Leaving a restaurant in the city center of Málaga, Spain, flamenco artist Jaime El Estampio spotted a street musician unnoticed by the group of Notre Dame students and faculty—and he spontaneously began to dance.
Ellen Lavelle, a junior on the trip, says that as soon as El Estampio started clapping, a crowd of tourists and locals encircled the Notre Dame visitors and their local artist guide.
“Jaime’s energy was magnetic and his smile infectious,” Lavelle says. “Flamenco isn’t an exclusive dance; it welcomes everyone. It was born on the streets of Andalucía and although it has become very popular to perform on stage, there are deep roots connected to the dance that keep it a dance for all people.”
Flamenco invites participation and connection: between the dancer and the musician, and between the performers and their audience. Through hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and call-and-response, flamenco draws its participants into a shared experience, creating a community in which everyone is seen and heard. Over the last two years, flamenco has created connections between Spain and Notre Dame and between Notre Dame and South Bend, helping to build a community from neighbors.
Elena Mangione-Lora and Tatiana Botero, teaching professors of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, have helped bring flamenco from the Andalucía region of southern Spain to South Bend, Indiana. The pair’s approach to language learning is rooted in experiential and community-engaged learning, and in cultivating a love of Spanish that goes far beyond developing verbal communication skills.
Truly learning a language, they believe, should involve music, dance and art, cooking, crafts, and conversation, as well as deep engagement with how the people who speak that language work, play, worship, and build community. For Mangione-Lora and Botero, engaged learning emerges from seeing and respectfully listening to others.
Flamenco is associated the world over with the female Sevillana dancer in her shawl and ruffled dress and her bolero-wearing partner, but this art form emerged at the margins outside the mainstream of Spanish culture. It was born in the homes and streets of the Gitanos, the Andalucían Romani people who blended a fusion of North African and European musical traditions. Flamenco is a way of life that draws upon and builds community.
“It’s being in touch with your own rhythm,” Mangione-Lora says, “and sharing that rhythm with an audience to invite the duende, the special spirit that means you’re all in tune together.”
“It’s being in touch with your own rhythm and sharing that rhythm with an audience to invite the duende, the special spirit that means you’re all in tune together.” –Elena Mangione-Lora
Since the 2019–20 academic year, Mangione-Lora and Botero—supported by funding from the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Notre Dame International, the Shein Trust, and several other Notre Dame units and community partners—have nurtured a vibrant collaboration with El Estampio, a renowned flamenco artist based in Málaga.
The project has brought El Estampio and his collaborator, the guitarist Antonio Herrera, to South Bend and has brought Notre Dame students to Andalucía. This collaboration has engaged not just students and faculty at Notre Dame, but school children, musicians, dancers, and others within the South Bend community with this centuries-old complex art form and with each other.
Teaching through culture and community
Long before meeting El Estampio, Mangione-Lora and Botero had developed an award-winning approach to language learning that facilitated student encounters with music, literature, art, and food both inside and beyond the classroom. This has included cooking classes, singing, writing by the celebrated Andalucían poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, and films like Latcho Drom, a 1993 documentary on the Romani people’s migration from northwest India to Europe.
“Students don’t fall in love with a language through grammar,” Botero explains. “They fall in love with the language through culture.” Developing a personal love for a language, type of music, or art form, she says, plants the seeds for seeking to understand the history, society, and heritage of a culture in critical and informed ways.
This approach has also led Mangione-Lora and Botero to teach through community engagement, social justice, and service. Notre Dame, they point out, is part of a community, and given its many resources, has a responsibility to build collaborative relationships with its South Bend neighbors. Both women are part of their department’s Community-Engaged Learning collaboration with the Center for Social Concerns.
Their work has facilitated Notre Dame student interaction with the local community through art and culture through initiatives such as the South Bend Civic Theatre’s August Wilson Project and the multifaceted exhibit Art in Motion: Guayasamín’s Ecuador Unframed. These experiences, Mangione-Lora and Botero explain, provide students with “an opportunity to connect with others and the chance to talk through ideas, reactions, differences, shared experiences, and other meaningful topics, leading to deeper bonds and healthy communities.”
When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required a pivot to virtual education, Mangione-Lora and Botero’s commitment to experiential learning faced a significant test. It was in this context that Mangione-Lora, while exploring YouTube in search of flamenco singing lessons, first encountered El Estampio. She was immediately struck by his energy, even through a screen, and invited the artist to give a series of virtual flamenco demonstrations to her students learning Spanish at Notre Dame.
