This morning I was reading a blog posted by a woman from England who moved to Spain to study flamenco about six years ago. It was filled with familiar experiences of what it is like trying to build a life as a flamenco dancer in Spain. The woman has an interesting slant because she is black. La Meira, a veteran dancer from NYC shared the post on her Facebook page which is where I encountered it. She related her experience of studying flamenco as a Jewish woman in the 1980’s. She found the flamencos welcoming and aware of the shared history of a culture persecuted and forced to live on the fringes of society. I had the same response from the gitanos when I told them I was Jewish. They said, “somos primos.” We are cousins and to compare the similarities in our families faces, we are.
Reading the blog started me to think about my time in Spain. All told, I spent about six years living there. After reading Meira and the other woman’s writing about Spain, one would think that my cultural background as a Spanish–not only Spanish but Andalusian Jew, would set me up to be welcomed and accepted. That was far from the case. If anything I found that I was held to a different standard. Not being pardoned for being a foreigner, but because I looked the part, it being assumed that I was a native. I can’t count the number of times that I heard, “pero como tienes esta cara tan Andaluza?” how do you have that Andalusian face? My reply became rote: We have the same blood. I was just born in New York. Yes, there are Spaniards who left, not many, but there are.
In Granada I earned the nickname, La Media Giri (the half foreigner) from the guitarists at my flamenco school. I decided to be flattered. I think that my insistence on learning puro flamenco in the caves of Granada had something to do with my always feeling on the fringes. Despite my yearning to belong, I finally realized that it was never going to happen. That spurred my move to Sevilla where there is a vibrant ex-pat flamenco community. We are accepted, and even welcomed to perform in many, many venues. It literally is a different world. It is a different flamenco too, but the community is much less isolating to navigate.
Here in Virginia Beach, we have a number of wonderful vibrant communities and I am slowly finding my place among the Jewish community and the dance community. They both have the warm undertones of a group of people who have found each other because of shared interest, and understanding of what it was like to be the other.
As I get older I realize that community is the key to my happiness. I want to have strong community. I know that the lack of feeling PART of the flamenco/Spanish whole was what caused me to leave Spain and embark on my next adventure of a flamenco dancer in the wilds of America.