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Exploring the roots — and high drama — of flamenco



Exploring the roots — and high drama — of flamenco

In the United States, we tend to push flamenco music and movement into the category of folklore, something to be respected and admired for its showy skills, but not quite a fine art with the same status as “elevated” forms like ballet and orchestral music.

Flamenco dancer Maria Vazquez dances in her Denver studio on Oct. 11. The artistic director of Flamenco Denver since its inception in 2004, Vazquez has been thrilling audiences in the United States and Europe since 1994. Vazquez will be performing at the Newman Center on Oct. 21 called “Raices.” (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

But in Spain, where it has been evolving for more than two centuries, it shares equal status with all of the classical European traditions. The Spanish respect their dances no matter where they came from or how they developed. Flamenco, ballet, regional, bolero and contemporary — dance students learn them all with a similar passion.

It’s not so difficult to understand why the classical set resists flamenco: It’s full of free-wheeling passion and emotion and personal expression, just the opposite, of say, symphonic music, where each performer’s role is proscribed by the composer and the emphasis is on the whole, rather than the individual. Flamenco — romantic, tragic, celebratory, free — is not for people who want their art predictable or anonymous.

Americans are coming around, though, and maybe quickly these days, says Maria Vázquez, who has watched interest in flamenco grow steadily here over the past two decades.

When she opened her dance studio, Flamenco Denver, in 2004, there was just a trickle of interest, she said. Students weren’t exactly lining up to take lessons.

These days, the place is bustling with 16 group classes each week, full of eager learners who caught on to flamenco in one way or another in the self-guided information age, maybe by seeing performances on television dance competitions or catching one of the scores of flamenco videos posted on the internet and flowing through social media streams, like Facebook and TikTok.

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(Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

“It’s a great time for flamenco,” she said in an interview last week, between rehearsals for “Raices,” the dance concert she has organized for Oct. 21. “It’s getting bigger and bigger all the time.”

The concert itself may be proof of that growing interest — and flamenco’s improved status in this area. It’s taking place at the 1,000-seat Gates Concert Hall, the largest venue at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts and a frequent showplace for orchestras and ballet companies.

The lineup includes members of her Flamenco Denver troupe along with some of the top flamenco artists in the U.S, including Antonio Granjero and Estefania Ramirez, the husband-and-wife duo based in New Mexico. Each is highly regarded in their own right — his bio brags of performing for Queen Elizabeth; hers of touring with dance legend Maria Benitez — and together their EntreFlamenco dance company continues to travel internationally.

Vázquez will perform, too, adding star power to the mix. A native of Seville, Spain, she danced with numerous companies there before moving to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, after meeting her husband who was visiting her home country as a student.

There are also musicians in the show, of course, including singer José Cortés Fernández, who began his career at the age of 10 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, and now lives and works in the U.S. And Grammy-winning Diego “El Negro” Alvarez will be featured on cajón, the box-shaped percussion instrument that is essential to flamenco.

The right mix of musicians and dancers is crucial, according to Vázquez. Audiences with limited knowledge of the art tend to focus on the dancers, with their formal, often elaborate costumes and highly dramatic foot stomps and hand gestures. Flamenco dancers can be shameless in the way they command attention.

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Posters for Flamenco hang on the walls in the studio of Flamenco dancer Maria Vazquez on Oct. 11, 2021.  (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

But music is the heart of the form, as Vázquez explains it for newcomers. The musicians’ songs, stories and poetry guide every moment and the dancers follow their lead, interpreting the plots, all of the joys and sorrows, through movement, sometimes literally but most often emotionally.

“If the singer is not there, you are missing a big part of the whole thing,” she said.

Within that task of translation, and working within the familiar and often complex rhythms of flamenco, dancers have considerable freedom to improvise, connecting with the mood of the singer and developing the visuals. “They have to make their own movie,” Vázquez said.

“Raices” — the word translates from Spanish-to-English as “roots,” will feature both solo and group dances. The dancers coordinate their collaborative movements ahead of time, Vázquez said, but give each other space to make the performance their own using a common framework and language.

“It’s more like a jazz conversation,” she said. “We know what we are talking about.”

And audiences should consume it that way, letting it unfold like a jazz concert rather than watching for perfection as they might with a ballet performance.

Vazquez’s advice: “Just be open to sensations, to feel and share the experience of the moment.”

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Patriots-Bills inactives: Kyle Dugger out, all 8 questionable Pats active in Buffalo



Patriots-Bills inactives: Kyle Dugger out, all 8 questionable Pats active in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Questionable? Ha.

For the third straight week, every Patriot listed as questionable on the team’s injury report is active. Starting right tackle Trent Brown and defensive tackle Christian Barmore were among the eight supposed question marks, but both will play in windy Buffalo. Backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, cornerback Shaun Wade and linebacker Jahlani Tavai are the Pats’ most notable inactives.

The Patriots also activated linebacker Jamie Collins off injured reserve and elevated defensive lineman Daniel Ekulale and safety Sean Davis from the practice squad.  They are without starting safety Kyle Dugger, who remains on COVID-19 reserve.

For the Bills, run-stuffing defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is active after returning from injured reserve. Wide receivers WR Marquez Stevenson and Isaiah McKenzie are both out.

Both teams’ complete inactive lists are below.


