A young flamenco dancer stands motionless on a small wooden tablet, her black ruffled skirt billowing in the warm spring breeze. The accompanying guitarist and singer perch on the edges of their chairs, awaiting her signal, while the crowd of rapt tourists gathered in Seville’s Plaza de España looks on. A sprawling semi–circle surrounded by elaborately tiled buildings and balustrades, the plaza was built for the 1929 Ibero–American Exposition, a tribute to Spain’s cultural dominance. Suddenly, the stillness breaks as the dancer begins to stomp her feet in a rhythm that grows steadily faster and faster.
The guitarist, a blue–eyed man with a mop of dirty–blond hair, is Dennis Duffin, a Toronto astrophysicist–turned–flamenco maestro. A Canadian dazzling audiences in the streets of the city where the art form was born might seem like an anomaly – but Duffin’s infiltration of the Sevillan flamenco scene is not that unusual. In fact, there was diversity in flamenco from the beginning. Two hundred years ago, the flamenco we know today blossomed from the musical traditions of the Roma, Spanish and North African populations present in southern Spain. The fiery blend of passionate percussive dancing, lightning–fast guitar and mournful lyrics telling tales of the region’s disenfranchised communities quickly became Spain’s signature artistic expression, imported to Hollywood in the 1940s by superstar dancers like Carmen Amaya. Flamenco continues to be a clichéd yet surprisingly accurate representation of the people of Andalusia – rambunctious, flamboyant, hot–blooded.