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Flamenco for the People | Our Conversation with Kelty McKerracher

Kelty has studied flamenco dance, singing, and percussion for 10 years with Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy in Vancouver, traveling to New Mexico and Spain to immerse in the art form. She started Barrio Flamenco in 2010 to bring two loves together: flamenco and the Downtown Eastside. Now an emerging community-engaged artist, Kelty is completing a masters degree in Expressive Arts Therapy. She envisions people dancing *bulerias por fiesta* in the street at Main and Hastings.

“The DTES is super flamenco and it’s a community I’m proud to be an honorary member of.”

How did you decide to teach Flamenco in the DTES? 

I had been dancing flamenco for several years, including studying for a few months in Spain, and I really had fallen in love with the entire art form including the cante (singing), baile (dance) and compas (rhythm). I was, as we jokingly say, a flamenco junkie. Yet I also was becoming more involved in the arts community in the Downtown Eastside, meeting some visionary artists and wonderful people, and I really admired the tenacity and generosity of this neighbourhood. I wanted to unite the two by hosting an event that would honour the spirit of flamenco as well as the spirit of the Downtown Eastside. That’s how Barrio Flamenco got started. At the first event (held at radha at Main and Union), I partnered with Enterprising Women Making Art to feature the work of artists and artisans from their collective. There was such an enthusiastic response to this first show that the DTES Heart of the City Festival invited me to produce another event that fall, and at the same time Carnegie Community Centre invited me to teach Introduction to Flamenco workshops. We’ve been going ever since. There seems to be a real resonance in the neighbourhood with the art form.

Why do you think the flamenco class has been so successful in the neighbourhood? 

Over the years I feel I’ve learned a lot about what flamenco is about from this community. Flamenco is an art form that was born from barrios, or poor neighbourhoods, in southern Spain, made up of people from a variety of cultural backgrounds who were marginalized, including Gypsies or gitanos, Moors, Jews, and a variety of outsiders who for one reason or another were excluded from mainstream society. Flamenco evolved as a musical style that signified resistance to the status quo, rebelliousness, pride in one’s culture and chosen community, and also expressed individual and collective suffering. It requirescoraje, or courage. The themes of flamenco songs are often related to death, personal loss, and oppression, and the sobbing, roughened quality of voice in flamenco expresses a great deal of pain. Yet, flamenco also embodies joy, laughter, playfulness, resilience, and community support.  Because flamenco is traditionally an improvised art form, every element is interconnected – the artists rely on each other and have to learn to listen to each other. There is an enormous amount of respect and trust that artists need to have with each other for great flamenco to happen. I think this intimacy is where the duende, or spirit, comes from. To me, these are the elements that really connect with what the Downtown Eastside stands for. The DTES is super flamenco and it’s a community I’m proud to be an honourary member of.

What do you think is the impact of this class for the students? 

That’s hard to say. I think many of the students were already very drawn to flamenco before starting at Carnegie, so it’s an opportunity for them to fulfill a passion that previously wasn’t accessible. It has also created a real sense of community – we all look forward to our classes and performances. A few of the students have been with me for almost 5 years, and have the skills to be able to get up and participate in shows, dancing Sevillanas (an energetic folk dance from Seville) with the professionals, which is exciting and empowering. We also share a love for the music of flamenco and its emotion. Sometimes we just sit and listen to music and pay attention to our responses. It’s a special kind of trust that develops when you share that. At its heart flamenco is a community art form and I feel that’s what we have created.

What are the plans for this class? 

Carnegie Community Centre has been incredibly generous having me back so many seasons to teach. The mandate for our classes is to be open to everyone no matter what skill level, so I will continue inviting new people to learn. However, I’m very excited that SFU Office of Community Engagement has offered an opportunity for a “second level” flamenco class at the Interurban for some of the dedicated students that are ready for the next step. Our shared goal is to be able to jam together in a circle, making rhythm with palmas (handclapping) and improvising dance in the traditional way. We are well on our way to having a real DTES flamenco juerga (party)!

