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Flamenco: Spanish stomping

October 17, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Aside from few months' break when she was pregnant with her 1-year-old son Daniel, Eliane F. de Souza Casagrandi never really stopped dancing flamenco since she left Brazil.

And to be clear, she taught flamenco up until she was seven months pregnant.

"Daniel has been dancing in my belly," said Casagrandi, who's known as "Lili" to her flamenco students at Chambersburg Ballet Theatre School.

Casagrandi, 33, teaches flamenco at CBT on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Teaching is an extension of a passion she developed as a teenager growing up in a small town near Sao Paulo, Brazil. As a teacher, Casagrandi brings to her students the enthusiasm for the dance she grew to love.

When she's not at the downtown ballet studio, Casagrandi is practicing flamenco in her basement. During a recent home practice session, Casagrandi demonstrated zapateados - flamenco's signature stomping of the feet. Her deep auburn hair was pulled away from her face, free of tension as her feet hammered the wooden floor like speedy mallets.

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Her arms were fluid but strong, the energy seeming to reach her fingers, which, when they weren't free, were clenching a scarf, swiveling a fan or clicking castanuelas.

Casagrandi makes the moves look simple, but her students at a recent Thursday night class said it's not as easy as it looks.

"I'm struggling," said rookie student Joyce Ray, 61, of Chambersburg, Pa.

Ray teaches Spanish at Shippensburg (Pa.) High School. She said she has been to Spain and seen flamenco performed many, many times. She has even shown her students videos of flamenco dancers.

But doing the dance is new to her. She has just a few of Casagrandi's classes under her belt.

Casagrandi said for new students, getting your feet and hands to move simultaneously can be a minor victory.

"I don't feel graceful," Ray said, laughing in the dressing room before class began.

So, what keeps her coming back? The expressiveness, she said.

"It's one of those dances where you can dance it alone and still express yourself," Ray said.

The roots of flamenco are in Spain. Casagrandi, who speaks Portuguese (the native language of Brazil) and Spanish, said because Portuguese culture is similar to Spain's, there's a natural curiosity about flamenco and Spanish culture.

Casagrandi said she didn't like flamenco the first time she tried it.

"I thought I would never do it," she said.

Casagrandi grew up in a household where music and dance were the norm. She started taking classical ballet lessons at age 9.

She said the only reason she tried flamenco was because her dance school required students to pick up a different genre when they turned 16. That's when she met her first flamenco teacher, Lucia Caruso.

The transition from the dainty gracefulness of ballet to the unstructured expressiveness of flamenco was a challenge for Casagrandi. She said Caruso would tease her during early lessons: "Oh, there's my Giselle, my ballerina. You will never be able to do this," Casagrandi said, playfully impersonating Caruso.

It took five years, Casagrandi said, before the class's movements looked something like flamenco. She knew it was a serious passion once the dancers started entering flamenco competitions and winning - including a major competition in Sao Paulo.

"At that point, we thought, 'Oh, we might be doing good,'" Casagrandi said

Casagrandi said she bonded with her fellow dancers over the years. They still stay in touch. Many of them are married and have children.

"They're still together, they performed last weekend," she said.

Casagrandi continued dancing in Brazil as a college student and as a special education teacher, teaching dance classes at night after working all day.

In 2003, she married Gustavo Casagrandi, an engineer.

Marriage meant she had to leave the women with whom she had trained since she was a teenager. Her husband had taken a job in North Carolina.

The Casagrandis would move several times after that, to Canada, then back to Brazil. They're now in Chambersburg.

"It was very hard, because, when you leave, it's like it's only you who's losing that time together," Casagrandi said.

But that wasn't the last she'd hear from her classmates.

This summer, Casagrandi got a chance to work with her classmates again in Brazil for a show called Recuerdos, an homage to Caruso, who Casagrandi said was now living in London.

The dancers sent their teacher their new choreography from Brazil.

"I'll keep dancing as much as I can with them," she said.

Casagrandi said she incorporates the choreography into her Tuesday and Thursday classes in Chambersburg. The class has already learned Sevillanas - a basic one-two-three, one-two-three step. Casagrandi said she hopes to move to something more challenging, like allegrias.

One of her Chambersburg students, Athena DeFreest, 50, of Chambersburg, said she's up for the challenge. DeFreest has been taking ballroom dancing classes for four years - waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba and East Coast and West Coast swing. But no flamenco. She's also trying to adjust to the new form. But she says she's come a long way since she started taking classes.

"I can do the hands and my feet at the same time," DeFreest said.

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