I dance the flamenco tablao circuit here in Montreal since 2001 so have experienced multiple times the let down of a certain audience members who thought I was Spanish because of my passion, understanding and ability to dance, yet when I smile and say, no, I'm from Alberta... whoa.. the look...
How can a woman from Alberta dance like that??
They either over-congratulate me for this miraculous accomplishment, Wow!! Bravo!!, or, worse, do a value judgement that descends my abilities into the realm of luck or falsehood.
I think the most flagrant was:
So... you're kinda just pretending to do flamenco??
Not to mention the first documentary films I watched about flamenco, where the gypsies themselves frown straight into the camera and shake their heads.. tsktsktsk.. don't even try you gadjo. You'll never have it.
Oh god, how many times have I danced and had this gypsy's disapproval over my head like a noose...
So, either I stop dancing flamenco, or I confront this question head on to avoid verbal and physical paralysis. I have to learn what it means for me, a white anglo woman with Albertan, British, Russian and Norwegian roots to be practicing an art that originates from gypsies in the south of Spain. That's a lot of cultural identity questions to wade through! How can I take 'rights' to what I do??! Do I have a right??? Now, in 2018, there is so much more awareness and discussion about cultural appropriation... it's a pertinent topic.
My solution is and has always been the same: Understand as much as I can about the roots and actual forms in flamenco so I understand why I like it so much and how it works. Then, MAKE IT MY OWN. I read somewhere (I'll try and find the source) that 'Real' flamenco, or Flamenco Puro, is essentially an expression of the individual - No 2 artists should dance, sing or play guitar exactly the same. This philosophy suggests to carve out one's own interpretation, AND to not become a parody even of oneself, IMPROVISE. Every year, every day, every minute.. is different. To express with authenticity and honesty it's necessary to acknowledge the present moment.
Don't Reproduce. Do Recreate.
To Recreate, I ask myself: What do all those elements mean to me? In 2 directions: Inwards into my own personal history, and way way out to roots beyond cultural identity. I ask what it means to be human... or a fish.. or even water... Agua.
Whew... there's a lot to discuss on this topic - WIP ;)