(The Washington Post, 08 February 2004)

Washington’s Fourth Annual Flamenco Festival ends today, with the D.C. debut of renowned Spanish troupe Compania Andaluza de Danza. Its impassioned performances of “Bodas de Sangre” (“Blood Wedding”), a rarely seen ballet based on the Federico Garcia Lorca play, and “La Leyenda” (“The Legend”), a tribute to gypsy dancer Carmen Amaya, are sure to leave audiences yelling for more. Happily, local fans can get their olé! on year-round by studying flamenco at one of many local schools.

Created in the 19th century by Andalusian gypsies, flamenco is a performing art, not a club style. But when a group of aficionados gather at a party or bar, they may jump to their feet and improvise to clapping, guitar-strumming or singing. Check guitarist Michael Perez’s Web site, http://www.dcflamenco.com, for a calendar of local events, performances and workshops.

What to Expect: The class structure will be familiar to anyone who’s studied dance before — drills (footwork, clapping and, at some schools, castanet-playing), then choreography. But prepare to be challenged by rhythms surprising to non-Spanish ears. For example, in one common 12-count rhythm, the emphasis is on the 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12 beats — nothing like the friendly 1-2-3 of a waltz. You’ll also have to rework your clapping and stamping. In flamenco, clapping is controlled, not enthusiastic, and can be “wet” (muffled) or “dry” (sharp). Your feet make different sounds as you stamp your toes, heels, a flat foot — or perform tricky combinations of all three.

What to Bring: Women wear high-heeled shoes, a leotard and a long, wide skirt. Men need boots with heels and comfortable clothes. Teachers may have spare shoes, skirts and castanets. But if you get serious, you’ll want to invest in professional flamenco shoes with nails hammered into the soles and stretchy flamenco skirts with ruffles. (See http://www.menkes.es and http://www.flamencoexport.com to order online.)

Cost: A 60- to 90-minute class averages $15, less if you enroll for a semester. Shoes cost $100 and up; practice skirts are $50 to $200. Samantha Stainburn

Where to Dance

American Dance Institute. 1570 E. Jefferson St., Rockville. 301-984-3003. http://www.americandance.org. Dancer Anna Menendez teaches in ADI’s gorgeous studios. $125 for the winter session; classes in sevillanas, a popular Spanish folk dance, are $15 each.

Arte Flamenco. 9062 Old Scaggsville Rd., Laurel. 301-617-0694. http://www.arteflamenco.us. Dancer Natalia Monteleon and members of her company, Arte Flamenco, teach here. $17 per class or $140-$165 for the winter session. Discounts apply if you take more than one class a week.

Carmen de Vicente Spanish Dance Academy. 3700 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Room 129, Arlington. 703-684-1949. http://www.carmendevicente.com. Castanet soloist Carmen de Vicente teaches a variety of Spanish dances. $20-$30 per class or $60-$150 a month.

D.C. Dance Collective. 4908 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-362-7244. http://www.dcdance.com. A variety of dancers who perform at local Spanish hangouts teach here. $15-$18 per class; $144-$180 for a 12-class card.

Joy of Motion Dance Center. 5207 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-362-3042. http://www.joyofmotion.org. Ziva Cohen, director of Ziva’s Spanish Dance Ensemble, teaches four days a week. $130 for the winter session.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company