My Spain: Seville

‘Flamenco is not just a dance, it’s a culture’

'Flamenco is not just a dance, it's a culture'
Jani Rodrigues loves Seville's relaxed pace of life. Photo: The Local
In this week’s instalment of My Spain, Seville-based flamenco student and one-time Spanish teacher Jani Rodrigues fills us in on what she loves most about the sunny capital of Andalusia and what it’s like to be an outsider performing flamenco in the art form's traditional heartland.

Where are you from and what’s your background?

I grew up in Boston. My mum’s African American and my dad’s Cape Verdean American.

And how did you end up in Seville?

I've been dancing my whole life but when I was 23 I saw a flamenco show at the Lincoln Centre in New York and I thought this is a perfect combination of everything, including tap and the Middle Eastern hand movements. There are so many layers. Now I dance a minimum of three hours a day, if not more. I’m hooked.

Originally I was coming  to Seville every July to study and eventually I moved here.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable as a foreigner performing flamenco in Seville?

No. I've been encouraged to do so. But I do feel a great sense of responsibility and a huge awareness that flamenco is not just a dance, it’s also part of a culture. I want to dance with integrity. Flamenco requires a lot of study and I want to make sure that I've studied hard so that I’m not just saying: “Oh, I want to dance a bit of flamenco.”

How would you describe Seville in three words?

It’s beautiful, traditional and relaxed.

And how would you describe the people?

I tend to think of Seville as neighbourhoods. The Alameda (at the northern end of the old town) has a younger, more bohemian crowd, with lots of different kinds of music. For Triana — a suburb across the river Guadalquivir from Seville — I think of flamenco. It’s more family-oriented. I also think of the old ladies at the bus stop who are always willing to have a conversation. And I think of how slow everything is.

Would you say Sevillianos are open to outsiders?

I honestly don’t think I would. People are very traditional and when it comes to being open to different kinds of food and getting involved in different cultures, they're not so open.

And how is it being a black in Seville?

This is my fourth year of Spain and I have to say, it’s generally not an issue but I've had some intense experiences that have sometimes made me wonder why I'm in here. I'm not talking about the flamenco world: artists are used to cross-cultural communication. But it can be difficult outside that world.

For example, I've been solicited as a prostitute by strangers on the street a number of times. I've also had offensive songs sung in my presence and I've been targeted randomly for no reason. Once I was sprayed in the face with silly string by some young people in blackface at carnival time. But these things don’t happen every day.

If something does happens here in Spain, I’m not really understood when I talk to people about it. There’s a bit of a resistance towards believing me. There’s often a defensive attitude instead of a reflection.

Describe your perfect afternoon in Seville.

I would definitely walk along the river, and have coffee on Calle Betis in Triana, or go up to the Alameda district. Then I'd go to a flamenco show, of course. I really like Casa Memoria because there are great quality flamenco dancers at a good price. Otherwise, I would recommend a flamenco peña, or club. You can find them on the internet.

And where would you go for a drink?

I like El Cachorro in Triana, and the flamenco crowd hangs out in Los Corralones which is on the Ronda de Capuchinos. They have flamenco shows and everyone goes there and waits for the party to happen.

Finally, has Spain lived up to your expectations?

Absolutely. I’m very happy with the people I've met and with what I've learned about flamenco. Then there’s the great weather and the food. It’s great. Also, one of the reasons I left New York was to get away from the rat race and slow down a bit. So in that sense Seville is perfect for me!

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