Meet Vancouver’s mother of flamenco

Rosario Ancer’s flamenco festival has made the city a hub for flamenco in Canada

What inspires the movement in flamenco? “The voice, the song,” says Rosario Ancer, artistic director of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival. “There is a singer, a guitarist and a dancer. These are three elements that have to be there.” And from September 10 to 20, Vancouver will be treated to the music, dancing, and singing of flamenco at the 26th annual Flamenco Festival. Some of the highlights of this year’s festival include performances by Mexico’s Mercedes Amaya Company, Alma Flamenca—Saskatoon’s one and only flamenco company—and Calgary’s Rosanna Terracciano. The two main shows will take place at the Vancouver Playhouse on September 16 and 17, along with a number of workshops and free events, including an interactive flamenco dance session for kids at the picnic pavilion on Granville Island and a flamenco demonstration at the Vancouver Public Library, where participants can learn the basics of flamenco. We caught up with Ancer, who founded the festival and the Centro Flamenco dance studio in Vancouver, to learn more about the woman known as the “Mother of Flamenco in Vancouver.”How did you get introduced to flamenco?Well, flamenco is something we grew up with. I was born and grew up in a very small place close to Monterrey, Mexico. So my father was the owner of the movie theatre, and of course we lived next door, so I was there all the time. I was very influenced by movies. And at that time, also a great dancer and singer, Lola Flores, moved to Mexico and did a lot of film there. She made a lot of Mexican films—of course with a Spanish theme. And one day I saw her in a movie and she really grabbed my attention, and soon I was trying to imitate her. But it was later, after a little while, that I started learning flamenco when I moved to the city where there were some teachers. I saw a flamenco dance company that was touring in Mexico, and I really found out there was something special in Spain that I couldn’t find anywhere in Mexico. So I knew I had to go to the source of flamenco.What was it like learning flamenco in Spain?I moved there with the intention of only staying for six months, but of course once I got there I realized flamenco is way bigger than taking some lessons for six months or a year. You never stop learning, and also it’s changing all the time. The essence of flamenco never changes, but how you interpret it is different. So in total we stayed there for six years, and after a year and a half, I was asked to perform in a company, so I was very happy and very excited.And you met your husband while you were in Spain?We met in Spain. There was a time that he went there several times to learn how to play for dancers, and then to learn how to play for singers, and then how to do things together. One of the times that he was there, I was there at the same time—I moved there in 1979—and we met where all of the flamencos meet, Amor de Diose. It’s a very iconic dance studio in Madrid. After that, everything was history.Why did you decide to move to Vancouver?My husband is from Vancouver—one of the originals in flamenco. He’s been playing flamenco here for a long time. We went to Mexico for three years, but after a while he wanted to come to Vancouver. At the beginning there was nothing here, no flamenco scene. So it was very disappointing for me, because in Mexico it’s part of our culture. But I’m so happy that everything has changed so much.What made you decide to start a flamenco festival when you came to Vancouver?When we arrived here, there was nothing. Of course, we knew people here, the singer that my husband played with before he left, he right away asked us to perform with him. He had a gig in a restaurant called Pepitas on 4th Avenue, so we did a performance there. As soon as I arrived, people who knew a little bit of flamenco approached me because they wanted classes. So I started doing classes. I booked the Vancouver Cultural Centre and, to my surprise, two months before the performance it was sold out.What are you most proud of in your flamenco career as a dancer and as a teacher?I feel privileged that the work that my husband and I have done here in Vancouver has produced so much interest and has been the seed for what is happening right now. With the school, inspiring them with performance through the festival, giving opportunities for local dancers to perform in our company and/or doing the festival. Sharing the knowledge that we have and seeing everything grow so beautifully. Right now we are not the only ones, but we are the first ones who encouraged and nurtured the new generation of flamenco dancers and musicians too. We are very pleased to give an opportunity to so many people and make a platform for the young generation of flamenco to grow.