THE IMPASSIONED RHYTHMS of flamenco—alive in the music, the song, and the dance—originated among the Spanish Roma people of Andalucía. Over time, as world cultures mixed, the art form grew ever more mestizo, incorporating elements from African, Arabic, and Jewish traditions. As the Spanish presence grew in the Americas, and in what would eventually be called New Mexico, flamenco picked up Indigenous influences as well.
“As Indo-Hispanos of mixed heritage, we identify with the hybridity of flamenco, with its complex history that is at times tied to oppression and marginalization,” says Marisol Encinias, executive director of the National Institute of Flamenco in Albuquerque. “I believe that’s why flamenco continues to be so relevant to us in New Mexico.”
The third-generation flamenco dancer can’t remember a time when she wasn’t dancing. She followed in the footsteps of her grandmother Clarita Garcia de Aranda Allison, who began performing with her brother and cousins as a teenager. Clarita later ran a home-based flamenco school in the North Valley in the 1950s, where Marisol’s mother, Eva, learned to dance.
Eva Encinias taught the first flamenco classes at the University of New Mexico in the 1970s, when she was still an undergraduate student, and founded Festival Flamenco Alburquerque in the 1980s. Now in its 37th year, the international gathering (June 21–29, 2024) features nearly 100 artists from around the world, as well as workshops for dancers of all skill levels.
“The Festival Flamenco performances are theatrical productions,” Encinias says. “They include traditional flamenco as well as avant-garde pieces that incorporate different dance forms. Experimentation has always been part of the art form.”
The festival’s highly choreographed presentations are different from what you would see at tablao, which is when flamenco is performed in a café or restaurant setting. Tablao performances are unrehearsed and spontaneous, a collective improvisation based on call-and-response. Shows are created around pacing and mood, ensuring that upbeat numbers interrupt melancholy ones, while slower interludes offer reprieve to heights of energetic fury.
Flamenco starts quietly and builds, a guitarist fingerpicking slowly, letting anticipation rise, before a singer wails and dancers erupt into rhythmic hand-clapping and foot-stomping. “It’s an urgent, dissonant sound,” Encinias says. “Some people call it ‘the angry dance’ because of the dramatic expressions we have on our faces, but that’s just effort and concentration, and layers of physical and cultural memory you have to access to dance flamenco. In many forms of dance, you’re supposed to hide the effort, but flamenco is raw.”
New Mexico’s flamenco tradition is not easily replicated, since it’s a fusion of cross-continental influences over centuries, while remaining distinctly American. “In a theater, it’s like going to a ballet. You can learn about different styles of flamenco from a distance,” says Encinias. “At tablao, you can have a great meal, with wine and cocktails, which heightens the experience. The more you go, the more you can appreciate different interpretations up close, discover what moves you. You start to become an aficionado, like with wine or poetry.”