Oscar, why did you begin dancing flamenco? If I think about it, it was really the sounds of the footwork and cante that was on Carmen Amaya’s album “Queen of the Gypsies.” I don’t know how many albums I wore out listening. Imagine, this was before video or YouTube, or even film because there was so little film of her dancing. So all of the sounds that I heard, I had to imagine what she looked like and what she was doing with her feet. I also think that Domingo Alvarado’s voice is haunting and beautiful. I still use her Alegrias as a study for everything from the guitar to the dance to the cante. Sabicas’s guitar playing is amazing.
Do you have a favorite palo? Alegrías is my favorite. Sometimes when I dance it, it makes me cry – that’s how much emotion comes out when I dance it. To me the cante has a melancholy sound. You are a master teacher and performer; do you prefer one over the other? Not really, but now at this point of my career, I am moving more and more into the teacher, mentor phase of my life. Letting go of performing isn’t easy as that’s been such a huge part of my artistic life. I can’t say that I’ve hung up my “red shoes” just yet, but I’ve made peace with the inevitable part of aging. I’m just thankful to be alive and in relatively good health.
How has your flamenco experience changed over the years? I’ve grown to appreciate the complexity of the art form in all of its manifestations, cante, baile, music, which of course in this day and age is more than just the flamenco guitar. The ability of the art form to stay current, yet maintain its core of traditional values and rules, and, at the same time appeal to a wider audience. At this stage of my life I’m not so sure of some of the newer innovations, but then when I was young I too was breaking many of the rules. Like using a conga with guitar. I was the first choreographer in Los Angeles, CA to use one in my group, and at that time, in the early 1970s, it was considered scandalous to do this. Many of the traditionalists of that time thought I was crazy and of course I was very much criticized. My how times change. Now you can hardly see a flamenco show without a cajón.
What motivates you to continue? You, and dancers and artists like you who find the art form exciting and challenging and this in turn makes you want to improve “your art.” I guess to be fair, it’s also the art form itself. Sometimes I hate it because it can be so unforgiving, and sometimes I love it when I see beautiful dance or hear beautiful music and cante. Lots of contradictions with this art form.