El Estampio’s talent and charisma captivated the students and sparked their enthusiasm for both flamenco and Spanish language and culture. The art form also proved to be a space where Mangione-Lora’s and Botero's commitment to learning through experience and with the community could coalesce.
Art from and for the margins
From its beginnings in Andalucía, flamenco was an art form that gave voice to the marginalization of the Spanish Romani. Like the Moorish and Jewish peoples of southern Iberia, the Romani were subjected to expulsion and cultural suppression during the centuries-long Reconquista that culminated in 1492. In more recent centuries, the status of flamenco in mainstream Spanish culture has waxed and waned; the art form has been celebrated and exploited, belittled and dismissed, depending on the interest and priorities of the country’s political leaders and cultural elites.
Emerging from this complex history, flamenco is an expression of the identity of a migratory, marginalized people, and of a cultural form that has moved between the peripheries and the center of Spanish culture. Flamenco articulates the need to make visible the humanity of those on the margins of society. This assertion of human dignity is evident, for example, in a cante by the singer La Caita called “Pájaro negro.” Its lyrics include the lines:
“Why does your wicked mouth spit on me?
What harm is it to you
That my skin is dark…
And my hair Gypsy black?”
Flamenco was also born in community. Spontaneous in nature, flamenco incorporates dance (baile), poetry, singing (cante), guitar playing (toque), polyrhythmic hand-clapping (palmas), and finger snapping (pitos). Performances are driven by the rhythm of call and response—jaleo—between the performers and their audience. Besides the traditional influences from Spanish and African music, its contemporary iterations incorporate rumba, salsa, pop, rock, and jazz.
“Each performance,” Mangione-Lora and Botero explain, “is a unique product of the synergy and imagination of performers together with the audience—born of the moment and ephemeral—invoking the strength of generations channeled through a single performer.”
In his virtual workshops, El Estampio made a significant impression on the students at Notre Dame. The interest in Mangione-Lora and Botero’s classes increased, as did applications for Notre Dame’s study abroad program in Toledo in central Spain. Students also began to ask the two professors to find a way to bring El Estampio to Notre Dame. Responding to this wave of enthusiasm, Mangione-Lora and Botero set out on a flamenco research trip to Andalucía in August 2021 to meet the artist in person and explore the possibilities for bringing him to South Bend.
Encountering El Estampio in his home setting confirmed his talent, energy, and natural teaching abilities, and it showed Mangione-Lora and Botero that his artistic philosophy dovetailed with their own approach to education and community-building. El Estampio studied at the Sevillian school of the flamenco master Torombo, who grew up in poverty in the city’s Las Tres Mil Viviendas neighborhood. Torombo’s artistic training extends to visits to prisons, food banks, youth centers, and the elderly, working with people who are struggling with poverty, drug addiction, loneliness, and marginalization.
In community with the soul of Andalucía
A few months later, El Estampio and his collaborator Antonio Herrera brought their art to Notre Dame and South Bend. For a week in November 2021, the artists had a packed schedule of performances and community engagement.
At Notre Dame, they gave a performance in the Leighton Concert Hall at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The event was free and family friendly, which was imperative to its organizers. The artists also engaged enthusiastically with Mangione-Lora and Botero’s immersive teaching style.
They gave a second performance for students in O’Shaughnessy Hall and collaborated with the author Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, associate professor in the Department of English, who read from her 2021 novel Savage Tongues, part of which is set in the Andalucían city of Granada. The artists also connected with the Notre Dame Spanish Club and gave a paella cooking class to its members.
In the South Bend community, they gave a demonstration to the children at Holy Cross School, which has had a Spanish immersion program for elementary-age students since 2017, and gave another free performance at the South Bend Civic Theatre.
The artists’ impact on the communities they encountered in 2021 created ripples of interest within Notre Dame and across South Bend. Annie Borjas, principal of Holy Cross School, said her students were practicing flamenco in the playground at recess. Pastor Tina Patton at the Kingdom Life Christian Cathedral asked Mangione-Lora and Botero how the students at her community outreach ministry and summer program might also meet and follow the work of El Estampio and Herrera.
Flamenco artists Jaime El Estampio and Antonio Herrera visit Holy Cross School in South Bend, which has had a Spanish immersion program for elementary-age students since 2017.
El Estampio and Herrera engage elementary and middle school children at Holy Cross School in South Bend with flamenco demonstrations and workshops.
