Flamenco dancing fueled by passion

Performance: From her North Laurel home, a teacher helps her students hone their skills for a performance.

May 13, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Before entering the small dance studio, you can hear the booming sound of their heels clicking and pounding on the hardwood floors.

The noise is like thunder as the six students and their teacher rehearse for a performance of flamenco, the ancient folkloric dance of Spain.

Flamenco dancer and teacher Natalia Monteleon leads the group, keeping a close eye on the intricate footwork and the women's swirling ruffled skirts. She claps out a rhythm, and the dancers concentrate on drumming the cadence into the floor.

With their second performance at the Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia less than two weeks away, the corps members of Arte Flamenco are in rehearsals twice a week or more, honing their skills.

Last year's performance at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre was sold out, and the corps members hope this year's event will do just as well.

Flamenco has a cult following, and the dancers infuse their art with passion and fire.

"Once you begin studying flamenco, it becomes a part of your life," says Arte Flamenco corps member Jeannette Stanko-Fonseca, 36, who teaches Spanish at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It's such a passionate culture and dance.

"And everyone has been lied to, cheated on or has made a wrong decision," she says. "You can put all of that in your dancing, and you can hear it in the music."

Marta Barnette, 29, who manages a bank in Chevy Chase, says flamenco takes her back to her roots.

"My mother is Spanish, and I lived there for the first few years of my life, so this is like going back home," Barnette says.

Another student, Alex Kulikov, an 18-year-old Long Reach High School senior, emigrated from Russia 2 1/2 years ago. He became a flamenco dancer after several years of studying ballroom dancing in his native Ukraine.

"I love it more and more every day," Kulikov says.

Monteleon, whose given name is Natalie Sager, understands her students' zeal.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Monteleon began studying flamenco at age 10 with local dance teacher Maria Morales. She later studied with flamenco teachers in New Orleans and Madrid.

Monteleon says teaching the classic folkloric dance of the Andalusian Gypsies, or flamencos, came only after years of performing around the country and in Spain.

"I never really wanted to teach, only to perform," she says, laughing. "Flamenco is something you don't study in an academic or formal way, and I always felt that I couldn't unravel what I'd learned."

But Monteleon's teachers -- all masters of the art form -- were enthusiastic about the culture and dance, which originated in southern Spain about the 14th century as Gypsies, Arabs, Jews, and socially outcast Christians mingled on the fringes of society.

One of the good things about flamenco, Monteleon says, is that dancers "don't have to be a young, skinny girl like ballet dancers. We can -- and do -- dance forever," she says. "And the best ones are those who aren't highly schooled."

Monteleon, whose "day job" is as a Peace Corps librarian in Washington, teaches as many as 25 students at her new dance studio in the North Laurel home she shares with her husband, David Sager, a jazz musician.

Monteleon began teaching five students in rented dance studios around the Baltimore-Washington area.

She decided to build her home dance studio a few months ago after angry studio heads complained that the students' heavy pounding was ruining their floors.

Monteleon teaches three classes -- advanced, intermediate and beginner -- each week. Students pay $15 per class or $12 per class if they register for a month of instruction.

The biggest challenge in teaching flamenco, Monteleon says, is "getting people to understand that they're learning a culture and not just dance steps. But it's a big thrill to see them become dancers and soloists."

Arte Flamenco's performance May 23 at the Rouse Theatre will feature four soloists, including Monteleon, Anna Menendez, who teaches flamenco at the Peabody Institute, and professional dancer Edwin Aparicio.

The show will feature flamenco guitarists and singers as well as other company members.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Spanish Club at Wilde Lake High School.

Arte Flamenco's full concert at Columbia's Jim Rouse Theatre begins at 7: 30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 301-617-0694. Cost is $15 or $12.50 for senior citizens and students with ID.

Pub Date: 5/13/99

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