, ‘no, because you don’t know a single step.’  And I’d answer, ‘I’ll do it! I’ll do it!’ So, when I went out to dance, I’d make it up, or imitate the other girls; if one put her arms up, well then I would put mine up, too. And the people would say, ‘look, she’s such an artist. That’s her father; he set it up this way to show her off.’
But it’s just that I had my own way of dancing and I still do, because when I dance, I get into the role: into what they sing, what they play. I feel it, you see? If there is pain, if it is funny, more serious, happier. My brother Israel created a show for me years ago, La Francesa,  and I played various roles of different women. The flamenco woman, the abused woman, the cabaret woman, the more sensual woman. Many styles of women, and I fit well into them. There was a show called ‘Identities,’ where I represented the different styles of female flamenco dancers that there were in Seville during the 70’s. Because nowadays, almost everybody dances the same, but in the 70’s, everyone differentiated themselves. The good flamenco dancers were nothing alike, and they were all Sevillian. I did Matilde Coral, I did Manuela Carrasco, I did Milagros Mengíbar, I did my mother…Today, this doesn’t happen. The flamenco dancers have less of an individual seal, a persona. To be someone in the art world, if you don’t project your brand, you have no charisma; you don’t go anywhere.
Art motivates me a lot, whether it’s singing, painting, designer clothes, sculpture, home decorations. I love cinema, fashion. Anything that could be art inspires me. I like to go out with my friends, sing. I like singing a lot, but I don’t have a good voice. I would have liked to sing more than dance. But, I am a flamenco dancer, and I am also a mother, and I like the role of being a mother a lot, although it is very difficult. It’s hard to be a mother and father at the same time, a homemaker, a dancer. Because I raised my daughter alone– maybe because of that– I see myself as weak, when I find myself alone; I can never slip up. But when I’m alone, when I don’t have my daughter, or I’m not in the theater dancing, or teaching, well, at that moment, my body (aggggh…) collapses.”

Pastora with fans after the ‘flash mov’ she choreograph in Seville’s Plaza Nueva during the 2014 Flamenco Biennial / ANTONIO PÉREZ

Although many people tell me that I’m strong because of everything I take on, internally, I see myself as weak. I have suffered a lot because I am a woman misunderstood by men. I have been somewhat an abused woman, psychologically and physically. That damages you emotionally; it affects your self-esteem and it devalues you. All of my relationships have been chaotic. I don’t know why.  At the moment, being with a man is impossible. My job really loves me. Men, don’t. (laughs) Really, something that has affected me a lot in life has been a lack of love. It’s incredible. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because men see me as a woman with a lot of stock, and they’re jealous. Men don’t see me as a normal woman, and it makes them mad that I’ll walk down the street and people will ask me for a picture or an autograph. This frustrates men. They aren’t accustomed to a woman with power, and that’s where misogyny comes in. They’re scared of me, but I’m a normal person, simple, it’s just that I have the power to get on stage and leave all my energy there. I’m not at fault for this. I haven’t found a man that doesn’t feel small because of me. That’s my frustration, to not have found love. But, I’ve found it in my daughter.”
Today, there are so many flamenco dancers, that there isn’t a lot of work for everybody. Also, an artist’s work depends a lot on the current politician, if they like art or if it matters to them, and if they want to designate more money for the arts. If a politician comes into office who doesn’t care, the culture suffers. There’s so little money. There are people who are just starting out and have more work than me because it’s cheaper to pay them. What I can do is keep preparing myself so that my career doesn’t decline. The life of an artist: as of today you have nothing, and tomorrow they call you on the phone, and you have to go. The life of an artist is defined by instability.
But still, I don’t want to start an academy. I want to keep dancing. I need to dance in a theater. To me, success is getting up on a stage and the person watching you rises to his feet– one and a half hours, or two, dancing alone, and that you have engaged the audience like that. Also, because it is part of my life since childhood, so many years working in something, it is what I want to share. I still don’t want to keep it for myself. No, my plan for the future is to raise my daughter well, healthy, and to dance a lot.”
Now I am working on being strong. My plan is to grab life by the horns, and that my daughter doesn’t want for anything. My philosophy is to not be mean to anyone, not hurt anyone, because that comes back to you. You have to try to make do with what you have, not be selfish or envious, and be a mentally healthy person, harboring no resentment, and trying to get everyone to get along. I want a lot of peace and harmony in my life, and if love hasn’t been a factor, I don’t care. I receive love from my daughter, and dance, through my parents. That’s it. I have to come to terms with this; I believe it’s right. Nothing is perfect.”


Born in 1980 in Seville, mecca of flamenco, Pastora is the fifth member of the Galván dynasty. Last November, she performed in the iconic production of La Edad de Oro, created by her brother Israel, for which he reimagined the show with her as the star, as a part of the La Bienal de Arte Flamenco de Sevilla.
“We give you the performance of the elegant and voluptuous Pastora, Pastora Galván,” the Canal Sur TV broadcaster announces at the end of the three o’ clock news. The audience sees a clip of the night of the 19th of September, in the Lope de Vega theater in Seville. Pastora fills the stage with all the power of her femininity, a power that, according to her, intimidates men. Her features are soft: full lips, a dimple in each cheek, and almond-shaped eyes that wrinkle remembering episodes from the past. Dressed in black against a black background, Pastora is alone on the stage. The naturalness of her movements comes from within, somehow suggesting that, to her, this vulnerability doesn’t matter. Her hips sway, her hands and head draw circles; the stage vibrates with the steady rhythm of her heels.
Off-stage, her way of speaking also follows a rhythm: slow, gently punctuated with an insinuating, raised eyebrow. As you listen to her, you discover that it is futile to search for the woman under the mask of makeup, because these women are one and the same. Pastora has created a strong persona for the stage and for her daughter, but flamenco is pure emotion, and it allows us to glimpse the fragile and disillusioned woman. The fringes of her dress spin with her, her chin always high. Pastora has nothing to hide.