“The first time I saw a flamenco performance, I cried. Something just hit me.” When she speaks about the art form to which she has dedicated her life, Linda Vega becomes animated, her eyes sparkling and her hands gesturing as if she herself were onstage. Vega was in her early twenties when she first saw flamenco dancer Juan Talavera perform. She has been a student, professional performer, choreographer, dance company leader, and teacher of flamenco ever since, and it is for this dedication to the art that Vega is now being honored. On Wednesday, July 25, Mayor Marty Blum will present Vega with an award following the Santa Barbara performance of Spain’s Mar-a Berm°dez and her company, Sonidos Gitanos, in FlamenColores. The appearance of Sonidos Gitanos at Santa Barbara’s Marjorie Luke Theatre is one of only three performances scheduled for Southern California.
Receiving the award from Berm°dez has special meaning for Vega. “I was Cha Cha’s first flamenco teacher, back in Los Angeles,” Vega said, referring affectionately to Berm°dez, who went on to study flamenco in Spain and has become a veritable icon of the art form. Berm°dez and her company perform throughout Spain and across the globe, introducing dancers and audiences to the Gypsy style of flamenco native to Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, where Berm°dez and her company now reside.
According to Vega, there is a particularly dramatic flavor to flamenco from the Jerez region-a passion that explodes onstage. Seeing the passion of a former student is gratifying for Vega, who has taught flamenco in the Santa Barbara area for more than 20 years. In that period of time, a total of 24 students from her studio have been awarded the honor of either Spirit or Junior Spirit of Fiesta. Hundreds more have performed on the Fiesta stage, and, in addition to Berm°dez, three of Vega’s Santa Barbara students have become professional flamenco dancers: Timo Nu±ez, Pamela Lourant, and Paloma Rios.
Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta celebration is one of the highlights of the city’s flamenco scene. Vega’s eyes dance as she raves about the experience, seldom available outside Spain, for dancers and audience members alike to participate in a flurry of flamenco performances. “I can’t thank Old Spanish Days enough for that opportunity,” Vega said, adding that the entire dance community contributes to the celebration’s ongoing success. It takes a collection of talented teachers, committed studios, and passionate students to produce the spectacle that is Fiesta, she said, and Santa Barbara is fortunate to have such a community.
While some dancers may enter the spotlight-taking up the banner of Spirit, or dedicating their lives to professional flamenco-many of Vega’s hundreds of students do not take that path. Vega is clear that there are great advantages to studying flamenco at any level. “Building confidence is the number-one benefit of studying and dancing flamenco,” she asserted. “Flamenco offers passion and expression, and encourages students to fully express themselves.” Through practice, students who began hesitantly learn to take center stage with flourish. Many of Vega’s students begin at a young age, but no one, she said, is ever too old to start.
For Vega, it was seeing Talavera dance flamenco that moved her deeply, and set her on a path to pursuing the dance that has become her life. Maybe her student Mar-a Berm°dez will inspire the next generation to tears, to training, and to continuing the flamenco tradition.
The Linda Vega Dance Studio will hold a recital at the First Presbyterian Church (21 E. Constance Ave.) on Saturday, July 21, at 3 p.m. For tickets, call 963-0073. Mar-a Berm°dez and Sonidos Gitanos perform FlamenColores at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.) on Wednesday, July 25, at 8 p.m. The award presentation for Linda Vega will follow the performance. For advance tickets, call (323) 663-3779 or visit fountaintheatre.com.