As a dance student at Stephens College, Cerena Chaney knows how to use her body to express emotion. This semester, she’s learning the importance of using something else: her heart.
Chaney ’18 and other dance majors are learning how to flamenco from visiting guest artist Peter Suarez, who danced eights years with the Metropolitan Opera and performed flamenco with the Gipsy Kings at Radio City Music Hall.
Like most of her classmates, Chaney doesn’t expect to become a flamenco dancer, but the experience has opened her eyes and challenged her to see dance in a whole new way.
“Flamenco dancing is very emotionally driven and intense,” said Chaney, remembering what Suarez taught students on their first day of class. “ ‘Flamenco dancing isn’t about this,’ he said, pointing to his feet; it’s about this’ ” she recalled, “and he pointed to his heart.
“Flamenco dancing comes from within,” Chaney said. “It’s an attitude and a spirit.”
Suarez, who has served as style coach and adjunct choreographer for Cirque du Soleil and Olympic athletes, is teaching flamenco dance during the second session of the fall semester as part of the world dance curriculum at Stephens College. Students dance with Suarez for 90 minutes three times a week and will perform what they learn in March during the spring dance concert.
“The world dance program is important for our students because it offers them an opportunity to gain technical skills that both complement and add to the curriculum that they receive in their dance techniques and choreography,” said Elizabeth Hartwell, coordinator of dance at Stephens College. “It also contributes to their own cultural enrichment.”
Suarez, 58, who says he received his first paycheck as an entertainer at age 6, has performed and/or choreographed for Ballet de Puerto Rico, Ballet Espanol, Louisville Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Ballet Arkansas, Lexington Ballet, La Compania Folklorica Latina, Albhorada Dance Theater and Somos Flamencos, among others.
In 2013, he performed in “Zoro, the Musical” in Atlanta with Tony Award winning director Christopher Renshaw, and a year later, was in the cast of “In You Arms,” directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli.
Hartwell met Suarez when they both danced with the Lexington Ballet. Today, Suarez lives on a sailboat in Gulfport, Florida, when he’s not traveling and teaching at places like Stephens.
“Peter brings a wealth of knowledge gained from his professional experiences,” Hartwell said. “He is not moved by pure technicians, the dancer must bring their own sensibilities to the dance. The emphasis on self discovery and portrayal of character will help our students stay passionate about what they do and prepares them well for gaining employment in the dance profession.”
Suarez is teaching the students an Alegrias, which is a musical form of flamenco that has a rhythm consisting of 12 beats. When complete, the dance will last about five minutes.
As Suarez and the students practiced, he kept a steady count, shouting out numbers in Spanish. His feet blurred as he moved across the dance floor, making dramatic stomps like cracks of lightning. Now and then, Suarez would stop, his body still while emotions built. Then, like another crack of lighting, his feet would explode in fierce stomping.
Suarez was in his 20s, performing an off-Broadway show, when he was approached about learning flamenco. The highly expressive, Spanish dance from was almost second-nature to him.
“My body felt like it remember it,” he recalled.
Suarez said flamenco dancing, with is percussive footwork and intricate hand, arm and body movements is challenging to learn but the Stephens students had caught on quickly.
“They are actually doing some very hard steps,” he said. “They are so quick picking up the rhythms.”
Jada Kyle ’18, whose ultimate goal is to dance on Broadway, said learning flamenco has been one of her best dance experiences at Stephens.
“One thing that’s difficult for me is not tap dancing because the footwork is similar,” she said. “I’m glad I had this opportunity to learn flamenco and will add it to the list of styles of dance that I have learned.”
A one-man show written and performed by Peter Suarez in which he plays five fictitious men who differ in age, ethnicity and race.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016
Talking Horse Theatre
210 St. James Street
Tickets are $15 general; $12 seniors/students
Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Reader.