Friday, February 3, 2012

Video Killed the Flamenco Radio Star

By Mele Martinez

The word is out... Madonna is seeking a flamenco dancer for her new tour.

There were several things on my mind today, and several things that I was hoping to blog about, but when Madonna makes such news known, it is hard to talk about anything else. So, I will indulge her, to a point.

Several flamencos have been discussing (on social networking sites) the news of Madonna's employment ad, and though some seem enthusiastic about the opportunity and even have dancers in mind, most seem to be either angry or laughing. I want to put aside, for the time being, the arguments that she would or wouldn't present flamenco with integrity, that she will be "watering down" or commercializing the art form, or that this kind of public exposure to flamenco has its good and bad points. Instead, I'd like to focus on one detail - made prominent in the advertisement: the desire that the flamenco dancer have a "Mediterranean look."

To really talk about this, I need to know exactly what that means... what is the "Mediterranean" look? Obviously, I am not the first person to ask this question, and if fact, there is an page already gleaming with answers. They range in description: dark hair and eyes, curly long dark hair, olive skin, Caucasian with a tan, Italian, Greek, exotic and "islandy." I find the answers limited. After all, isn't the Mediterranean teaming with populations of every color of complexion? Dozens of countries circle the Mediterranean Sea, including countries of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Certainly, this definition of a Mediterranean look doesn't cover the diversity of the peoples of all those cultures and backgrounds.

But let's get to my real questions...
Is it tougher for people without the "look" in flamenco, to be appreciated as artists? Or does it just make it tougher to get paid?

Those of you who know what I look like, know that these questions hit home for me. Physically, I do not have a "flamenco look." Not even close. I am about as opposite from the physical characteristics of Gypsy as I can be, and to compound the matter, I don't even look like a dancer. I am not long, slender, or carved.

That said, I know that there are many other flamencos out there - with talents and skills towering over my own - who probably wouldn't get the Madonna job either, even if they wanted it. Let's name a just a few: Concha JareƱo, Rocio Molina, Juana Amaya, Pastora Galvan, Belen Maya, Christina Hoyos, La Tati, etc. And that is just a small list - not even considering the male dancers. None of these artists necessarily fit the description of "Mediterranean" in appearance, yet they all excel in an art form that strangely conjures ideas of a dark "islandy" goddesses in the minds of much of the American public.

Perhaps Madonna and her marketing entourage have their reasons for needing a flamenco dancer who looks Mediterranean. They might even be very good reasons. But I doubt there is any reason that could convince me that audiences need to see flamenco - an art that is so distinctively unique - performed by only those who conform to "look" the part. It saddens me, and I would guess that it also saddens a Creator who made us all with our own distinct "look."


  1. My gut reaction to this is one of frustration and annoyance. It seems to me that anyone with a bit of hiphop dance training and the ability to mimmick a flamenco dancer, with the right look, can score some decent dough with none of the blood, sweat and tears real flamencos put into their art and studies. Plus, I never really liked Madonna. - Jason

  2. From Leisa Forman: I read your blog. 2 things. 1. I think by Mediterranean, she means dark hair,strong features, not blonde. I also think she wants someone with typical thin body type, since she seems obsessed with being thin and buff. 2. She is trying to be "in vogue" with Flamenco, and will likely give it the "Hollywood" twist. But still, I think any notoriety for Flamenco generally makes more people interested, and therefore more people hired. It's not ideal, but maybe not terrible?
    I remember once, when someone was talking badly about a music group, saying that they were "ripping off" flamenco by playing just rumba and calling it flamenco, EVA ENCINIAS replied with this: Many people have come to puro flamenco by way of the Gypsy Kings. Perhaps. As Jason says, people who like the pop stuff can have it.