Local collective aims to highlight Spanish culture via flamenco dance, music 


Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Carol Inskeep

Dancers participate at the Urbana flamenco-Jazz Reunion that featured the Illinois Flamenco-Jazz Collective, students from the University’s Jazz Program and guest artists on Aug. 19, 2021

By Sydney Wood, buzz Editor

For Alyssa Teijeiro-Ficht and Brian Stark of the Illinois Flamenco-Jazz Collective, flamenco is an underappreciated art form, especially in a community like Champaign-Urbana.

The duo met in 2019 at a flamenco concert through a mutual friend. While Teijeiro-Ficht was trained in the style of flamenco dance, Stark was interested in learning more about the musical aspect of the art form.

From there, the two decided to start the Illinois Flamenco-Jazz Collective in the spring of 2020, with Teijeiro-Ficht as the dance director and Stark as the music director. The group aimed to combine flamenco dance and music with the hope of performing in venues across campus and the C-U community. Soon afterward, the duo applied for a global intersections grant through the University’s Center for Global Studies.

“The idea of the intersection was we were going to specifically explore Spanish music with American jazz mixed together,” Stark said.

Flamenco is folk music that originates from southern Spain. It incorporates song (cante), baile (dance) and toque (the art of guitar playing) to create a vigorous, rhythmic style of music.

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Stark said the collective infuses the traditional flamenco style of music with jazz inspirations, taking a step back from the traditional guitar-heavy melodies in favor of nontraditional elements like saxophones, flutes and violins.

“One thing that I think is really cool about the way that dance integrates into the music is that it’s almost like a percussion instrument,” he said. “It’s cool to see the way the footwork really punctuates the music and brings out that percussive element that isn’t just there with the guitar and the vocals.”

Teijeiro-Ficht is a senior in Education at the University, while Stark teaches at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Using their different backgrounds to their advantage, the duo said they look to both the local community and University students to fill the collective’s ranks of dancers and musicians.

“One of my favorite parts about our collective is that it’s a really good mix — Brian’s mainly drawing from the community, and I’m mainly drawing from students,” Teijeiro-Ficht said. “So when we perform as a collective, there’s a pretty good balance of members and where they’re coming from.”

Due to its 2020 start-up, COVID-19 was a major challenge for the collective, especially since quarantine hit early on in the group’s development, leading to multiple canceled performances and a decrease in the number of participants.

“We were doing workshops every week that the community was invited to join and either participate in the music or the dance ensemble,” Stark said. “That whole thing kind of fizzled out from like 12 people to maybe four or five at the tops ever since then, so COVID-19 really put a stop to a lot of momentum that we had.”

Despite these challenges, Teijeiro-Ficht said the collective has been successful in its effort to spread cultural awareness and representation in Champaign-Urbana. She further explained the significance of sharing the art of flamenco with the local community.

“Having the flamenco group — which represents Spain and all of everything that Spain has to offer — is a good lesson for people that hear the word ‘Spanish’ and think ‘Mexico,’ because obviously, those are two very different things,” Teijeiro-Ficht said.

Teijeiro-Ficht elaborated on her family’s Spanish heritage, saying her grandfather was born in Spain, which is where she was trained in the style of flamenco. She said her work with the collective is a reflection of her love for flamenco and her desire to spread her family’s culture “in a place where it’s not very well known or even heard of or celebrated.”

“Flamenco is something that is very, very passionate,” Teijeiro-Ficht said. “I think having that and having people see something from Spain is super important so that people who identify with that culture feel represented in this community.”

The Illinois Flamenco-Jazz Collective is scheduled to perform at Champaign-Urbana’s Folk and Roots festival in October. For the show, the group will have about five musicians and three dancers, which the duo said they’re looking forward to.

“Last year,” Stark said, “We only had a 30-minute set just because the music is so hard to learn that by the time the Folk and Roots came around, we had like seven songs ready, but it was only about 30 minutes of music. But this year, we’re actually planning on taking up a whole hour, which I’m looking forward to.”

As Teijeiro-Ficht prepares to graduate in the spring, she said she’s hoping to recruit other students to carry on the collective’s dance aspect.

“I’m from Chicago, so I will be going back home or going somewhere else after I graduate,” she said. “But I do plan on trying to  recruit other underclassmen who could keep it going, so I’m not necessarily letting the dance aspect of it die after I leave, and (I’m) trying to get other people involved for sure.”


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