Updated July 4, 2022 at 8:15 AM ET

The pandemic placed competitive flamenco dancing on pause in Madrid.

And for the dancers at the legendary Amor de Dios flamenco center, a return to in-person events means a return to the stage.

Some members of NPR's All Things Considered team – Michel Martin, Miguel Macias, Tinbete Ermyas and Kira Wakeam – took a break from covering the NATO summit to get a better understanding of flamenco and its impact on the dancers.

That meant a class with instructor Carmen Rivas, known professionally as Carmen La Talegona, at the center.

Rivas has traveled across Latin America and Europe. For her, Amor de Dios has been her second home since she moved to Madrid from Córdoba at 17.

While the pandemic limited the ability of flamenco artists to perform live, Rivas believes that it made the general public more aware of the dance's power as a storytelling medium.

"People want to express everything they feel and, using movement, percussion and singing as the medium ... it is musical and not just a spectacle."

All Things Considered host Michel Martin learned this lesson firsthand.

"Flamenco incorporates so many artforms from around the world," Martin says. "You see the emotion of opera, and the precision that you find in other classical dance traditions."

"It reminded me of our own step and tap because it's got that fierce percussion rhythm."

Rivas says that isn't a coincidence. Flamenco is transforming with the help of global influences in ways previously considered impossible.

"The older generation gets their inspiration from the great teachers, in Vuitton Manolete, Carmen Amaya, Farruco, Antonio Gades," she said.

"But other dance cultures are inspiring us younger people. Especially African and Black dance traditions, they are enriching flamenco."

For producer and self-described fashion lover Kira Wakeam, the clothes also caught her attention.

"One of the first things for me was these amazing skirts, these traditional skirts that the students are wearing called the bata de cola, which directly translates to a tail robe," she says.

"These are sort of the long, heavy skirts that you've seen on flamenco dancers that flow and move as they dance. And honestly it was really just mesmerizing."

The artform has become a way for senior producer Miguel Macias to reconnect with his native Spain — though he didn't get into flamenco until he immigrated to the U.S.

"Growing up in the south of Spain, flamenco was everywhere, but actually my parents didn't really play flamenco."

At Amor de Dios, he became choked up when the teacher began to sing.

"It just really touched me, the way everything was happening is such a pure artistic way in front of us."

For Rivas, flamenco dancing is less about learning a series of components than it is about abiding by an honor code.

"I always say that every person in the world has a story to tell, and from that story, there is a technique that is made."

In her travels, Rivas has seen how flamenco affects people emotionally.

"People will cry. They have a need to tell their stories and use this medium of movement to relieve their pressures and feel their culture."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.



And finally today, you know we couldn't leave Madrid without having a little fun. So we want to tell you about a really special experience we got to have while we were here.


MARTIN: If you recognize that rhythm, you'll know I'm talking about the famous art of flamenco. And - try not to be jealous - we got to observe and even learn a little bit at Madrid's legendary flamenco school, Amor De Dios. The studio is a cultural icon in Spain, and dancers from around the world travel to classes there.

CARMEN RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: That's Carmen Rivas, also known as Carmen la Talegona, a renowned flamenco dancer and teacher here. We were lucky enough to join Carmen and her students as they rehearsed one final time before their class's graduation showcase later this week.

RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Let me just say it was a lot to take in, so we thought it would be fun to debrief as a group. For that, I'm joined by the ALL THINGS CONSIDERED team here in Madrid - Miguel Macias, Tinbete Ermyas and Kira Wakeam. Kira, Tinbete, Miguel, hi.




MARTIN: So, Miguel, I'm going to start with you. You are from Spain, and you set up our visit to the studio. Would you just tell us a little bit more about why getting even to see a class like that is so special?

MACIAS: Well, first of all, we got into this class because a good friend of mine, my best friend in Spain, is a student. So that was a special access that we have. And even when you see flamenco, you sit in a venue. And it's beautiful, and it's wonderful. It's an emotional experience, but it's very polished. In this case, we got into this hot classroom - it was a hot day. These were students preparing for their showcase, their final showcase, as you said before. So the emotions were high. They were very focused. They were very concentrated. And you could see the actual process of putting together the show, of understanding how the steps are created.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

MACIAS: You could also see some mistakes, which you don't usually see in a professional show. So that's what made it so unique and such a special experience.

MARTIN: What was the thing that stood out to you? What do you think is the thing that touched you the most?

