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Feature Mon May 12 2008

An Interview with Rosetta Magdalen

Rosetta Magdalen has expressed herself as a flamenco artist through her dancing, teaching and choreography. Five years ago she founded and became artistic director of Flamenco Chicago, located at 2147 W. Belmont. Flamenco Chicago holds its Spring Student Showcase on Sunday, May 18 at the St. Patrick Performing Arts Centre, with its next six-week class session the week of May 26. We caught up with Magdalen to ask her about her school and her passion for dancing.

How did you get started in Flamenco?

Since childhood, I had trained as a classical pianist and dancer with a background in ballet and tap as well as folkloric dance. Because of my musical background and interest in ethnic dance, complex rhythms attracted me very much. Flamenco is a percussive dance form, in which the sounds made by the feet become a musical instrument themselves. So, the rhythms and reverberations of the flamenco heel work move through your entire body, and I really loved the feeling of this.

There's such complexity in flamenco dance, since at the same time, the arms and hands are performing one range and pattern of movement, while the feet are often in counterpoint to this. It's also fascinating that the stylized song forms of flamenco each represent a specific emotion. In addition to the special dance technique of flamenco, the dancer has the opportunity to portray a wide range of emotions, depending on the song form that is being danced.

What has your training been?

Although I had studied dance from childhood through high school, I didn't become very serious about my dance training until I was in my 20s. At that time, I was exploring different things, including modern dance (at which I was quite awful!), and I also had the opportunity to study flamenco for the first time at Northeastern Illinois University with Dame Libby Komaiko. I saw that flamenco had something for me, and I couldn't make myself leave it alone. So, from there, I studied for years on an almost daily basis with master teacher Edo Sie and eventually was invited to join the dance company of Edo's wife, Azucena Vega. After a couple of years with that company, I was asked to perform as the partner of Chicago flamenco dancer Allan Alvarez, and we worked together for a few years under the name of Suenos de Fuego. After that, many additional performance opportunities began to come, and I formed Flamenco Chicago to handle these bookings.

During the years, I've continued to study with many of the great names in flamenco -- just last month, I returned from a working vacation in Sevilla where I studied with a very interesting teacher, Manuela Reyes. Her focus is in bringing out each student's unique expression within flamenco, so I found this fascinating in terms of my work with my own students.

Tell us about opening your studio, which has now been running for five years. What were your thoughts when you opened, and how have you watched your business grow?

Back when I was just starting out, performing every weekend in tapas restaurants, the most exciting thing happened: People began coming to me as dance students. It had never occurred to me to teach classes; I didn't think I had the patience (and am still not sure I do!). But teaching has become the most exciting and joyous experience I've had in dance so far.

What were my thoughts when I opened? I don't think I had any particular thoughts! I thought I'd just teach one class a week for the few people who were interested. I started with just two or three students in a rehearsal space I had in my basement; I still have one of these original students with me, and she has been performing with Flamenco Chicago in professional shows for several years now.

What surprised me very much is that teaching has grown to be my primary work. Students have kept coming, and our studio now offers the greatest number of flamenco dance classes in Chicago, averaging about 13 classes a week. We are the only studio that holds student showcases twice a year in which everyone is invited to participate, not just a talented few -- and we do this in a professional theatre setting. So I think that we're able to offer a wonderful atmosphere and many opportunities for our students.

What have you learned?

I've been blessed to be able to learn so much in these five years of teaching as a profession, and will be able to learn so much more in the next five years! I've now taught hundreds of students, and have had the opportunity to learn from all of them, such things as how best to teach a variety of personalities and age groups, and how to serve different students who each want something a little different from their experience at our studio. It's demanding work (physically and mentally!), sometimes, but always so exciting to see students grow in their ability to dance and communicate their emotions, to see students change and develop as the years pass, and to see students grow in their confidence level which carries over into other areas of their lives.

I think I spent my first few years of teaching by just trying to pass on what my teachers had lovingly hammered into me through years and years of daily sweat and exhaustion in the studio. When I say "exhaustion," to me that's a good thing! But, over time, I began to change and learn through my own vision and experience, so I'm now at the point where I want to offer the medium of flamenco as a catalyst for people to get deeply in touch with their own spirit through movement. It should be a freeing thing, not a cage of rigid technique.

How does one become a dancer in a CF production?

When I have the occasional student who is talented and very serious about learning our dance form, I create opportunities for her to participate in our professional shows. Sometimes it starts just with a new dancer sitting with the musicians playing palmas (rhythmic flamenco hand-clapping) and giving jaleos (shouts of encouragement to the dancers, such as "Ole"), or participating in just one dance in the production. Or maybe I shouldn't say "production": Many of our shows are quite small, such as a wedding reception or school assembly, so these are ways to start offering performance opportunities to talented students.

Give us an anecdote about a special student or dancer from your studio -- an example of how you've seen flamenco dancing act as a life-changing agent for someone who has attended your classes or performed with you.

This is such an easy question to answer! My hands-down favorite part of my job is when I see a very shy, reserved person begin to find a more open and warm personality through flamenco. This has happened many times during the past five years, and I think that the desire to open up as a person is often the reason that students seek out a flamenco class. It's a place where students can explore additional facets of their personalities beyond what they're able to express in their professional lives or their officially sanctioned personalities within their family or social lives.

Students surprise themselves as they see their own beauty, spirit, and strength develop. This is a huge gift for a student to be able to give to herself, and it makes me happy that I can be a part of it.

What's next? This could be an upcoming performance, or a new development with your company, or both.

Immediately next is our Spring Student Showcase. All of our students have the opportunity to participate in student showcases twice a year, so the audience will see not just a handpicked few of the most talented students, but all of our students who wish to perform. It's not a professional show, but it is one with a great deal of love and heart expressed in it. When I opened my studio, I thought it was very important that every student have a chance to show what she (or occasionally, he) has learned. The great majority of our students are adults who are studying dance for the first time in their lives, so it's a great thrill for them to have the chance to perform on a theatrical stage.

Tickets for the May 18 Showcase and information on classes are available at the Website. The Showcase starts at 7 p.m. at St. Patrick Performing Arts Centre, 5900 W. Belmont.

About the Author:

A native of Johnstown, PA, Lauri Apple is a contender for the title, "world's most renowned bag lady," thanks to her somewhat popular (at times) website, FoundClothing. Lauri has a JD and doesn't know why, but it will take about 30 years for her to pay it off, and that worries her. Her favorite cities are Prague, Pittsburgh, Austin and Chicago. When she's not looking through people's trash, she's either painting, taking pictures, or making/thinking about making cartoons about her weird life.

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Kawon / January 17, 2009 6:37 AM

Don't Forget that Performers can also be sexy and naughty at the same time. Chicago Exotic Dancers are just that type of Entertainer! Whether they are performing at a House Party or a Live Club setting - Adult Entertainers bring a unique show and entertainment experience, whether or not you enjoy Burlesque Dancers.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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