From time to time, NDEO features guest blog posts, written by our members about their experiences in the field of dance education. We continue this series with an entry from Bridgit Luján, Dance Faculty at Central New Mexico Community College. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please email Shannon Dooling-Cain at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flamenco dance offers tools for teaching students across all techniques
By Bridgit Luján, Central New Mexico Community College Dance Faculty
Flamenco is a global dance form that offers many important concepts to teachers who are educating students in today’s inclusive dance programs. As a dance style that is often mislabeled and boxed into the category of heritage or narrative dance, flamenco is often overlooked as a traditional dance, rather than an evolving technique offering excellent teaching models for the diverse classroom. With influences from various world cultures, it has developed a unique ideology that today provides dance educators with tools and insights for effectively working with diverse student populations. Teachers can apply the concepts of flamenco to their chosen dance style without becoming proficient flamenco artists.
Flamenco’s endemic protest of injustice and liberation of the individual is a key way for dance teachers to examine global social issues, while facilitating self-expression, self-empowerment and creativity. Flamenco is conceptually based on no two people learning or dancing alike; it is the embodiment of differentiated lessons and learning. Since flamenco developed from outcasted people it is inherently an inclusive dance form. Age, weight, and disability have never been barriers to participation in this dance tradition. Those differences are what define the art form, even at the professional level. Flamenco is presented through a layering of techniques that the individual stewards, rather than a codified school of thought such as Cecchetti, Fosse, Graham, etc. The aesthetic of flamenco is not dictated by the outside, but rather from the inside; the individuals’ emotional journey stewards the movement and creates the aesthetic. The most important teacher of technique is self.
Flamenco was transmitted generation to generation through student-centric, student-driven methods long before those terms were coined. Flamenco’s individualism opens itself to diversity and inclusion without specific breaks from the technique to make accommodations, they are built into the dance. In essence everyone is accommodated, according to both their attributes and weaknesses. The technique developed from fusion and is a sum of accommodations, the opposite of the standard Western dance approach where accommodations are an exception and make a student different from their peers.
Because Flamenco originated from oral tradition, when its training medium moved out of the family and into the studio it had to borrow ideas for class format and conceptual training structures from other styles, such as ballet.
As a teacher of flamenco, jazz, and ballet, I have been afforded the opportunity to reverse that exchange and borrow concepts, such as differentiated teaching and inclusive learning, from flamenco for my jazz and ballet classes. Flamenco gave me teaching tools, concepts, and ideas that I did not gain in the study of any other style. It gave me perspective, a new way of thinking about accommodation. It helped me to cultivate my own creativity to train all students individually within a group class, not just those who were said to need formal accommodations. Every student needs accommodation, that is part of the human condition - as overwhelming as that sounds when teaching a large class. For example, accomodation plans do not address common physical differences such as flat feet, hyper-flexibility or lack of turn out. Students with these issues are often the most vulnerable of the student population because they are thrown into the general student population and are expected to just keep up, even though they could be injured if their issues are not addressed. Flamenco’s ideology has also helped me better support the rehabilitation process for students recovering from injuries. Studying flamenco and utilizing its philosophy of movement and how the body can serve individual talents and weaknesses while being part of a collective aesthetic has helped me to successfully teach mixed level classes, allowing for full integration in all styles I teach.
Beyond the physical challenges of students, educators must also examine emotional challenges. What about trauma survivors? Flamenco was born from marginalized people who were persecuted for centuries, essentially generations of trauma victims and survivors. The art form itself developed as therapy, a way that these impoverished marginalized groups could work through their plight to embody resilience and healing. Today, trauma survivors all over world make immediate connections with the healing invoked by flamenco. The flamenco community’s focus on artistic philosophy, rather than technique, removes the anxiety of fitting in, having to fit the cookie cutter mold that dancers often believe they must achieve. Flamenco instills a sense of belonging to the group because of one’s individuality, not in spite of it. This environment, a safe place where trauma can be explored and released through movement, can be recreated when teaching other genres of dance.
Today in education, teachers are expected to accommodate students confidentially. This can be a challenge in the studio setting as students openly see one another’s work - very different from a classroom setting. Dance teachers are under-supported in this area, as most accommodation plans only address academic learning. Most codified dance techniques were designed with uniformity of movement rather than accommodation in mind, so dance educators are left without frameworks for accommodations, left to invent their own. Flamenco provides a set of ideas that educators can draw upon as a resource to get out of the box and be creative to solve the challenges of this unsupported area in dance education.
Combining flamenco’s endemic inclusive philosophy with movement science empowers teachers to effectively break with technique as necessary while still achieving course goals and curricular requirements. Exposure to the discipline of flamenco, particularly as a college course, will add an indispensable understanding how to embody accommodations and build equitable course work. With a creative functioning methodology to draw upon, a teacher will feel at ease, rather than stressed, when faced with so much variance between students. I encourage educators to consider cross training in flamenco for your next personal development study.
Bridgit Luján was first introduced to dance at age two when she began studying Spanish folk dance. At age four she began classical ballet and jazz, later dancing Pointe. In her late teens she focused on escuela bolera, classical Spanish dance and flamenco. She has an MA in Dance from the University of New Mexico and a 7-12 New Mexico State Teaching License. She has spent a considerable amount of time in Spain furthering her study of flamenco. Bridgit directed her own national touring company, Dulce Flamenco Internacional from 2003-2017. She currently teaches at the Central New Mexico Community College. Over the past 20 years she has also taught at the Santa Fe Community College, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Public Schools, Santa Fe Public Schools, the Institute for Spanish Arts, and the National Conservatory of Flamenco. In 2013 she became the first and only American flamenco dance teacher to be an endorsed member of the Asociación de Profesores de Danza Española y Flamenco of Madrid, Spain (APDE). Bridgit has written for various publications, including Dance Magazine. She has received various awards including the 2017 Higher Education Award from Dance Teacher magazine.