An interview with Asami la Gitana Asiatica, founder and principal dancer of Flamenco Benalmádena. By Sarah Clark Garcés
Sarah: Asami, when did you first start learning Flamenco and why?
Asami: I have loved dancing, music and art ever since I was a child. I didn’t dance properly until the age of 23. I just love it and enjoy myself when I’m dancing. I feel like I get energy when I am dancing, sharing love. I feel I can be myself. What amazed me about Flamenco was that that you can create music and art. We are instruments, we are the dancers. It is very beautiful when there is harmony. Flamenco is alive. We have only one opportunity, “this moment”. Life is the same, we live in the moment. We create art in the moment. For me Flamenco is love, and it’s a living artform. Flamenco teaches me what is important in life too.
How is the style different between Japanese and Spanish teachers?
Japanese teachers are also very good but their style is more detailed and more logical than Spanish ones. They break everything down into chunks to explain it. For me, it had been good to learn from a non-Spanish person, because they didn’t grow up with the music, or with this Spanish culture. So they also learned from scratch as a totally blank white page, and reached professional levels. Some Japanese Flamenco dancers perform at very important events like the Bienal in Sevilla. Some win competitions in Spain. I needed to have a point of view from a non-Spanish background and their logic in order to understand. I also needed encourage myself to see that anyone can be a professional Flamenco dancer.
Did you come to Spain later to learn Flamenco professionally?
Yes, I had never been to Spain before. I first came to Benalmádena in 2006 and studied Spanish at Colegio Maravillas whilst learning Flamenco. After that I started to take workshops with Spanish dancers such as Pilar Ogalla, Juan Ogalla, Manuela Rios and Juan Polvillo, then decided to move to Seville to learn more professionally. Flamenco is culture, so I felt it was essential to learn in Spain. In 2011, I moved to Seville as it is the birthplace of Flamenco and has the longest tradition. In 2012, I started performing and teaching Spanish people.
Who taught you Flamenco in Seville?
My maestro was Torombo, who himself was a student of the great Flamenco artist Farruco. I have also studied with famous Spanish and Gypsy dancers like Juana Amaya and Hija de Pilar Montoya (Farruquito’s cousin). The classes that I had with them helped me to feel Flamenco, and to understand the essence of Flamenco. They are great teachers. I would go back to them if I had the opportunity! However, not all famous dancers are great teachers.
How do you feel performing and teaching in Spain when you are obviously not Spanish?
These days Flamenco is international. Yes, it was difficult for a few years to get over the wall. At some points, I didn’t want to dance anymore because people would see my face and say to me “How can a Japanese person dance Flamenco?”, so basically the first impression was/is “NO”. It is not easy when people come to you and directly go “NO”. I had to work hard to get over criticism from the public. I worked hard to get over my insecurity, as well as developing my technical skills in Flamenco and finding my originality. One day, I realised that I am a human. Just like Spanish people. And others. Even Gypsies criticise Spanish performers. So being Spanish is not the perfect condition either. This happens everywhere, even Farruquito had to prepare himself mentally. because people would compare him to his grandfather Farruco. So I think it’s important to enjoy and love what you do and do the best from your heart. Now people come to see me, people say when I’m dancing I look Spanish.
So when people say to you that you dance like a Spanish person, are you happy?
For many years I wanted to look Spanish, and dance like a Spanish person because of the whole process, but now I want to dance like a person, and will not change that for anything else. I want to appreciate the gift I was given from my mother, to be “Asami la Gitana Asiatica”, to be myself and true to myself.
Your dance partner and business partner, Jaime El Estampio, is also your husband! Where did you meet him?
We met at a peña in the Triana area of Seville, where they do free shows every Wednesday. A lot of students of Flamenco go there to see how other people dance.
Flamenco brought you together, does it make it easier to dance together?
It is easier than working with other people as we understand one another, and can be more flexible and honest. We can demand the best from each other to create better things.
Why is your dance studio “Flamenco Benalmádena” and not “Flamenco Malaga”, for example?
Before we moved here we were living in Jaime’s hometown in Castilla La Mancha and there is no Flamenco there. I came to Spain to dance Flamenco! We considered Seville, Jerez and Malaga, but I love Benalmádena. There is a beach, it’s on the beautiful Costa del Sol, which is a great place to live and spend your holiday. People are very open, and very nice.
If somebody wants to take Flamenco dance classes, what are the first things you teach them?
The first thing is explaining the rhythm, or compás, which is unique to Flamenco. Then we learn to listen to the music, and practise basic movements with the correct position of the arms, known as marcaje. It is so important to learn the basics from the beginning, and also to feel your own body, and be aware of yourself. Understanding the music is essential, and enjoying the beauty of the music. Explaining the feeling of the steps. Each step has meaning even when you walk in dance. And, of course, the harmony between the musicians and audience.
Do you also teach other aspects of Flamenco at Flamenco Benalmádena?
Yes, as well as dance lessons with Jaime and I, he also teaches cajón, guitar or cante (singing). We can also arrange for guitar lessons for professional musicians.
When you dance are you playing a role?
No, when I dance I am expressing how I really am. In fact, sometimes it is better as I feel freer. Sometimes it is hard to say how you feel in words but when I am dancing I can truly be myself. In pure traditional Flamenco, the artists are not acting. It is important to be yourself, as Flamenco is related to your life and being you. It is all about originality.
Unlike other forms of dance like ballet, do Flamenco dancers become even better with age?
As you get older you have more experience in life and in Flamenco, and have more of a story to tell.
Thank you, Asami.
An interview with Asami Ikeda, founder and principal dancer of Flamenco Benalmádena