MACIAS: So growing up in the south of Spain, flamenco was everywhere. But my household, actually, my parents didn't really play flamenco. So fun fact about me - I got into flamenco when I emigrated to the United States. At some point in my life, I started buying all kinds of cities of flamenco. I have a whole collection. So it became a very personal way for me to connect to my homeland, which is something that happens a lot to migrants, I think. So when the teacher started singing - which she wasn't supposed to, because they have a professional group for their performance, but in this case, they weren't there; they couldn't be there. The teacher started singing, and to me felt so (inaudible), so emotional. It's just like - I actually choked up.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in Non-English language).

MACIAS: It just really touched me the way everything was happening in such a pure, artistic way in front of us.

MARTIN: Tinbete, what about you? Was this your first time seeing flamenco?

ERMYAS: Yes, it was my first time seeing flamenco. And I should start by saying I didn't really know much about it before going to this studio. I mean, I use the flamenco emoji a lot in, like, group chats because I'm fabulous. But I didn't know much about it as, like, an art form. I didn't know much about it as, like, a cultural practice. And one of the things that I noticed when we were in the studio watching the dancers practice was how much of the story is just visual. You see it in the face. You see it in the eyes.

And another thing that stood out to me was, I mean, when you walk in, there's these beautiful images of, like - I mean, people who were at the top of this craft. And they're in various kinds of uniforms and outfits. And you can tell that the students - I mean, there's really this energy that they're part of something bigger than themselves. They're in this really intense, really powerful art form that's very much connected to Spanish culture. And you can - you sort of feel it that they're trying to be part of a tradition that's not only bigger than themselves, but that's really a part of this culture in this country.


MARTIN: Kira, you were able to get up close and personal with Carmen and the students because you were recording the whole time. So what stood out to you?

WAKEAM: So yes - very, very close to the students, which they were very kind and let me get really close to them while they danced. And you know, Michel, that I am a lover of fashion, a lover of clothes. So one of the first things for me that struck me was these amazing skirts, these traditional skirts that the students were wearing called Bata de Cola, which directly translates to a tail robe. And these are sort of the long, heavy skirts that you've seen on flamenco dancers that flow and move as they dance. And Carmen actually told us that it's not just anybody that can wear these.

RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

WAKEAM: You can't just put on a Bata de Cola. You have to earn it. And, really, you can tell because there's just so much skill involved when they kick up their feet and they turn around and they make the tail swish like a fish. And it's really amazing to see them and move with them. And it was so incredible to watch.

MARTIN: OK, Kira, tell the truth. Did you want one?

WAKEAM: Of course. You know it (laughter).

MACIAS: OK, Michel, it's your turn. I saw you really paying attention on Friday. What made this experience so special for you?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, I got my own personal flamenco lesson from Carmen.

RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: Yes. It is definitely not easy, although I knew that because, you know, I love dance. I used to, you know, study dance like a lot of little girls, but I actually studied different forms of dance all the way through college and actually, you know, for a couple of years after. And I've seen it many times, but I had never been that close to it. And it wasn't until I saw the rehearsal that I kind of realized one of the things I love about it is how it incorporates so many art forms from around the world. I mean, it's - you know, you see kind of the emotion of opera, like, Tinbete, you were saying, the emotion that you have in the story of opera. But you see, like, the precision that you see in classical dances from other traditions, like, you know, Hindu classical dance or Indian classical dance with the fingers and the eyes. Every part of the body does something important.

But, you know, I have to say, it reminded me of our very own step and tap...


MARTIN: ...Because you've got that fierce kind of percussion, the rhythm. It's all coming from you, from your body, from the hands, from the tap. And it felt, you know, very much at home if you've ever been to a step show at an - especially an HBCU step show. Then you'll see what I'm saying. It's just like - it has to be very tight. And I asked Carmen about that. I asked her because it felt - even though was very classical, it felt very contemporary. So I asked Carmen what kind of dance inspires her.

RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: And she said apart from the masters of flamenco, she is inspired by African dance, hip-hop, tap. Every kind of dance influenced her choreography. And she told us that flamenco is gaining popularity all over the world.

RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

WAKEAM: Michel, I thought that was so interesting, too, because Carmen said that because of things like YouTube and Instagram, more and more people have access to flamenco in a way that they really wouldn't before. And funnily enough, I have a friend back in D.C. who actually dances flamenco. And when I told her about our experience, she told me she knows Carmen because she follows her on social media.

MARTIN: So we can follow up and hopefully get more lessons. That was great. Well, thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts, for joining me on this trip. That was Kira Wakeam, Tinbete Ermyas and Miguel Macias. Miguel, a special thanks to you for setting up that wonderful visit. We were all part of the ALL THINGS CONSIDERED team here in Madrid. Adios.

WAKEAM: Adios.



(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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