Dance was a big part of Karen’s life growing up in Cape Breton and she has dabbled in most dance forms at some point. Before starting to learn flamenco dance, Karen enjoyed belly dancing for many years.
Eight years ago she tried flamenco and hasn’t looked back. It is now the only dance form she practices and performs and intends to dance with the Maria Osende Flamenco Company for many years to come.
What is your relationship with Nova Scotia?
I grew up in Cape Breton so have lived in Nova Scotia most of my life. I now live with my family in Dartmouth.
What brought you to dance with the Maria Osende Flamenco Company?
Dance has always been a big part of my life, from the time I was young. I have dabbled in most dance forms at some point, but did belly dancing for many years. Eight years ago, I was finally able to try flamenco and I haven’t looked back; it is now the only dance form I do and intend on dancing with the Maria Osende Flamenco Company for years to come.
What do you remember about your first encounter with flamenco?
I tried a flamenco class in my mid-20s and really loved it, but at that time, there weren’t enough students and the class was cancelled. I have a clear memory of the teacher, in the first class, getting us to work on our contra-clapping, which was challenging but I loved it; there was something about the complicated rhythms that really drew me in. When I was looking for another flamenco class to take a few years later, I found Maria’s classes and have been taking her classes ever since.
What prompted you to study flamenco?
The music is what drew me in first, but I distinctly remember watching my first flamenco performance; it was so powerful and engaging that I knew it was something that I wanted to do. Dancing and music has always been a big part of who I am but finding flamenco was like finding the dance style where I felt most myself.
What do you love about flamenco?
There is something about how assertive it is, and the relationship with the musicians and audience during a performance. Each dance has its own character, and when I put on that costume and hear the music, I feel like I become that character. Where other dance forms are much more subtle, there is something really empowering about looking at the audience straight on and telling a story.
Which flamenco artist inspires you the most and why?
That feels like an impossible question, because there are just so many. My favourite visiting artist who I studied with was Joaquin Grilo, because of his musicality and how he interpreted the music. Some others who I particularly love right now are Farruquito, Maria Moreno, Monica Iglesias, Eduardo Guerrero, the list is endless.
Are there any challenges you faced along the way? What did you do to move forward?
I think that’s the beauty of flamenco, there are ALWAYS challenges, haha. I remember when bata de cola felt impossible and now it is one of my favourite styles. My latest challenge is castanets; I think being comfortable to embrace the messiness is the best way to clean it up.
What do you think is the most important attribute or skill to have to progress in flamenco?
Understanding compas, definitely. There is a rhythm and flow to each compas that gives that style it’s flavour/character, and to embody it, you have to be able to hear and feel it. Working on your balance and posture really helps too.
Do you remember the first time you performed in a flamenco show? How did it go?
My first performance was an absolute beginner piece that I danced in a group, a tangos piece; I have performed on a stage so many times, but I still remember how nervous I was that night!
What is your favourite flamenco memory (eg studying, watching, performing)?
This is also such a tough question, because I have so many. Learning from all of the guest instructors has been so amazing, and we have been able to do some amazing local performances. I have a clear memory of the Flamenco Valentine show that I saw Maria and her company perform which is still one of my favourite shows ever. As for my own favourite performance, my last bata solo at the Seahorse is a pretty special memory for me because the audience that night was so amazing.
Anything else memorable about your flamenco journey that you would like to share?
Funny story: when Maria Serrano came to teach us workshops, we did so much footwork that I lost a toenail. haha. The pain was worth it. Definitely memorable, and I have never forgotten that footwork sequence.
Have you stayed connected to flamenco during the last year of quarantine and distancing?
I did some classes online, although the community of flamenco is what makes it so special, nothing beats in person classes.
Any current or future projects you would like to tell us about?
It has been a tough year, for sure, but the last few months I have felt a lot of inspiration and have some ideas that I would like to choreograph. I am looking forward to performing again.
Outside of flamenco, Karen has been a sign language interpreter for almost twenty years and now works as a supervisor for a team of educational interpreters across Atlantic Canada. Karen is used to people staring at her while she is interpreting and she jokes that maybe that helps her feel more comfortable performing on stage!
Karen is a mom of two kids, aged 9 and 7. She also enjoys yoga and cooking and is a music and book addict.