When the student becomes the master: Maria Avila

Maria Avia is driven by a curiosity to explore and push boundaries. | Photo by Danielle Plourde

“Flamenco has kept me invested and interested because it is constantly challenging, and this is what drives me to continue. It’s a lifelong pursuit,” says Maria Avila.

A Vancouver-based flamenco dancer, Avila is currently offering online courses to further people’s passion for this dance form amidst the pandemic.

Avila started dancing as a young child when she liked hip-hop the most. In her teens, her friend shared a video of her mother dancing flamenco and her love grew from there. She was studying Spanish at the time and wanted to further her learning through dance. Her first flamenco dance teacher was Rosario Ancer.

Her journey from a young child to a teen to an established choreographer, dancer and teacher is a lesson for all that dedication and perseverance are key ingredients to success and happiness.

“I am driven by a curiosity to explore and push boundaries,” says Avila.

Deeper than beauty
Once engrossed in the world of flamenco, Avila decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts because her dream was to teach flamenco. She wanted to help mold future generations of dancers like her first flamenco teacher, Ancer helped shape her. She also wanted to ensure that there was diversity in the forms that were being taught in Canada, and she believed that exposing more dancers to flamenco was essential to that. She chose York University because of these goals. She also loved the fact that York allowed her to refine her dance thesis which took a long time and she got the opportunity to make connections with fellow professors, classmates and the Toronto flamenco community.

She also looked for opportunities outside of university to refine her dance skillset. She was able to gain a mentorship with acclaimed flamenco dancer, Myriam Allard. When thinking back on the lessons she learnt from Allard, Avila recalls her top three: dedication, unlikely inspiration and show more than beauty.

Allard pushed Avila by encouraging her to think outside the box and to show the complexity of the human condition which is deeper than beauty. Showing what she calls ugliness, anger, sadness, strength and vulnerability on stage was her way of achieving that.

“[Allard’s] dedication to her craft is inspiring,” she says. Avila decided to travel to Spain, Mexico and Greece to gain more perspective on flamenco dancing. She was able to study in all three places and had the opportunity to perform in Greece.

“[I was] very fortunate to do this and fully recommend others [try it], if able. Studying in other places with other teachers opens up your perspective, and the insight gained is invaluable,” she says.

Studying in Spain was surreal to her as she was able to immerse in the culture where flamenco was derived from.

Embodying music with dance
Using all of these experiences and lessons from York, Allard and travelling, Avila has been able to create pieces that reflect her emotions and her approach.

“Many flamenco song forms are heavy and involve themes of sadness, grief, struggle, defiance and survival,” she says.

As a dancer, Avila believes it is her duty to embody this, noting that the cante (song) is everything. She is currently part of a flamenco group called Calle Verde. Michelle Harding, a fellow dancer, and Avila work with Vancouver-based guitarist Peter Mole to create original pieces. Mole sends the dancers heavy emotional pieces which are aligned with the flamenco norms.

“Identifying the emotion initiates the creative process. My aim is to leave a piece of myself onstage,” shares Avila.

For more information, please visit: www.mariaavilaflamenco.com