“How many journalists are there in the world? Thousands? And how many flamenco dancers? Maybe one thousand.”
Flamenco master Manuel Reina describes the uniqueness of his field using a ‘majority verses minority’ example. And it makes easy sense to me. He is one in a million.
This 43 year old has consumed the traditions of flamenco since the age of six, traveled the globe heading shows and for the past ten years stamped out his complex rhythms in Istanbul.
I meet Manuel at his ‘Etnik34’ flamenco studio off Istiklal Street in Taksim.
My goal – to feel the pulse of Istanbul through Manuel’s shoes as I stomp my feet through an hour and a half beginner class.
Changing into my collared shirt I think about my father’s words “flamenco is good for killing cockroaches”. With this in mind I am also wearing my black boots having left my sneakers at home.
We live in Istanbul where anything is possible. Because of this, I don’t ever question the city’s opportunities. And so here I am in a dance studio learning the traditional art of flamenco by an Andalusian who is speaking Turkish.
I am absorbed immediately by Manuel’s extreme likeability and the other foreigner flamenco enthusiasts are also able to enjoy the comfortable, supportive and fun lesson when he shows a multi-lingual tongue using Spanish, Turkish, English and Italian when needed.
He has long hair as fluid as his controlled flamenco arm movements, with wringlet curls as tight as his dance steps.
After the class I have another opportunity and sit with Manuel in the Sevilla style cave studio. He chats easily and tells me when he dances flamenco he doesn’t think. He says, “This is what made me addicted. Because it’s the only moment when my brain is not working.”
How our minds work differently. During class I kept repeating one, two, three step, step, stomp, turn, stomp, as I bit my lip in thorough concentration.
We then turn our focus to the city that consumes us. It is quiet inside his studio at the time of our interview, eventhough the cluster of people walking on Istiklal, and the red tram carrying tourists up and down the street, are only a few flamenco stomps away.
He tells me about past projects linked to Istanbul’s rhythm and says it was only natural to blend a flamenco style “with the different elements of Turkish folkloric dancing”. After all, his wife is Turkish and his children a Turkish-Spanish blend.”
But, although the show concept ‘Flamenco Alaturka’ came naturally, it doesn’t mean it was easy.
“It was quite difficult. We researched for one year before we even started rehearsals. We looked at the music, the styles, the rhythm, which ones could be similar and how we could mix it without losing the characters of each one.”Manuel
His intention was not “to create a new dance, but to show both sides of them together in a harmonic way”. Which was a challenge as “both cultures have deep roots”.
Manuel also presented a TV show on the TRT channel where he would invite a Turkish musician as a guest and the flamenco band would play the Turkish song in their own style.
But with all great ideas, the projects finished and he is now creating a new concept “focusing on mixing flamenco with a latin jazz sound”.
These are all examples of how Istanbul has influenced a different direction and professional life for Manuel.
“I love being here. I came here to escape from the race. In this world you race. You have to be the fittest, the best. My flamenco friends are still doing world tours. But I am here. I do my own shows in Istanbul. I am not global now. I am local.”Manuel
Manuel also tells me about the misconceptions of Istanbul saying, “Some people say Istanbul is cosmopolitan, because it is mega and crowded. But, there are also many cultures here. So I say the city is cosmo-ethnic.”
He then continues, “To live here as a foreigner is crazy and interesting. When I go back to Sevilla I always feel it’s so slow. They are too slow, they are losing time. Time passes and you feel you dont do many things. But in Istanbul you do many things in a short time. People are quicker.”
But perhaps to get away from the speed of the city Manuel says his favourite thing to do is to go home and relax with his children.
On the weekend he drives three hours to the Trakya region just outside of Istanbul and walks the Lingos Forest with his family.
Although he loves his weekend escapes, it seems he will always call this city his home.
“Istanbul changed my career direction. If I stayed in Spain I would never have worked with the incredible Turkish artists. There are a thousand flamencos… but only one who knows how to dance to Turkish music. Only one in the world. And that’s me.”Manuel
I thought he was one in a million… But, I was wrong. In Istanbul he is one in 15 million…
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Photos kindly supplied by and property of Manuel Reina
İstiklal Caddesi Postacılar Sokağı Santa Maria Apartmanı,
Tünel – İstanbul
0212 251 09 57
0532 600 93 63
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