Can you tell us about barrio flamenco? 

As mentioned, Barrio Flamenco emerged from a desire to honour the spirit of flamenco together with the spirit of the Downtown Eastside. Part of the DTES Heart of the City Festival since 2010, it features some of the best flamenco singers, dancers, and musicians that Vancouver has to offer. Barrio also welcomes the Carnegie Flamencos to the stage to dance Sevillanas (a traditional folk dance), join with palmas, and share poetry. It’s a lively, joyful, yet also reverent event. Last year’s program read: “This evening is dedicated to souls present, past and future who are fire-tenders, keeping the flames of joyful resistance, creativity, and community alight.” Barrio has traditionally been held on November 2, or Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is a Latin American tradition that we honour with an altar for those who have passed. During the break, candles are lit and audience members can write the names of a loved one to display on the altar. This is a time when duende might decide to join us for a moment. There is a magic at Barrio that seems to have its own momentum. It takes my breath away every year, actually.

Do you have any big event coming up soon? 

Yes! In fall 2014, the Heart of the City Festival graciously offered to sponsor a short film to be created about Carnegie flamenco classes and Barrio. Colin Askey, our filmmaker, was great fun to work with and he created a wonderful piece. The SFU Office of Community Engagement is hosting us to screen the film on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, and we’ve invited our artists from Barrio to give a special live performance. We’ll also see what the Carnegie Flamencos are learning, as well as hear more about the history of the flamenco art form and how it aligns with some of the values of the Downtown Eastside.

Anything you’d like to add? 

Many, many thanks to Terry, Savannah, and Teresa at the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, Rika at Carnegie Community Centre, Fiorella, Andrea, and Am at SFU Office of Community Engagement, Colin Askey, and all of the wonderful artists and students I work with for their enthusiasm for flamenco in the Downtown Eastside. Deep thanks to my teachers Oscar Nieto and Kasandra La China at Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy. Ole!


Join us on Tuesday, March 24th, for “Flamenco Juerga | Film Screening, Performance and Artist Talkback”.

A celebrated part of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival since 2010, Barrio Flamenco: Flamenco for the People, is a community of spirit, pride, and passion. Join host Kelty McKerracher and filmmaker Colin Askey for the first public screening of a short film about our growing flamenco community in the Downtown Eastside. Learn about the history of flamenco and how it resonates with the neighbourhood’s values and struggles. Best of all, be treated to a live performance and talkback with some of Vancouver’s most exciting flamenco artists as well as special guests the Carnegie Flamencos! You can find the event information here.


BIO

A dancer, emerging choreographer, and community-engaged artist, Kelty found her rhythm studying flamenco dance in Vancouver, New Mexico, and Spain. Kelty’s interest in community-engaged art practice was ignited by her participation in the theatrical production of “The Minotaur Dreams: The Downtown Eastside Labyrinth Project” (produced by Vancouver Moving Theatre with BC’s Runaway Moon Theatre), where she originated the character of a flamenco-dancing Minotaur. In 2010, Kelty envisioned, curated, and hosted the first “Barrio Flamenco: Flamenco for the People”, presented for four years at the Heart of the City Festival. The uproar generated within the Downtown Eastside by these performances led to flamenco dance classes at
Carnegie Community Centre and the eventual integration of community members into “Barrio Flamenco” performances. To deepen her skill-set in transformational work through the arts, Kelty is currently completing a Masters in Expressive Arts Therapy at the European Graduate School. She has recently pursued practicum placements with First Nations youth, refugees fleeing political violence, and participants at the Dr. Peter Centre for HIV/AIDS. At the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, Kelty administers the Community Arts Fund, which funds collaborative arts-based projects within the Downtown Eastside. Kelty is interested in how conflict can be transformed through both traditional and contemporary art forms.