Professional flamenco dancer brings the art form home
(Note: This is one in a series of articles on alternatives to traditional workout regimes. Aside from preventing boredom, it has been shown that varying one’s workouts improves results. Consult a doctor before starting any workout program.)
How far would you go to follow your passion?
For professional flamenco dancer Eliza Llewellyn, the journey has taken her from Mexico to California to the heart of flamenco dancing and culture itself – the Andalusian region in southern Spain.
And now she’s home again and looking to share her love of the art form with New Orleanians.
Llewellyn will soon be hosting a series of five-week workshops at the new DanceQuarter Studio Uptown, which opens next month. The studio for social dancing and dance fitness will hold an open house on Nov. 3, at which Llewellyn will be performing. (Expect a follow-up in NolaVie about the event in the coming weeks.)
The flamenco workshops will be geared toward beginners and advanced beginners, Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn was introduced to flamenco as a young child, as she had family in Mexico who were aficionados. “My grandmother used to take my mom to see the different flamenco dancers of the day, including Carmen Amaya, and my grandmother always loved flamenco music – they had friends that would come and play flamenco guitar at the house.”
But it was ballet that first enamored Llewellyn, at the age of 3, and it’s what she pursued until the age of 12, when she took a break from dance.
A flamenco performance by a fellow boarding school student during a Spanish class, however, changed everything.
“I realized how much I connected with this art form more than anything else,” she said. “I had a tingling sensation in my hands, in my feet, and I just kept thinking, ‘I really want to learn this.’”
There were no flamenco instructors in her area, though, so her mom looked into classes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a mecca of flamenco in America, and soon she was spending her summers studying there.
After college, Llewellyn moved to Mexico, where her study of flamenco began in earnest, and then a trip to Spain at the age of 22 provided another turning point in her pursuit of the art form.
“My friend had signed me up for an audition, unbeknownst to me, in Granada, Spain with the famous Mario Maya, who has since passed, but was one of the most renowned figures in the history of flamenco,” said Llewellyn.
“So I went, and it was a cattle call – there were a lot of dancers from all over – and they picked 42 people, and I was one of the 42 in the end,” she said. “It was a complete surprise. I’d only been studying a couple of years in Mexico, and Spain was so different from anything I’d experienced before – the true flamenco with the Gitanos. It was a really profound experience.”
Within a few months, Llewellyn had packed up and moved to Granada, living in the gypsy barrio of Sacromonte and studying at the Centro Flamenco de Estudios Escenicos Mario Maya.
She stayed in Spain for a few years, shuttling between teachers in Granada and Seville before eventually moving to California, where she got her first professional work with Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco, the oldest flamenco and Spanish dance company in the U.S.
And though she is a New Orleans resident once again, Llewellyn currently dances for the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theater Company of Santa Fe (showcased in the video below). The troupe has a tour coming up in January, so she will be out of town a lot, but when in town she will be offering her workshops.
Flamenco “is fun, it’s a great workout, and you’re learning about a different culture,” said Llewellyn. “It’s challenging, but that’s part of the beauty of it, too. And it’s so highly expressive -- it expresses every sort of sentiment about life.”
And it appeals to both men and women, she added, noting that there are nearly as many famous male flamenco dancers as female.
Those interested in Eliza (pronounced "Elisa") Llewellyn’s flamenco workshops can call her at 504.421.3517 or email her at: [email protected].
She will also be offering private classes and small group classes in addition to the workshops.
New Orleans writer Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans life for NolaVie.
Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.