QB Jarrett Stidham

LB Ronnie Perkins

TE Devin Asiasi

OL Yasir Durant


WR Marquez Stevenson

WR Isaiah McKenzie

FB Reggie Gilliam

OL Jamil Douglas

DT Vernon Butler

DE Efe Obada

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Parents, teachers push for prompt transition to elected Boston school committee



Parents, teachers push for prompt transition to elected Boston school committee

Boston Public School parents, teachers and graduates called on city councilors to shift the mayor-appointed school committee to an elected body in a public hearing Monday, demanding follow-through on the resounding 79% memorandum voters passed on the identical ballot question in November’s election.

“With this appointed school system, I feel that my voice goes unheard,” said BPS parent Suleika Soto, summarizing what many petitioners highlighted: a lack of both accountability and communication from the current structure of the committee.

“We, the students, families, and educators are not the constituents of the Boston School Committee,” said BPS teacher Neema Avashia. “We find ourselves begging to be heard.”

The Boston School Committee is responsible for managing Boston Pubic Schools’ annual operating budget, hiring and overseeing the superintendent, and regulating policies and practices within city schools. Members of the 13-person council had been elected by city residents from 1982 until 1989, when voters decided to transition the council to a mayor-appointed body.

Question 3 on November’s ballot to restore the group back to an elected body got overwhelming support from voters, with more than 99,000 votes cast in favor of the change.

“What we have to do now is listen to what people have said and how loud they’ve said it,” said John Nucci, who served four years as the president of the Boston School Committee during its most recent era as an elected body.

The City Council provided an early draft of what the transition back to an elected body could look like. The first step, in January 2022, would maintain eight appointed members and add one member elected through the BPS student population. By January 2024, the body would become a hybrid mix of seven appointed members, one student-elected member and three at-large elected members. Finally, by 2026, the entire 13-person committee would consist of elected members.

But the question of how those members are elected is one of many details councilors will try to hammer out through future hearings and meetings. One topic of debate is whether the majority of committee members should represent specific districts, or act as at-large officials, representing the city as a whole.

Newly elected city councilor and former BPS teacher Erin Murphy suggested at least nine of the members should represent specific districts, fearing “many voices would be left out” if they don’t have specific representation.

Pam Kocher, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau — a neutral party on the issue — cautioned that an elected governing body is not a guarantee for a representative body.

“Elections can reward the loudest voices and those with the most resources,” she said.

Councilors assured attendees this meeting will be the first of several on the issue before action.

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Maguire: Stand up for Boston students – be a substitute teacher



Maguire: Stand up for Boston students – be a substitute teacher

I invite you to join me — if only for a day — in the best job a person could have: teaching. This year we are back to in-person learning, a goal for which the teachers have long strived. However, many teachers with underlying health concerns took leaves of absence. Some teachers in their 60s took early retirement. And the rest of us often have to take time off to either care for our own children and/or to quarantine due to close contact situations.

This year the Boston Public Schools is in great need for both short- and long-term substitute teachers. The need for substitute teachers in some schools is desperate as they need coverage for one in five classrooms.

Therefore I ask my fellow Bostonians to substitute for at least one day in our schools. Applicants can choose what days they work, where they work, what grades or subjects they would cover. Such selectability allows applicants to tailor their work with their personal responsibilities. Let me assure you, whatever time you have available, the BPS will have a spot for you.

Our traditional substitute pool is retired teachers. This year that pool has all but dried up. Concerns over COVID keep many of our retirees at home. Those who are still subbing are not enough to fill all of our vacancies. So who can help us now? I believe we have untapped resources in our local universities and in the Boston business community.

When the pandemic burst upon the scene in 2020, many medical and nursing students were fast-tracked into full-time positions to meet the sudden and enormous need for more doctors and nurses. I am asking the local schools of education to do the same right now to help us fill our vacancies. The colleges have eager aspiring teachers. Putting the two together is a classic win-win.

I am also calling upon the Boston business community. Over the years, many businesses have used their corporate retreat time for community building. They come into our school for a day of service. Such days traditionally entailed painting classrooms or helping to plant a garden. This year, why not come into the classrooms and share your knowledge with our students?

Accountants could come into a math class and tell the students how what they are learning now could lead to good jobs later. Graphic designers could tell students how art and computer science classes blend into an exciting career. Students love hearing from adults in their community. Such contact makes their learning tangible instead of theoretical.

You could talk about how you got to your current career — was it what you always wanted to do or did you take many roads on your journey? If you have seventh or eighth graders, share your hobbies, your travels, your culture — this age craves exposure to the world around them. If you are in an elementary school you can read your favorite book, talk about your favorite games as child, bring your best Dad jokes — these kids just want to feel like you like them.

If you are worried about what substitute teaching would be like and would you be good at it, let me assure you that all you need is an open mind and a kind heart. When you enter the school building, you will be given a substitute folder. In it will be all the materials you will need for the day: seating charts, class lists, assignments and directions.

My own career began as a substitute teacher. I wasn’t quite Glenn Holland in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but I was a young man who thought substitute teaching would be a good way to earn some money while I studied for law school. And like Mr. Holland, I fell in love with a job I never knew I wanted. Twenty-eight years later, I can tell you that I love the job more now than on day one. I invite you to experience this joy for yourself.

Substitute teaching in Boston is not volunteering, you will get paid. If you work one day at a time, the pay is $170 per diem. If you work in the same class for a longer period of time, greater than 25 school days, the pay increases to $330 a day.

So go to and help our schools, ours students and our teachers. We need you now more than ever.

Michael J. Maguire teaches Latin at Boston Latin Academy and serves on the Executive Board of the Boston Teachers Union.

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