"Sometimes the best flamenco dancers are older," says flamenco instructor Maria Loreta, while teaching a class at Don't Stop Dancin' in Dix Hills, but the dance is finding a younger audience thanks in part to the music of artist Rosalía. Credit: Morgan Campbell; Photo Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Passionate, exciting, fiery and fierce — flamenco fever has been spreading, ever since the annual Flamenco Festival at New York City Center earlier this month. It's not too late to catch the smoldering sensuality of this Spanish dance. In fact, the timing is perfect, with upcoming performances and renowned instructors opening classes right here on Long Island.

Maria Loreta, who performs with the Sol y Sombra dance...

Maria Loreta, who performs with the Sol y Sombra dance troupe, teaches flamenco Don't Stop Dancin' in Dix Hills. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Flamenco is a dance, a culture, a workout and more. "Because of its expressive nature, it's uniquely suited to bringing forth a person's strengths and personality," said Maria Loreta, who has performed the dance internationally and is the instructor, choreographer and director of the Sol y Sombra dance company. The St. James resident, who taught for more than 20 years at Stony Brook University, has brought flamenco to enthusiastic Long Island audiences — including, she proudly noted, hundreds of thousands of local school kids over Sol y Sombra's 30 years.


Three things are essential for flamenco: song, dance and "duende," which translates, roughly, to spirit. "It's emotionally expressive, passionate and individualistic," Loreta explained. The singer voices pain, joy, loss or love — the gamut of human emotion. The dancer, usually a female soloist, absorbs and sends back those emotions in a way that draws in the audience. In a good performance, everyone including the singer, dancer and audience, feels the duende. Complex arm movements, footwork, rhythmic stomping and clapping, and accouterments like castanets, costumes, fans and shawls are all part of the package.

JoAn Abreu-LaGrange, of Bay Shore, front, practices flamenco at one...

JoAn Abreu-LaGrange, of Bay Shore, front, practices flamenco at one of Loreta's classes. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

It's an art form that started in Spain in the 1300s," Loreta said. With influences from Indian, European, West African, Egyptian, Latin American and even Native American cultures, she added, "When you look at it, you're looking at thousands of years of human dance and music history."

What never changes, though, is what makes a good flamenco dancer. "First of all," Loreta said, "there always needs to be the passion. The most important thing is that you have to fall in love with flamenco and actually feel it." She'll be offering one-hour beginner classes for adults for eight weeks starting in April, to bring more than just flamenco to students. "Flamenco is about the emotions and the feeling of an individual dancer. It's one of the only art forms I know that does that," she said. "It reaches into a very deep and meaningful level."

Castanets, as used by Loreta's student Sophia Akhund, of Huntington,...

Castanets, as used by Loreta's student Sophia Akhund, of Huntington, play an important role in the art of flamenco. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

"It's life-changing," said Deborah Bernardino, a social worker from Island Park and member of Sol y Sombra. She's been studying with Loreta for more than 20 years. "I can express my sensuality and my femininity but I can also express the layers that come with femininity. … I can be aggressive. I can be light as a feather. I can be feminine. I can be masculine. I can be angry. I can be sad. With flamenco, I can be it all."

Gabriela Granados will be teaching flamenco this spring in Port...

Gabriela Granados will be teaching flamenco this spring in Port Washington. Credit: Gamboa/American Bolero Dance Company


"It's very cathartic," said Gabriela Granados. "It's a release." The Peruvian-born dancer, teacher and choreographer started dancing flamenco at age 4. After moving to New York and studying in Spain, she toured, performed and in 1996 opened the American Bolero Dance Company. Granados is now an instructor at the Joffrey Ballet and is on staff choreographing and teaching flamenco at New York's Ballet Hispánico.

Her one-hour classes take place on Sunday afternoons in Port Washington and run for four weeks. She'll be teaching steps, turns, arm movements, castanets and more. Granados said, "With those techniques you can elicit a response from the audience. People will feel it, but that is only one aspect. The master teachers always measure that with the soulfulness. … You have to be able to interpret what the singer is saying." She explained, "A lot of the lyrics are tragic. They are about death, incarceration, betrayal, jealousy, dying in the mines. They're very heartfelt."

Granados noted, "A good student is the one that shows up. When you show up, you're already showing other qualities, such as you're motivated, you have interest." And what does she hope to impart to students? "I would like them to, first of all, move with confidence … to dance, and move well, and have fun with it."

"That soulfulness that comes out is good for your spirit," Granados said, adding that when you learn flamenco, "you will feel powerful."

"Benise World Music & Dance Spectacular" will be at The...

"Benise World Music & Dance Spectacular" will be at The Suffolk in Riverhead on April 14. Credit: Phil Merritt


WHAT Adult beginner flamenco lessons with Maria Loreta

WHEN | WHERE 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. for eight Saturdays starting April 6, Starr Ballroom/Don’t Stop Dancing Dance Studios, 15 E. Deer Park Rd., Dix Hills

INFO $250; 631-862-6429, solysombra.org (check website for Sol y Sombra's performance schedule)

WHAT Adult beginner flamenco lessons with Gabriela Granados

WHEN | WHERE 4:30 p.m. April 7 and 14, Olga Berest Dance Center, 12 S. Washington St., Port Washington

INFO First class $25, four-week session $100; 718-392-8888

WHAT "Benise World Music & Dance Spectacular"

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. April 14, The Suffolk, 118 E Main St., Riverhead

INFO $49-$69; 631-727-4343, thesuffolk.org

WHAT Ballet Hispanico

WHEN | WHERE April 25-28, New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., Manhattan

INFO $45-$159; nycitycenter.org

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