Sara Baras: The flamenco superstar wearing the pants

A seductive Spanish art form characterized in the popular imagination by a bright frilly dress, the tradition of flamenco is fast becoming an arena for innovation.

Sara Baras: The flamenco superstar wearing the pants
Flamenco superstar Sara Baras performs on Thursday as part of the New York City Flamenco Festival. Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP
And flamenco superstar Sara Baras is at the forefront, using her heels to pierce gender stereotypes by trading the ruffled gown for a pair of pants to dance “farruca” — a style normally limited to men.
The 47-year-old from the southwestern Spanish city of Cadiz, who is starring in New York's Flamenco Festival USA series this weekend, says she enjoys the traditionally masculine style farruca because she “likes the risk, it makes you grow.”
“It's an elegant, sober style; it's a trouser and a shirt, not your dress or your flowers or anything. You cannot hide. You have to have truth.”
Baras begins her show in a shirt with black pants, before transitioning to a spectacular dress with undulating folds.
Today, she says, the “farruca” belongs to both men and women.
“It does not matter what the movement is,” she told AFP. “Before men could not move their hips and women did not use their feet.”
But today, she said, “a man can move his hips beautifully without being feminine, and a woman can dance with her feet without being masculine.”
She even says dancing farruca allows her to tap into her femininity, citing “the sensuality of the movement in pants.”
“The body is more naked; therefore you have to be more careful with placement — your hip, your legs, your waist, everything has to be in place.”
'Straight to the heart'
Spanish sensation Rosalia has earned global acclaim for her fusion of flamenco with electronica and trap, a style of hip hop born in the southern United States. 
But she's also stoked controversy: some accuse her of cultural appropriation, as the tradition comes from Spain's southern Andalusia region where the gypsy community created it to express their suffering. Baras dismisses those criticisms, saying flamenco belongs to everyone.
“Anyone who feels and lives it can do it,” she said. “Flamenco does not understand borders; it is an art that goes straight to the heart. It has no passport, it has no schedule, it has no limitations. Flamenco is free.”
The acclaimed dancer says her art has changed since she became a mother nearly eight years ago, seeing her place less emphasis on technical perfection and speed.
“Silence, a gesture, a sweet moment,” are now the goals, she said. “Being still and being able to express something almost without moving.”
Baras — whose tour began in Switzerland and will soon visit Miami, Abu Dhabi, Valencia and Barcelona — vows to keep dancing “as long as the body endures.”
“I do not know my life without dancing,” she said. “You dance and release everything; you communicate with everyone as if you had an additional form of expression.”
“You wear your shoes and fly.”
By AFP's Laura Bonilla

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Meet the New Yorker who moved to Spain to become a flamenco dancer

Leilah Broukhim isn’t a typical flamenco dancer. For starters she was born and raised in New York City, to parents of Sephardic Persian heritage.

Meet the New Yorker who moved to Spain to become a flamenco dancer
Photo by Timo Nuñez

But after being inspired by a flamenco class while studying film at Columbia University she arrived in Seville in 2000 with plans to spend no longer than a year learning more about the art.  

Needless to say, she stayed a lot longer than that and built up a career as a dancer on the tablao circuit before launching her own projects.

“When I first started out, there really weren’t many foreign dancers at a professional level,” Broukhim explains. “It wasn’t that it was closed off to anyone outside Spain, it just wasn’t the norm.”

But since flamenco was inscribed on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010, the art has seen a surge in popularity and it has become much more common to see foreigners studying flamenco here.

“It wasn’t that those in the flamenco scene weren’t welcoming, I just felt I had to work harder as it’s not part of the culture I was brought up with. I had to prove to myself as much as anyone that I deserved to be here and was as good as those who came from a flamenco tradition that goes back centuries,”explains Broukhim.

“So I studied hard, went to a lot of shows, worked with amazing people and absorbed everything I could.”

Last year, Broukhim directed and performed in the inaugural show at Madrid’s Centro Cultural Flamenco with a show inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca, a show that ran from the opening in February 2019 until it was forced to close at the start of the pandemic earlier this year.

Leilah (Left) with her “flamenco family” during a performance of Lorca Poeta Flamenco. 

“It was show inspired by the poet’s love of flamenco. He was very influenced by the music and plight of the art form at the time, it and the people who performed it were very marginalized but he championed them and in fact supported the first ever flamenco competition in 1922 in Granada.

“It was a fantastic experience, not only in getting closer to Lorca’s work but we formed our own really close flamenco family,” Broukhim reminisced.

Less than a year later and it is hard to believe that the flamenco world is in such dire straits. For the coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the entire performing arts sector not least in Spain where the industry was so reliant on tourism.

A recent report by the Unión Flamenca revealed that 42 percent of those artists professionally employed in the flamenco sector will be forced to retrain and in art that requires 100 percent dedication, many don’t have other skills to fall back on.

“It’s very hard, for many of us flamenco goes beyond a passion, we have dedicated our lives to it but right now the whole sector has been hit really hard. Most flamenco artists don't have a backup plan.”

For Broukhim though, the coronavirus crisis has provided a pause and an opportunity to pursue other passions. “It was tough all of a sudden to just stop flamenco but it also gave me a chance to take a breath and think about other things I wanted to do.”

“The lockdown gave me time to dedicate my time to yoga, meditation, to look inside myself rather than project myself to an audience and that was really valuable,” she said shyly. “It also gave me a chance to concentrate on writing my own music, playing guitar and singing.”

Lockdown saw Broukhim collaborate with guitarrist Cristian O. Gugliara and producer Fernando Vacas and launch four singles.

“It's very far removed from flamenco, more of an American psychedelic folk sound,” says Broukhim, who during lockdown released her music videos on youtube and performed live concerts on instagram and facebook.  

“The reponse was great, so I'm taking it further and have formed a band, and we're playing our first gig, in a covid-19 safe environment, in Madrid next week!” she laughed. If you told me five years ago that I'd be doing this, I'd never believe you!”.

“But we have to adapt to survive.”

Follow Leilah Broukhim, flamenco artist and singer/songwriter on Instagram and CLICK HERE for details of her next concert.