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The Flamenco Academy

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  • Posted November 5, 2008

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    A passionate whirlwind of rhythm

    Flamenco, a dance originating in Andalusia (southern Spain), is a combination of Gypsy, Indian, Jewish, Arabic, Persian, and possibly New World influences, a deeply spiritual combination of music (guitar, handclaps, and cante jondo, or "deep song") and footwork. Flamenco is improvised, following the dozens of palos, or rhythms. In "Flamenco Academy," Sarah Bird offers up a story of flamenco in the New World; more specifically, New Mexico. Dona Carlota Anaya de Montenegro is the legendary founder of Albuquerque's Flamenco Academy, the daughter of cave-dwelling Gypsies in Sacromonte. <BR/><BR/>Cyndi Rae Hrncir, a Czech-American transplant from Texas, struggles through day-to-day life in Albuquerque as her father is dying of lung cancer and her unstable mother becomes wrapped up in a religious cult. She finds herself sticking to Didi, a high school rebel who smokes pot on the way to school (her car is named the Skankmobile) and who's a diehard roadie groupie, performing sex with roadies to gain access to the real musical stars. The two are like night and day; timid Cyndi Rae is eclipsed by the bold, larger-than-life Didi and remains in her shadow. <BR/><BR/>Cyndi Rae finds herself sucked into the passionate, mysterious world of flamenco after a chance encounter with a gifted flamenco guitarist at a party, and becomes obsessed with finding Tomas again after that fateful night. Tomas is the adopted son of Dona Carlota and accepted as the flamenco guitarist heir of Paco de Lucia. However, questions about the authenticity of his Gypsy bloodlines cast his heritage into doubt. In flamenco, bloodlines are everything; if you're not "gitano por los cuatro costaos," Gypsy on all four sides, you're not flamenco. Cyndi Rae's plan: to become a talented flamenco dancer and capture his heart. She throws herself into the classes, taught by none other than Dona Carlota herself, and although she may not have the showstopping quality of Didi's wild dancing, her sense of rhythm is impeccable. She devotes several years to the total study of flamenco, knowing all the while that she'll never be fully accepted as a non-Gypsy, non-Latina dancer. <BR/><BR/>Bird fills the novel with fascinating tidbits about flamenco, from its origins to legendary dancer Carmen Amaya to its complicated rhythms, footwork, and passionate moods. Some of the strongest narratives for me were those of the memories of Dona Carlota growing up in the cave slums of Sacromonte, the descriptions of that earlier Granada when European tourists would shower coins on young Gypsy dancers, the gradual commercialization of flamenco in Granada. The pounding rhythms of alegrias, soleas, saetas, and romances form the novel's heartbeat, accented by the metal taps pounding into the floor and the harsh, guttural wails of true cante jondo. The romance is secondary to the obsession of the dance. And it IS the dance that is the true star, more than Didi's attempt to ascend into avant garde stardom by stepping on others or Cyndi Rae's attempts to snare Tomas, unfolding on the beautifully painted stage of rugged New Mexico. A mesmerizing read sure to delight.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2007

    Where's the research?

    I was very excited when I started reading the book. The description of the dancing and the rhythm. Her words were so melodic and beautiful. Unfortunately, when I got to the Spanish dialogue... it was incredibly disappointing to see how little research Ms. Bird did for The Flamenco Academy. 1) The Spanish grammar errors are unforgivable. As I read and marked error after error, I had to come to the conclusion that Ms. Bird did not intend for her novel to be read by Spanish-speakers (much less Castilian Spanish-speakers). It was as if she had read a 'A Guide to Spain' or did a summer internship at the Universidad de Granada and felt she was expert enough to write a novel based on a culture too complex or dignified for her to translate into her own words without any help or need for research whatsoever. Ambitious, but wrong. This shows very little respect for an audience that could have really enjoyed her novel. Some of the basic mistakes she made in her book could have been avoided by looking them up in a dictionary, a basic Spanish grammar book or asking a Spanish-speaking friend or expert (from Spain, specifically, as the book is deals with characters from that country and the Spanish there does differ greatly from the Spanish spoken in Latin America or the US). Although Ms. Bird clearly understands the 'feeling' behind Flamenco dancing, Spain and its language are not present in her novel. Monumental mistake, as you can't have Flamenco without Spain. 2) Jehovah's Witnesses CAN indeed shave their legs and armpits. 3) People from the Philippines do not speak Spanish fluently. Unless, they've grown up in Spain.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2006

    A Compelling Tale of Two Stories

    I loved this story, or rather two tales intertwined. I totally disagree with the Publishers Weekly & Library Journal reviews above, as I feel that the two stories complement each other beautifully. Combining the old with a contemporary plot only made the story more compelling, in my opinion. I probably would not have read the novel if it only portrayed the ancient gypsy history of flamenco & war-torn Spain. (I think I slept through history in high school & college.) But Bird makes it so much more interesting, as a story told by Dona Carlota, with her 'Dame la verdad' imperative. I only wish I could have read this novel before attending a performance of flamenco in Spain, as the dance & music would have had so much more meaning. When Bird describes dance, she brings it can feel the beat, hear the music. When Bernie danced to Van Morrison's 'Brown Eyed Girl' in The Yokota Officers Club, I could not keep from dancing along with her. And I couldn't help moving to the rhythms of the 'flamenco puro,' as Bird described it. One feels tremendous empathy for all the characters, especially our heroine, Rae. I'm glad I did not read ahead to the ending, as I'm sometimes tempted to do. It was not what I expected, but a perfect finale. Ole, Sarah Bird! (Sorry, I don't know how to put the accent mark over the O.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2006

    Fabulous Story

    A riveting tale of the lopsided friendship between a shy girl and a naughty narcissist, a passionate obsession with a sexy gypsy musician, and the heart of flamenco. Beautifully evoking historical Spain as well as modern-day New Mexico, the poignant and unsparing voice of the narrator takes us on a journey unlike any other in contemporary literature. Don't miss this book, whatever else you read all summer!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A terrific contemporary tale

    When her family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico, seventeen years old Cyndi Rae Hrncir feels like a stranger in a strange land as her Czech backgrounds sticks out. The loner soon suffers another blow when her father dies from cancer. Reputed 'bad girl' Didi Steinberg suffers the same misfortune when her dad also dies from cancer. The paternal tragedies lead to the two disparate teens forging a special bond as they have no one to turn both their moms are busy grieving..----- After meeting rising flamenco playing guitarist Tomas Montenegro, Cyndi develops a passion for the music. She and Didi study under Tomas¿ legendary great aunt and guardian daunting Doña Carlota Anaya de Montenegro. As the two young females learn the demanding flamenco requirements, each makes a play for Tomas while also learning much about the Doca¿s past in war ravaged Spain.------ This is a terrific contemporary tale that focuses on two intriguing scenarios. First the obvious romantic triangle between the students this is well written and holds the audience attention as they wonder if friendships will end and who if either of the girls will gain the boy. However, even more interesting and refreshing is that the novel is the story of Doca that grips the reader as few subplots can. Fans will appreciate this strong tale that pay homage to the art of flamenco music and dancing.----- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

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    Posted June 12, 2010

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    Posted December 8, 2008

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    Posted May 7, 2011

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