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Flamenco for Foreigners

by Ryan Bahry

    Sitting a few rows ahead of me, a Japanese couple has their photograph taken together by a young woman charging a few Euros for this memento.  An older couple behind me speaks hurriedly in Spanish on their cell phones, waiting until the lights of the performance hall dim before switching them off.  A man in the front looks as though he may be perhaps from India, and has a fashion similar to the men I observed there.  We sat there, Japanese, Indian, American, Spanish, about to partake in an increasingly evident transnational performance of the famous flamenco dancers. 

    In Maria Papapavlou’s article “The City as a Stage: Flamenco in Andalusian Culture”, she discusses the tradition of flamenco dancing and the perception of flamenco heritage amongst Gitanos and non-Gitanos.  Upon attending a flamenco show in Andalusia, I had a difficult time determining the origin of the performers, but realized that the show that we were witnessing was definitely a cultural show tailored to tourism.  The dancers were elaborately dressed, and the band played songs from operas that were familiar to all members of the audience.  As opposed to the author’s article, in which she discussed the necessary participation and loud involvement from the audience, the audience reacted to the show by watching in silence and only clapping at the conclusion of a performance, as is standard behavior in our social norms. 

    The city of Sevilla that I visited in southern Spain was the most familiar city that I had visited on this voyage.  When I stepped out of the train station and took a taxi cab into the city, I felt as though I was in any city in the United States.  Aside from some landmarks such as the huge cathedral, a highly European plaza with large fountains, and the city alcazar, the sights of the city were remarkably similar to most U.S. cities.  There was construction occurring throughout the city in order to install a subway system, high-end shopping was found throughout the city’s downtown, and Starbucks were situated at almost every corner.  I found myself sitting in Starbucks, listening to Christmas music, and enjoying the seasonal gingerbread latte, a tradition that I do every December at home. 

    I felt a similarity between my experiences in Spain, the last country that we visited on this voyage, and Japan, the first.  These two countries were both so highly westernized, so completely modern that one could feel completely at home walking down the street, and if not for the interspersed images of the vernacular, the temples of Japan or the cathedrals of Spain, it is easy to feel as though one is still in the States.  Following in the examples as I have seen in many other countries that we have visited throughout the world, the cultural flamenco show was even geared towards tourists and presented in a way that is familiar and appreciated by audiences from all over the world. 

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