Many Steps, Many Styles: Dance Offers Views of Other Cultures

When dancers take to one of the Straz Center’s stages, they display the skills they’ve honed through hours and hours of practice.

They also can offer a glimpse into another culture.

“Dance is education as well as entertainment,” said Kelly King, lead contemporary dance teacher at the Patel Conservatory.

Case in point: Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, premiere practitioners of the centuries-old form of dance known as flamenco. The company will perform Friday, March 31 in Ferguson Hall.  

Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana dance company performing.

“Flamenco is a dance of passion. It’s a dance of fire,” King said. “When people watch it, they feel the passion coming off of the dancers.”

Flamenco’s fire originated in Spain, but its spark was lit by the Roma peoples, who migrated from India to Spain. They brought their songs and dances, as well as their tambourines and castanets, to their new home. Once there, Roma traditions mingled with those of Spain’s Sephardic Jews and Moors, eventually forming the dance and music we know as flamenco.

“Even if you don’t dance, you feel that fire,” King said. “That is when two performers have transcended and told a story, and made the audience feel the passion and the fire between them.”

Dance is well ingrained in Indian culture, playing a prominent role in India’s entertainment industry, its sacred rites, royal celebrations and the creative expressions of the most remote villagers.

Indian dance broke through the mainstream last year with the energetic musical number “Naatu Naatu” from Bollywood blockbuster RRR.

Choreographer Joya Kazi explores Indian dance in Rhythm India: Bollywood and Beyond, being performed March 30 in Ferguson Hall.

The performance takes the audience from the soundstages of India’s massive film industry to its temples and palaces as well as its desert villages.  

Bollywood films are extravagant productions known for having show-stopping musical numbers.

“I think dance is coming back with a vengeance right now,” King said. “We’ve come off of two years of the pandemic, we’re recovering, we’re coming back strong.”

Sustaining that comeback requires new, young and talented dancers preparing themselves for professional careers. That’s one of the missions of the Patel’s Next Generation Ballet (NGB).

A stepping-stone for great dance talent, NGB is a pre-professional auditioned dance company that prepares serious young dancers for professional employment through instruction, coaching and performance opportunities.

NGB also is The Straz’s resident ballet company. Its next production will be Don Quixote, based on Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century novel of the same name. Don Quixote will be presented May 6-7 in Ferguson Hall.

Promotional photo for Next Generation Ballet’s production of Don Quixote.

It’s a chance to see some of ballet’s rising young talent before they move into the professional world. Many dancers may choose routes other than ballet to follow, but the training they are receiving now will remain vital, regardless of which direction they take.

King was mentored by Bob Fosse protégé Ann Reinking. King has performed on Broadway, been a Radio City Music Hall Rockette and danced in plenty of non-classical settings. She got the jobs, though, because she had mastered the essentials.

“You can’t do any of that unless you have the basics of your training,” King said. “I will always and forever say it, ballet is the foundation of all other forms of dance. If you don’t have technique, the other stuff comes just a bit harder. When you have the technique and the training, everything else falls into place.”

. . . . Looks like our technique still needs a bit of work.

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