A: The argument over who owns flamenco must be as old as time. I think a lot about Meira’s work discussing how flamenco has been a livelihood for gitantos since recorded history. The power differential between the artist and the patron, the haves and havenots still infiltrates the conversation today.
My experience learning flamenco in Granada was rife with people telling me I was only allowed to advance to a certain level and after that I was not entitled to it. I had to fight to get into Carmen de las Cuevas’ advanced ongoing classes even though the teacher personally invited me. I still carry around the complex that I formed during my three years living and studying there. My most recent teacher in Cadiz yelled at me one day, “Anna, you and I have the same feet, the same elbows, the same hands…the idea that you aren’t able to dance as well as me because I was born here and you weren’t is crap.”
One thing that I have to say about the amount of “foreigners” dancing flamenco is that in the last ten- twenty years since I was studying in Spain, the level of skill in what used to be an intermediate/advanced class has skyrocketed. I think the globalization of flamenco is responsible for that.
On how to become part of the flamenco culture:
Every flamenco dancer at some point dreams of falling in love with the puro flamenco artist and being invited into the fold, of being part of the circle at the juergas, of belonging and being gifted with the coveted secrets of compas and understanding how to bailar perfectly al cante. I think that it speaks to the desire of our souls to be fully immersed into this artform that is more powerful than we are. The sacrifices that foreign flamencos have made to fulfill that yearning I believe should be enough to allow them feel ownership of the form. Everyone yearns to belong. Unfortunately, human nature and the scarcity mindset often dictates that if there is a group it will identify the “other.”
There are so many different ‘flamenco cultures’ these days thanks to the interwebs.
On cultural appropriation:
I have a hard time with cultural appropriation when it comes to art. Maybe I just don’t understand what it is, but isn’t most art an extension of some other kind of art? If I heard a rhythm I like from you, or a verse that you sang and I take that verse and play with it and shift it and make it my own… is that an expression of my creativity or cultural appropriation? Do you get to determine what it is?
Google defines cultural appropriation as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Power differential is the determining factor.
Is flamenco cultural appropriation of black art? Of Jewish Liturgical music? Is fusion bad? Where in history does the question of cultural appropriation start? It is a 21st century idea that I believe is reactionary to globalization and the internet.
Am I not entitled to dance flamenco because my Spanish abuelos had enough money to leave Spain in 1936 and raise my dad in the States before they went back once the worst was over? Or am I more entitled to dance flamenco than a Japanese dancer.
My question is, in the not obvious cases, like blackface or dressing as a “sexy Indian” , who gets to decide who is being respectful or disrespectful. Like in Cancel Culture, who is the squeaky, clean, perfect human being who gets to point the finger and say, you are okay you are not? I think that this conversation is a result of our political climate and it is one that needs to be had with great empathy and respect. I am pretty sure that the answer lies in the grey area and most people these days seem too incensed with hurt and pain to even be able to hold a conversation that extends into the grey. The black and white of life are the crises that incite change, but the growth happens in the grey.