My relationship with flamenco was not love at first sight. I guess it didn’t help that I was young, but I didn’t get it. It looked like a lot of stomping, a lot of hand twirling, and a lot of hand clapping. I didn’t know what the singer was crying nor did I have an appreciation for the intricate flamenco guitar. It was what my mom danced and that’s all I knew.
So I naturally categorized flamenco as something that old people did. I stuck to my ballet, jazz, and hip hop classes until I turned 16 when my mom, after years of persuasion, finally convinced me to take a beginner’s workshop with Rosario Ancer at Centro Flamenco. I have to say, I was utterly shocked and immediately hooked! But it wasn’t because I fell in love with it. It was because, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t pick up the dance steps instantly like with all the other dance forms. Coordinating the feet and the arms and the head all simultaneously to the complex rhythm of 8 and 12 beats… This was a challenge that I had never been faced with before and I was determined to find out why it was so difficult.
I suppose I like to challenge myself. For those of you who don’t know me, I moved to Berlin in 2011, simply because I saw it as a challenge. I knew no one and didn’t speak a word of German. Flamenco was another one of those challenges in my life.
And so the flamenco addiction began. After only a year of classes, Rosario invited me to join the Intensive Training Program. This was a big deal for little Nanako as this group consisted of Vancouver’s top professional flamenco dancers of that time. I used to drive all the way from the North Shore to Centro Flamenco on Dunbar and 18th, dedicating all of my Saturdays to flamenco. With the help of my peers and Rosario’s mentorship, I was soon dancing sevillanas and fandangos at the cuadros and debuted as a solo dancer at the age of 20. It was around the same time I started dancing at The Kino Café and other venues around town. But performing wasn’t enough. I wanted to learn more.
I knew I had to eventually go to the birthplace of flamenco, and my curiosity took me to Spain in 2005. My first trip to Spain was with Bonnie Stewart and we shared many great moments at the Festival de Jerez that year. Having tasted what it’s like in the heart of flamenco, I knew I had to go back and not just for a couple weeks. An inspiring talk with Myriam Allard had me convinced that I should study in Sevilla for a year, so with the encouragement of Rosario and the approval of my family, I saved up enough money to enroll in the advanced dance program at the Cristina Heeren Flamenco Foundation.
This was a game changer. I cannot begin to describe how important this was for my growth as a flamenco dancer. There are just some things that you can only learn by immersing yourself in the culture, breaking toe nails from dancing 6 hours every day, and being yelled at by Milagros Menjibar. Not only were my instructors flamenco gods and goddesses, but the classes were accompanied by guitarists and singers who are all now famous. Many of my classmates are successfully performing in Spain and around the world today. It was the best learning environment a flamenco dancer could ever ask for.
Yet this one year of intensive learning was not enough. I felt like I had just dipped my toes into the realm of flamenco. When I came back to Vancouver, I felt a void as I became a career woman working overtime, finishing my studies part-time, and teaching on weekends. Consequently, my flamenco thirst was quenched only while dancing in Rosario’s company. She was always inviting world-class guest artists – only now do I realize how valuable those experiences were for someone dancing flamenco abroad. It was also extremely inspirational to watch Rosario craft productions from beginning to end, witnessing the entire creative process. I was especially inspired after being part of Mis Hermanas, a production that took us on a tour of Mexico and won Rosario an Isadora Award for Excellence in Choreography. I knew that I would one day want to create something meaningful like that.
So what did I do? I knew I had to dedicate more time to flamenco so I quit my job and went to Sevilla. After taking classes for a couple months, I backpacked around Europe and made my last stop in Berlin to visit Rosario’s daughter, Alejandra. She convinced me to move there, and it didn’t take much to convince me! In two months, I had my visa, sold all my furniture, gave all my clothes away, and moved to Berlin with my Lonely Planet German phrase book.
Not knowing what I could do with flamenco in this foreign land, I only brought a couple pairs of flamenco shoes, a couple skirts, and one dress. Turns out, the only person I knew in Berlin was a flamenco guitarist I had met in Sevilla. He immediately got me a dance gig three months later. Lucky me – he just so happened to be one of the best guitarists in Germany. Now, here I am, two and a half years later, working with only the best flamenco artists, collaborating and creating productions and touring the country together. I know I am truly blessed and feel fortunate to be in the presence of such wonderful and talented musicians and dancers.
Today, flamenco is such a significant part of my life and I want to bring it out from the wings, put it on centre stage, and shine a spotlight on it. I love and appreciate everything about it – the immense dedication it requires, the deep history and tradition it has, the high calibre of skill and musicality it involves, and the countless complex palos and singing styles it encompasses. It excites me to observe the art form evolve as it gets taken out of its traditional context and is tested in the theatre, contemporary dance, and world music fields. Its evolution is endless and we still have a long journey ahead of us, flamenco and I. We hope you can catch us at our next stop.
Nanako Aramaki is a Japanese-Canadian flamenco dancer who now resides in Berlin, Germany. Since her move in 2011, Nanako has quickly become a well-respected performer in the German flamenco scene, famous for her “bata de cola” choreographies, expressive hands, fluid movements, and graceful dance style.
Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, Nanako began her dance and music training there in ballet and piano at an early age. She was introduced to flamenco by her mentors Rosario Ancer and Victor Kolstee at the age of 16. Within four years Nanako would take the stage as a professional dancer with the Flamenco Rosario Dance Company. With this company, Nanako performed throughout Canada and Mexico with the award-winning show “Mis Hermanas”.
The catalyst for Nanako’s advancement in flamenco was the completion of the 9-month advanced dance program at the Cristina Heeren Flamenco Foundation in Seville, Spain, in 2007. Her teachers included renowned artists Milagros Menjibar, Rafael Campallo, Ursula Lopez, and Carmen Ledesma. Since then, Nanako has continued to study with other flamenco greats, such as Concha Jareño, Pastora Galvan, Pilar Ortega, Adela Campallo, Pilar Ogalla, and Andrés Peña.
In Germany, Nanako has been teaching regular workshops and performing in cities such as Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Heidelberg. Her show “Alas y Olas” is currently taking Nanako and her group on a tour of Germany. She is also part of the flamenco group “Mestizo” and the Kathak-Flamenco project “The Ensemble of Benares”.
By: Nanako Aramaki