A performer and choreographer, Clarita Filgueiras has spent a lifetime mastering the art of flamenco dance. Her passion for this Spanish tradition originates with her father and grandmother (both flamenco singers) and her mother, an expert in flamenco costume design. A winner of multiple awards, including the 2012 Florida Folk Heritage Award, she performs across the United States, Latin America, and Europe, appearing in theaters, nightclubs, on radio, and on television.

MORE ABOUT CLARITA FILGUEIRAS

(The following is from an interview HistoryMiami conducted with Clarita Filgueiras in 2015.)

What is your name? Where were you born?

My name is Clarita Filgueiras, and I was born in Miami, Florida.

Tell us the story of how your family came to Miami.

My father was from Spain and traveled to and from Cuba where his family owned a business of Spanish linens. He later moved to Cuba and lived with my mother for several years, avoiding the Franco regime and the bad Spanish economy of the time. They later left Cuba for the United States, fleeing from the impending Castro regime. That’s how I came to be born in Miami.

What traditions and art forms do you practice?

I began in Classical Spanish and regional dances of Spain at the age of seven with Lolita Marquez. I later discovered flamenco and dedicated my path to learning and focusing on all the complex styles and rhythms of flamenco. I have continued my studies in Spain for several years and continually try to innovate and create within the flamenco puro genre, searching for artistic evolution yet purity.

There is only one genre of flamenco, and that is flamenco puro, “pure flamenco,” which is the current form that is deeply rooted in tradition. All other forms are a derivative of flamenco puro and should be called something else. There is no “new flamenco” or “old flamenco.” It has a current evolution which is true to its traditional form.

I especially focus on flamenco because I feel it is my preferred form of expression. It is a powerful dance yet feminine and romantic. The music and singing gets under my skin, and I feel the intensity. I often say that when I hear or dance flamenco, it’s like being in love. All the senses come alive.

How did you learn the tradition?

As far back as I can remember, I was exposed to flamenco music at home. My grandmother was a professional flamenco singer for parties and Saetas (songs sung during Holy Week). My father was a flamenco aficionado and also sang flamenco. So if I didn’t hear him singing, I would hear recordings of other artists at home. The decisive point when I realized that my life goal would be to pursue the dance art of flamenco was when I saw my first dance performance. I nagged my parents to place me in dance classes. I was hooked from the very beginning, with a life-long goal and commitment to become the best flamenco dancer I could ever become – a passion I still possess.

Tell us about the history of flamenco.

Flamenco comes from the Southern region of Spain known as Andalusia. Its origins are unclear, but it was born out of the Cante, which is the essence of flamenco. “Cante” means “song” in Spanish. Flamenco gives a lot of importance to the singing since it inspires the intensity and tone of the dance. The guitar and dance were incorporated into the art form later.

Flamenco as we know it today originated at the end of the 18th century. The diverse influences present in Andalusia that influenced flamenco were the Spanish, Arabic, and Gypsy cultures. In the mid 1800’s, flamenco was influenced by the New World and, currently, it is fused with jazz, salsa, or modern dance. Although flamenco picks up external influences, they should be used only to enhance this traditional art form. Otherwise, it loses its origins and can no longer be called “flamenco.”

Flamenco was traditionally performed in private settings, and then it moved to the tablao [floorboard] in the 19th century and early 20th century in what was called a café cantante [a type of entertainment venue]. Since then, it has also been performed in the theater.

What does flamenco dance express or depict?

Flamenco envelops all the emotions of life. It ranges from happy or comical to intensely serious and dark. Like blues musicians, flamenco artists usually choose the more intense rhythms because they pose more technical challenges and can evoke duende, “the spirit that evokes an emotional response to art.” “Duende” means “fairy” or “goblin.” In flamenco, if you feel duende, you are feeling the emotion of the art form. It’s as if something took over you, and you are in a deeper realm where you are in touch with your emotions and the performance.

Tell me about the instruments you use.

As a dancer, my instrument is my body. I am a percussionist when it comes to footwork, and I also clap and snap beats with my fingers. I sometimes accompany my dance with castanets [hand percussion instruments]. We also use other elements to enhance the rhythm, like keeping the beat with a fan, twirling the shawl, and keeping rhythm with a cane.

Tell me about the instruments and elements used in flamenco music.

Flamenco dance is accompanied by an acoustic flamenco guitar, singing, and clapping. In addition, flamenco can incorporate other instruments like the cajón [a box-shaped percussion instrument], violin, or flute.

Tell me about the costumes, accessories, and other items that you use during performances.

I love using props or accessories because they enhance the dance by adding another layer of interest. Each prop carries a unique technique. I use the fan, shawl, castanets, hat, and cane, and I have mastered the bata de cola, “long train dress.” I teach my students to give each prop importance because it becomes the focus of the dance.

What do you enjoy about practicing this tradition?

I love everything about flamenco. It challenges me constantly. It allows me to express myself with strength. It takes me to the depth of living, to the joy of life, and allows me to meet wonderful people.