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NMSU?s Sol Y Arena dance company teaches students artistic, spiritual values of flamenco

Cristina Segovia, a dance major at New Mexico State University, fell in love with flamenco dance when she first set eyes on it while performing with the NMSU Contemporary Dance Theater.



Dancers with NMSU?s Sol Y Arena Spanish Dance Company rehearse in the James B. Delamater Activity Center. The company will host its ?Viva Espana? fundraising event in November to fund their upcoming trip to Spain. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

Dancers with NMSU?s Sol Y Arena Spanish Dance Company perform to recorded music, unlike the traditional method of dancing to live music. The company will host its ?Viva Espana? fundraising event in November to fund their upcoming trip to Spain, where they will immerse themselves in traditional flamenco dance. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

Flamenco?s seductive style drew Segovia to the Sol Y Arena Spanish Dance Company at NMSU about a year ago, and since then Segovia has been making strides as a flamenco dancer, even though flamenco is not a very well known dance style in the Las Cruces area.

?The expression, the artistry, expanded the idea of what dance could be for me,? Segovia said after a recent Sol Y Arena rehearsal. ?The footwork and rhythms, it?s just a whole different world and it?s added a new dimension to my dancing.?

Sol Y Arena is gearing up for one of their biggest events, ?Viva Espaņa,? taking place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Alma d?Arte Charter High School, 402 W Court Ave. Tickets are $10 for students and seniors, $5 for children under 12 and $15 for adults.

Proceeds from ticket sales will be used to fund a month-long trip to Madrid, Spain. The performance is also part of a partnership between the charter school and Sol Y Arena. Many Alma d?Arte students have gone on to enroll at NMSU and participate in Sol Y Arena.

The company travels to Spain every other year to immerse themselves in the flamenco culture, said company co-director and associate kinesiology and dance professor Frank Gilpin, who is also known by his artistic name, Paco Antonio. The company?s other co-director is Gilpin?s wife and NMSU adjunct dance professor Lucilene de Geus, who also teaches at Alma d?Arte.

?We?ve built longtime relationships with iconic figures there, performers and choreographers and teachers,? Gilpin said. ?They?re just marvelous.?

Sol Y Arena?s main challenge is practicing and performing without live music. Instead, dancers use recorded music, although flamenco dance is traditionally performed with a live guitarist and singer.

?We don?t have the resources of flamenco guitarists and singers. We do everything to recorded music, which is not how it happens. It is a very live, integrated, improvisational musical form, where the song is first and then the dance comes after that,? Gilpin said. ?As a result of the process, the dancer is the echo of the voice and also the vehicle for the rhythms of the music to be integrated. It plays the same way jazz does. The singer will go first, led by the guitarist, then they bring us in and we kick it back to them.?

Seeing that process in action is vital for Sol Y Arena, which is why they travel to Spain. The company made their first visit there in 2012.

?In 2012 we took five (students), and in 2014 we took 10,? Gilpin said. ?There are six to eight wanting to go with us next summer for another months.?

Since Sol Y Arena came to fruition in 2005, about 150 students have majored in dance and focused on flamenco. Gilpin said the trips to Spain are not only funded by ?Viva Espaņa,? but through performances with NMSU?s two other dance companies, various campus resources and private donations. He said there are also plans to create a scholarship for Sol Y Arena dancers.

?There are very few universities that offer students the opportunity to pursue a dance degree in flamenco and Spanish dance. NMSU has been meeting this need since 2003,? said Debra Knapp, NMSU director of dance. ?Through Sol Y Arena flamenco and Spanish dance company, the dance program is able to bring Spain to our community with the beauty and passion of this art form.?

Besides the experience of learning flamenco and visiting Spain, students grow as artists by participating on Sol Y Arena, Gilpin said.

?One of the things we speak to them about is the need to navigate their emotions and get to their spirit,? Gilpin said. ?Not only is it a dance of the whole being, but you build a daily routine to navigate yourself and live artfully, not just dance, and see if you can make that same difference with other people.?

To purchase tickets in advance, call 575-646-4067.