The artists lead the children at Holy Cross School in workshops on flamenco dance (baile) and polyrhythmic hand-clapping (palmas).
The fall 2021 visit also stimulated a desire for deeper engagement with flamenco by Mangione-Lora and Botero’s students. The students already had the option to study in Toledo for a semester abroad but wanted to know how they could spend time in Andalucía, hundreds of kilometers further south. So Mangione-Loras and Botero partnered with the Nanovic Institute in the summer of 2022 to bring nine students to experience flamenco in the region of its birth.
Over nine days, the students sampled authentic Andalucían food, practiced flamenco, and made goat cheese. In Granada, they explored the famous Alhambra palace and fortress and, in Seville, the gardens at the Alcazar palace and the breathtaking Plaza de España, where flamenco quite literally takes center stage.
In Granada, the group saw a performance at the Tablao Flamenco Jardines de Zoraya. Ellen Lavelle recalls the experience of watching flamenco on the students’ first night in Spain:
“All of us had been up for at least 24 hours at this point, but no one felt even the slightest twinge of sleepiness during the performance. The ambience of the room kept us awake, including the impeccable skill of the performers.
“Flamenco dance is the most expressive dance I have ever seen. It is equally magical to the performers and the audience, and the people in Andalucía are fully devoted to its execution and longevity in the region, and the world at large.”
‘Improvisation spun from tradition’
The energy and sense of community generated by both the flamenco artists’ visit in 2021 and the immersive student trip to Andalucía encouraged Mangione-Lora and Botero to bring El Estampio and Herrera back. The 2022 program of performances and events was intentionally constructed to give as many people as possible access to flamenco in a part of the country where there is little or no opportunity to experience this art form in person.
The title of the artists’ main performance at Notre Dame was Improvisation Spun from Tradition. The word “spun,” Mangione-Lora explains, was chosen to evoke both movement and craft, capturing how flamenco is a demonstration of intentionality in spontaneity, an expression of emotion that is aware and respectful of both its heritage and the context in which it is performed.
The public performance in the Leighton Concert Hall demonstrated this spirit of listening to and seeing one another. The performance featured collaborations with talented local artists: the jazz pianist Gabriel Hernandez, James Reilly on the congas, and modern dance student Anneliese Wickson, class of ’25, who was on the trip to Andalucía the previous summer. Toward the end of the performance, several of the other students from the summer group joined the artists on stage.
Spanish language and culture students were heavily involved in organizing the program behind the scenes, as was the Notre Dame Spanish Club, which hosted another Spanish cooking class and a flamenco demonstration. Alex Chávez, artist-scholar-producer and the Nancy O’Neill Associate Professor of Anthropology, joined the program with a public lecture titled “Verses and Flows: Migrant Lives and the Sounds of Crossings.”
Drawing on his book on Mexican migrant cultural expression in huapango arribeño, a musical genre originating from north-central Mexico, Chávez pulled out common strands that link and celebrate the experiences of peripheralized migrant cultures, recognizing shared tragedy and pain and finding a space for solidarity.
In the South Bend community, El Estampio and Herrera returned to Holy Cross School, visited a second Spanish immersion program at McKinley Elementary, and provided workshops to older children at John Adams and Clay high schools. They participated in an interview conducted by Notre Dame students for the local Radio Sabor Latino and gave public workshops at two South Bend dance schools—South Bend Latin Dance and Spanish Rose Dance Studio.
One highlight was a public performance at La Casa de Amistad, a South Bend community center that empowers the area’s Latino/Hispanic population through education, culture, and advocacy. At this event, Mangione-Lora met a student from Holy Cross who proudly displayed the flamenco shoes she had bought after a flamenco demonstration at her school the previous year. She also met a man who had brought his two high school–aged sons because, as a teenager, his own high school teacher took him to a flamenco performance that he has never forgotten.
“It gets people excited,” Mangione-Lora says. “It opens up people to art. It brings people together as a community to share in experience and unpack it together.”
Mangione-Lora and Botero see this particular outcome of the flamenco project as especially valuable. They hope for future exchanges, visits, and collaborations, potentially with other cultures and art forms that are part of the fabric of South Bend, in ways that will engage an even broader cross-section of the city.
“There’s so much more that we need to do,” Mangione-Lora says. “But I think that this kind of community engagement allows Notre Dame to be a good neighbor and say, ‘We see you; share this with us.’”