Story by Kate Fane

Flamenco. Even the word itself conveys the exotic sensuality of the famous style of music and dance. Originating in the 16th century from impoverished and oppressed communities in southern Spain, flamenco has become both an important component of Spanish culture as well as a near-universally popular form of performance art.

With over 112,875 Toronto residents claiming Spanish as their mother tongue, the city has a built-in audience for flamenco. Thousands of immigrants came to the city following the Second World War, and they quickly established communities that allowed them to celebrate Spanish culture while abroad. As anyone who witnessed the street party on College Street following Spain’s 2010 World Cup win knows, their enthusiasm can quickly become infectious.

Thus, the passion for flamenco has reached far beyond its original audience. The art form has found mainstream acceptance in Toronto thanks to events like the Toronto International Flamenco Festival (not to be confused with that other TIFF) and the success of clubs like Embrujo Flamenco.  In order to pass on the techniques of flamenco to future generations of performers, several schools have formed and flourished in the GTA, including Valeria and Roger Scannura’s academy Ritmo Flamenco.

Perhaps no family lives the flamenco tradition more fully than the Scannuras. A dancer of flamenco since 1985 and a graduate of the National Ballet School’s prestigious teacher training program, Valeria is uniquely equipped to pass on her passion for flamenco in her dance lessons for small groups. And to ensure that her students have a full understanding of flamenco and Spanish culture, Valeria brings her students to Jerez, Spain every year. Flamenco is as much about the music as it is about dance, and husband Roger Scannura’s graceful handling of the classical guitar has won him numerous awards and glowing reviews. Together, the two have formed one of Toronto’s preeminent flamenco schools that teaches the beauty of the dance to student of all ages and abilities.

On April 21st at the Al Green Theatre, the Scannura family showcased their skills with a performance featuring Valeria, Roger, and daughter Anjelica entitled Vida Flamenca (“A Way of Life”). Growing up in such a flamenco-saturated household has clearly had an effect on Anjelica, who has found great success as a dancer and choreographer and made flamenco her own “way of life.” Together, the family joined with a few fellow musicians and dancers to put together a truly exciting presentation of flamenco’s diverse possibilities.

With its urgent melodies and passionate movements, it’s hard to imagine a more sensual dance form than flamenco, and the women of Vida Flamenca embraced it fully. Moving to the original compositions of Roger Scannura, the group clapped and stomped along to the 12-beat rhythm while managing to avoid tripping on their elaborate skirts (something I never figured out). Middle Eastern, ballet, and contemporary dance elements were incorporated throughout the performance, pushing flamenco beyond its boundaries. Likewise, it was always compelling to see Valeria and Anjelica share the stage together, as Anjelica’s more modern and fluid dance style played beautifully alongside Valeria’s immaculate traditional technique.

But you don’t have to come from a family of flamenco prodigies to take up the dance for yourself. The Scannura’s Ritmo Flamenco school teaches all levels of dancers, and there are many other opportunities to learn the art across the city. Downtown’s other major flamenco schools are also run by women, as Carmen Romero and Esmeralda Enrique have similarly encouraged generations of dancers to take up the art.

Of course, if you’re not quite ready to commit to the skirts and castanets, Embrujo Flamenco and Plaza Flamingo are great venues to enjoy a flamenco performance alongside drinks and friends.


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