The leading ladies of flamenco

In the early ’70s, a Spanish flamenco dancer performed a small demonstration in Elba Hevia y Vaca’s Bolivian village. The experience would shape the next 40 years of her life.

“What awakened in me was the emotions that flamenco allows you to express,” explains Hevia y Vaca. “As a 13-year-old girl, I was extremely ecstatic to discover that there were movements my body could make to express things I was feeling.”

But as she delved further into her study, she became increasingly dismayed by the typical presentation of women in the art form. In Hevia y Vaca’s view, the dictatorship of Francisco Franco instilled a repressive, misogynistic undertone to Spain’s national dance — one that persists to this day.

In 2000, she finally founded her own flamenco ensemble, Pasion y Arte, and she made sure it had a distinctly feminist bent.

“I wanted to push the boundaries — to experience flamenco as a woman, not as a loved-other, or a sexual object. The only way I could do that was to form my own company,” she explains.

This week marks the opening of the first Philadelphia Flamenco Festival, produced by Pasion y Arte. Running until the end of the month, the celebration features performances and master classes by renowned Spanish dancer Rosario Toledo at Temple University, Swarthmore College and Christ Church Neighborhood House. “In Spain, there are so many wonderful dancers changing the aesthetic and empowering women,” says Hevia y Vaca. “Philadelphia hasn’t had the opportunity to see that.”

This weekend at the Philadelphia Flamenco Festival

Rosario Toledo and Company: ‘Del primer paso’

Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 3 p.m., Christ Church

Neighborhood House

20 N. American St., $25

Panel discussion: Featuring dance scholars Robert Browning and Michelle Heffner Hayes

Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

Christ Church Neighborhood House, free

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