Thoughts on AMFDA and 2008

Year in Review by Kasandra La China
December 30, 2008

On Our Children

AMFDA-2008-1Now that I’m a mom myself, my views on children have changed forever.  As a person who has always cooed and ooed when I saw a cool dog walking down the street (while completely ignoring babies and kids), I have changed for the better because my life revolves around Jassmone and flamenco is the balance.

I am totally awed by what Cyrena La Sirena, our beloved children’s teacher, accomplishes with the children’s class each year.  When I see her work her magic on Saturday mornings, I am amazed at this woman’s patience, discipline and clarity when instructing.  She doesn’t let those kids get away with a darn thing, as she makes them do their footwork one at a time to get the “compas” just right.  Parents see this and know that such meticulous discipline is hard to find anywhere.  As a result, our children’s class has grown and we don’t even advertise.

AMFDA-2008-3We now have two levels:  Level 1 introduces young new children to flamenco to flamenco whereas Level 2 challenges more experienced children.  Do we see a Teen Class soon?  We may very well need it by end of next year.

For Fiesta Flamenca our year end performance, the group performed Tango de Malaga and Tangos.  I am dumbfounded when I see the kids perform “contratiempo footwork” (off-beats) perfectly, and as a group, they “improvise” when the guitarist adds 4 more beats.  WOW.  Unbelievable.  I am also in tears watching the little 3 year old hop onto the stage… as I imagine Jassmone doing a bulerias solo for a show finale at the age of 2.  (No pressure Jaz!)

On Teaching Again

AMFDA-2008-2While it was a strange year being pregnant and having Jassmone, I never really took any time off.  While most moms take mat leave of 1 year, I was back teaching July workshops after 2 months and back to teaching regularly in 4 months by September.  Really, I cannot give up flamenco.  It is my passion, life, hobby, exercise and social activity.  I am so lucky to be able to do this for a living because who else gets paid to see their friends and dance every day?  AMFDA is home to me, and I am honoured to work with people I can call my friends and teach students I can also call my friends.

What’s different about me?  I’d say the single thing that is different about my teaching style is that I do not and cannot coddle my students anymore (reserved for the baby now).

AMFDA-2008-4“What?  You have to do a bulerias solo?  Tangos solo?  Well, get into the studio and do your homework.

That was different this year.  I think this may be better for students in the long term, as they realize their performance and flamenco studies depend on their own determination, skill and discipline.  What is the old saying about leading a horse to the trough to drink?  A teacher can lead, inspire and choreograph the student, but the student has to practise, train and have their own determination and resolve.  Flamenco is not for the weak, but natural selection will ensure that only the tough continue.

On Seeing Our School go through a Life Change

2008 marked many interesting challenges for AMFDA.  As mentioned before, I had Jassmone on May 16th which is a happy event.  But May marked the end of my years of managing Hastings Dance Studio and was a very sad event.  Since I was not around at that time, the school went through a very traumatic change as the new managers took over the studio, painted over our downstairs mural by Marta Robertson Smythe and our studios.  Due to language barrier and communication breakdown, we were very uncertain as to our future there which created a tremendous amount of stress on me, Oscar Nieto, our teachers and students.  The end result was that Oscar Nieto found a new home at the Vancouver Tap Society down the road, and the rest of us were able to remain at our current studio.  While we are stil together in spirit, the fact remains that it really sucks not to have Oscar teaching in Studio A, Kasandra teaching in Studio B and students practising their feet off in Studio C.  Dang, we had it good for 6 years and change always sucks.

AMFDA-2008-5On the other hand, I can be thankful for Andrea Williams who became a leader during this uncertain time and took over in my absence.  She is many things to me, but among these include good friend, fellow instructor, student, company dance member, flamenco junkie and now aspiring babysitter.

Andrea has been a teacher at AMFDA for a couple years now and has been an invaluable member of our team.  The result is in her teaching, as students always comment on her ability to teach technique and her attention to detail.

On Oscar Nieto’s Absence

As most people know by now, Oscar went into the hospital on October 31, 2008 to have a colon cancer operation.  While all went well, he is recovering from a major incision which is “an itchy pain in the torso”, he says.  He is in great spirits and is happy for all the love around him.  He has months of recovery ahead of him, first his incision has to heal over, then chemotherapy.  THEN he’ll be back.  Thanks to all those who contributed to the Oscar Nieto Medical Fund.

AMFDA-2008-8In the meantime, I dedicated our Fiesta Flamenca 2008 concert to him and created an annual scholarship in his name, The Oscar Nieto Scholarship Award.  Why not start this fine tradition to honour one of flamenco’s great performers and someone who has mentored me and many Canadian dancers along the way?  This will be awarded to one of our outstanding students once a year.  Since the award bears the name Oscar Nieto, this award stands for dance excellence and also Mozaico Spirit, as this student must be an embodiment of our school’s character and be a good ambassador for the school.

On Mozaico Flamenco Dance Theatre

In the past 6 years, Oscar and I have given a lot of time to developing our dance company, Mozaico Flamenco Dance Theatre.  Oscar has mentored the group in many professional performances.  So for Fiesta Flamenca, we resurrected our original dance company from our 2004 production to perform a tribute to Oscar and the late Lola Montes in “La Boda de Luis Alonso”.  This is a number that we have performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

AMFDA-2008-11

AMFDA-2008-12

AMFDA-2008-10

On the Musicians, My Good Friends

AMFDA-2008-13I would be remiss if I did not make special mention of the folks that picked up the slack for me since Oscar could not sing this show.  It is amazing how large Oscar’s shoes are when finding folks to fill them.  But alas, we had lots of help this year in Juan de Marias and Pirouz de Caspio.  I’ve gotten to know them all so well this year and only have wonderful things to say about such generous folks.

Juan de Marias, originally from Barcelona, is an amazing guitarist and aspiring (or perspiring?) singer.  His love is Bulerias cante, but when it comes to playing the guitar, the man is a Ferrari.  On many occasions we had to stop the class, “Hey, Mr. Ferrari, we cannot dance that fast.”  It must be hard for an accomplished soloist to accompany baile, so he should really be congratulated!  You should buy his CD “El Mimbre” because it is unreal that such a soloist lives in the Lower Mainland.  Vicente Amigo, move over!

AMFDA-2008-14Pirouz de Caspio, is one of Canada’s great cantaores.  Of Persian descent, it is no wonder he is good at singing Flamenco since the original gypsies from India travelled through Persia on their way to settle in the South of Spain, Andalucia to create what we call Flamenco.  Pirouz has really supported AMFDA in Oscar’s absence.  He is generous with time, knowledge and flamenco spirit.  Thank you for singing all our Jondo pieces, Pirouz.  It will be my life’s goal to make you sing Sevillanas one day.  Haha, broma! 
Thanks for a great year! See you in 2009!

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