Pitching the freedom of just letting yourself go

Organizers of Flamenco Fest and activities to follow stress that dancing and singing are all about having fun

Last updated on Aug 31, 23

Posted on Aug 31, 23

4 min read

Claudia Aguirre, local flamenco teacher and dancer, doesn’t think flamenco is a better form of dance than any other, but she says it is unique in the way it naturally produces power and emotion in its performers.

As an example, she thought back to a routine taught by a guest dancer at this year’s Grand River Flamenco Fest.

“There was this moment in the choreography where you’re grooving and flicking your skirt – it’s kind of fun. And then suddenly, it breaks into a hand clap and a thigh hit and like double stomp into the ground and then a jump and the expression on the face—that furrowing of the brow—is something that seems to happen really naturally in like a snap of the neck when the hair flicks. I was like, ‘Wow, it’s so powerful. It’s so dramatic. It’s so over the top, but it’s not over the top, because that’s what’s required of the dance form.’ To me, it just made me realize that it makes the rest of life seem so boring. Because you can really just throw yourself into that expression and it’s completely suitable.

“It’s a place where I feel that I can be expressive and emotive,” she enthused.

Aguirre is one half of CalúJules. The other half is her husband Julian Berg. The pair are the organizers, artistic directors and also performers in the Grand River Flamenco Fest, a festival celebrating the art of flamenco in the area for six years now.

Julian Berg and Claudia Aguirre are CalúJules, local advocates for all things flamenco. [Leah Gerber/File Photo]

The pair moved their flamenco school, where they teach  dance, guitar and singing, to Neruda Studios in St. Jacobs about a year ago.

Today (Thursday) is the last day of the festival and it’s going out with a flourish.

The day’s events include a free cajón clinic at Long and McQuade at 5:45 p.m., and then at a flamenco performance at the Jazz Room at 7:30 p.m.

The  cajón clinic is a drumming workshop with a specific drum: the cajón. It’s taking place at Long and McQuade in Waterloo, where students will learn the basic hand techniques needed to play. Carmen Romero, a well-established and nationally known flamenco dancer, teacher and cajón player will be teaching. Students are encouraged to bring their own cajóns, though a limited number of them are also available to borrow from the store. The clinic is free, though students are asked to register in advance. That said, Aguirre encourages community members to just come out if they’re interested.

After she’s done teaching the cajón workshop, Romero will be the headliner flamenco dancer at the Encore Party: Flameno Show at the Jazz Room across the street. She will be joined by Shirley “LA Pili” Pincay on vocals, Julian Berg on guitar and a guest appearance by Claudia Aguirre. This show is a paid performance.

Flamenco is all about passion, and expression, which can be difficult to draw out of timid students but Aguirre and Berg both strive to create a welcoming atmosphere, and are skilled at helping people fully express themselves.

Aguirre says when she is teaching flamenco, she always begins by systematically describing the movements, and by doing so, she demystifies the movement and emotions meant to be portrayed in it.

“If you go to a classroom, they might say that the sentiment of this kind of step is very flirtatious, or the sentiment of what you see is a furrowed brow, or a snap of the head, and then trying to be descriptive.  So that’s where I think some of my training from having done a bachelor of dance at York University [comes in to play], doing heavy description of movements.”

She  gives an example from a recent class the pair were teaching together.

“There was this one step that we were working on about a month ago and I was like, ‘look, this one’s flirtatious. Go ahead and make googly eyes at the guitarist and make him uncomfortable because you’re being flirtatious in your dance movements, and it’s all good. It’s fine. I’m his wife. I’m right here and we know that we’re doing it because we’re acting and we’re playing a part and it’s all in good fun.’

“And also, we try to create a friendly atmosphere that’s not overly formal or anything like that. It’s just making people feel welcome. You know, goofing around a little bit,” added Berg. “It’s a good opportunity to practice coming out of your shell a little.”

After years of running Flamenco Fest and building the flamenco community in the region, Aguirre and Berg say it’s the community that keeps them going, especially through tough times like the pandemic. They also credit a reasonable rental rate from Neruda Arts as helping them get through the pandemic.

“We also feel a little responsible to them now, to keep things going. It’s not just about us anymore. You don’t want to sort of abandon them,” said Berg.

“They need their flamenco fix,” said Aguirre.

The pair say more flamenco events will be taking place throughout September including Ana Lía and CalúJules – Flamenco Plus at the Jazz Room on September 6, and Claudia and Julian at La Lola Catering restaurant for Flamenco Fridays on September 8 and 22.

For more information on these, and registration and tickets for the cajón clinic and encore party performance, visit www.calujules.com.

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