BY NICOLASA CHÁVEZ
Why has this way of life, so natural in Spain, become such a fixture in New Mexico? Why do New Mexicans feel such resonance with flamenco dance, music, and emotions, and why do they feel a common bond with its country of origin? For those who have traveled and studied in Spain, who then come to the state and make it their home, the common response is, “It feels like being back in Spain.”
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Vicente Romero was born in Santa Fe on April 13, 1937, the oldest of five siblings. Growing up in a musical family, he was a student of modern dance and had just begun his studies of Spanish dance when he saw the film Sombrero featuring José Greco. Then and there, Romero decided he wanted to be a Spanish dancer, and at age fifteen, after much debate with his parents, he left for Los Angeles to study with the Cansinos. Soon, dancer Lola Montes saw Romero perform and invited him to join her company. He toured with Montes for several years, and at one point had an encounter with Greco. Not a man to miss talent when he saw it, Greco encouraged Romero to continue his career and told him, “If you’re serious, young man, go to Spain.”
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The shows at El Nido not only served as entertainment for tourists and locals, but they also provided an atmosphere where performers and aficionados interacted, exchanged ideas, and learned from each other. Romero scouted out talent in Spain and the United States and brought top-quality performers to New Mexico. A few of his musicians were American artists who had lived and studied in Spain at the same time as Romero. Guest artists from Spain who were staying in Santa Fe for the summer season provided lessons in guitar playing, singing, and dancing. One of the most favored forms of flamenco education was the all-night juerga (flamenco jam session). Guitarist David Briggs, originally from Boston, moved to New Mexico after traveling and studying in Spain. He had heard about the state’s “flamenco atmosphere” from his guitar teacher. He still recalls the exchange of ideas, the live improvised music, and the party atmosphere: “It was like being back in Spain. Those were the days!”
Excerpted from The Spirit of Flamenco: From Spain to New Mexico, by Nicolasa Chávez. Museum of New Mexico Press; 192 pages; 86 color and 54 black-and-white photographs. Jacketed hardcover $39.95.