By Maddie Orton
It was a passion discovered in the caves of Sacromonte in Granada. Eva Lucena, founder of Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre, was visiting family as child. Lucena’s uncle brought her to see Gypsy dancers perform flamenco.
“One day this old Gypsy lady got me up to dance, and I’d been dancing since I was 3 years old — ethnic dancing, ballet, tap, you name it — and I got up there and it became natural to me,” says Lucena. “She came over and she said, ‘I predict you will always dance, and you will be a flamenco dancer.’ And she gave me an old pair of silver earrings.”
Lucena’s sad to say she’s since lost the earrings, but she has fulfilled the dancer’s prophecy. Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre offers classes for all ages and maintains a professional company that tours and teaches.
“It’s accessible because you can start it at 40 years old, 50 years old,” she says. “I have a couple of students who started when they were 50. They’re doing very well.”
Flamenco may be accessible, but it’s still helpful to have a dance background. As Lucena says, “It’s not easy.”
Lucena says flamenco has roots dating back to the 1400s when Gypsies traveled from India to Spain. The dance is thought to have Indian, Romani, Jewish and Moorish influences and to draw from the anguish of people persecuted around the Spanish Inquisition.
“The rhythms are so unique that they don’t teach it in school,” says Rene Ybarbo.
Ybarbo is a Spanish teacher who’s been taking flamenco lessons with Alborada for nearly eight years. She’s now an apprentice dancer with the company and hopes to ultimately become a professional company member.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she says, “but I absolutely love it. If I could do it more often than I actually do, I would in a heartbeat.”
Principal dancer and Associate Artistic Director Lisa Botalico says students are drawn to the dance because it’s a vehicle for self-expression.
“The students [who] come to it are searching for something,” Botalico says. “They need something in their life to express themselves. And everybody loves to dance, but ballet is so hard, it’s so stringent on the body, and so short-lived, whereas flamenco is like aged wine — you grow into it because it’s an expression of your life.”
“I love the spontaneity,” Botalico says of flamenco. “When we work with guitar and singer, it’s really three people who are just trying to feel the music at the moment, and improvisation happens. And it’s so wonderful to have that triptych of the cante, the baile and the toque.”
Alborada finds collaborators across cultures and dance disciplines as well.
“We incorporate dance artists from India, the Irish, the Celtic connection and we just had an Arabic connection,” says Botalico. “Because flamenco has so many roots, in going into our own roots, we find friends here in New Jersey that share the same roots. And what could be better for the community than to bring people together like that?”
It’s great for Spanish-American locals too, who can get back to their roots through Alborada’s performances and celebrations like the company’s upcoming Feria de Sevilla, their take on Seville’s annual April Fair.