With an 'Ole,' kids learn dance

The La Cañada Flintridge Public library was anything but quiet on Saturday.

Children and their families screamed out “Ole” and “Bravo” for a twirling, stomping performance by Spanish Flamenco dancer Susana Elena.

Elena performs in libraries in an ongoing series that promotes free community arts throughout Los Angeles County. Joining her for this performance was classical guitarist Almer Imamovic and his wife, classical flautist Jessica Pierce. The two form the group AlmaNova.

The dancer taught the children in the audience the Pasodoble, the double-step dance of the bullfight, and showed how the matador, or Spanish bullfighter, escapes from the bull.

Using castanuelas, or castanets, Elena bent her back forward and backward in dramatic swoops, clapping the castanets with her thumbs. In between her dances, AlmaNova played captivating music performances and Elena taught the audience how to make Flamenco flowers by rolling their wrists, fingers and hands.

By the end of the show, more than 10 children were invited on-stage to practice a hip-shaking rumba Flamenco dance while adorned with colorful, glittering scarves.

“We’re going to put our hands together and rub them, because this dance is hot,” Elena said.

At the end of the dance, the children sent the scarves flying in the air, yelling “Ole!”

For the past four years, Elena has performed these 45-minute shows with audience participation — especially children — in mind. She also takes her dances to multicultural events in the Los Angeles area.

She started learning Flamenco in Los Angeles.

“When I first saw Flamenco, I thought that the women’s bodies and they way they moved were so beautiful,” Elena said. “The movement of the women’s upper body actually dates back to ancient Greece.”

It hasn’t always been easy to find a place in the area to learn and practice the traditional dance, she said.

“It’s been a challenge to find the right kind of teacher,” Elena said. “In my opinion, you need to go to Spain, because that’s where the energy is and that’s where the riches are and the most knowledgeable people. This is one of those dances where you need to go to the country.”

There are many influences in Spanish dance, including Greek, Roman, Ancient Phoenician, Arabic, East Indian, North African and some South American too, Elena said.

“Spain has a long, sophisticated tradition of dance, I think more than most countries,” Elena said. “I think it’s because it dates back so many years and people love it.”

Although libraries face financial straits, they continue to support the arts, Elena said.

“I just really applaud the libraries because as we all know, their budgets have been cut drastically as well, but they’re trying to maintain these programs for the public and for children,” Elena said.

She said she hopes the libraries will continue offering her an opportunity to perform.

“I thank the libraries very much because the arts are in a bad state here, and with Flamenco, you have the restaurants, which can be not so fulfilling, and there are very few theatre shows,” Elena said. “Library programs you can show off the art of it and not just be lost in restaurant clatter.”

The husband-and-wife duo, AlmaNova, performs in chamber-music pieces and enjoys playing for a different crowd.

“It’s always fun to do these outreach programs,” Jessica Pierce said. “Bringing this to people who aren’t usually in a concert hall is great.”

In addition to performing for local libraries, the couple works to fundraise as members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Through their work, they fund scholarships and sponsor orphans.

“We try to give back as much as we can,” Imamovic said. “This is really good for kids to see because sometimes they don’t see the guitar.”

The local library brings enriching activities to the city, said Kevin Hasky, reference librarian at the La Cañada Flintridge branch of the county of Los Angeles Public Library.

“We like to schedule cultural performances in the community and Susana Elena is very popular,” Hasky said.

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