The art of dance is just as beneficial to the brain as it is for the body and soul. Esmeralda Enrique should know. She arrived in Canada from San Antonio, Texas - via Spain - on a work visa in 1981, excited to showcase her beloved flamenco dancing to Toronto audiences before taking it to other corners of the globe. Things, however, seldom work out according to plan.

Instead of travelling the world, she stayed, married, established a dance school (Academy of Spanish Dance) and a performance company (Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company) and subsequently played a pivotal role in fostering the city's vibrant flamenco community.

This week, Enrique, who's playfully coy about her exact age (“I'm over 50”), celebrates and performs in her company's 30th anniversary show Aguas/Waters - a world premiere flamenco performance inspired by interpretations of the element of water from April 19 to 22 at the Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre.

Enrique recently spoke with Zoomer about the benefits of dancing for those 50-plus, her future and the love-at-first-sight encounter that led to her remaining permanently in Canada.

MIKE CRISOLAGO: Tell me about meeting your future husband at your very first Toronto performance.

ESMERALDA ENRIQUE: He was there on opening night. I looked out from the wings and he was the first person I saw - And it just turned out that we sat at a table next to his and, as I got up to leave, he spoke with me, and then he came [back] every night. [Laughs] So yeah, it blossomed right away. We married three months after meeting. We've been married 30 years.

MC: You're over 50 and you still teach and dance six days a week. How has flamenco helped with your body's natural aging process?

EE: It has certainly helped my posture. And because it's so complex musically, and there are elements besides the complexity of the music and the footwork that we create and the co-ordination of different body parts and sounds - So it's a lot of brainwork when you're working this way. I think it's very good for the mind.

 

MC: That must get more challenging as you age.

EE: It is physically punishing. I wear the most comfortable shoes possible at all times. And I eat well - as well as I can. I try to keep myself very healthy to be able to do everything that I do. I also take Pilates because I need that core strength to be able to maintain the schedule that I have (but) I enjoy what I do so much - I don't feel it.

MC: How would flamenco suit Zoomers looking to try something new and active?

EE: We have classes that are beginner level, and it's a very mentally challenging way of learning because not only are you working the brain - but clapping in counter-rhythm and in syncopation and doing footwork sounds as well. Another thing - is that in normal life, humans usually do not use our arms above our head. So in flamenco, the arms above the head give it an entirely different dimension to physical movement and well-being - It's a wonderful way of getting more lung capacity and getting stronger in the upper body.

MC: What about those Zoomers with mobility concerns?

EE: I have students who have been with me for 30 years, so they understand the more intricate and more challenging way of doing things but if (Zoomers) are not able to because of physical limitations, they're always able to do it in a different way or in a simpler way that suits their abilities - Even if it's just the singing. We offer classes for flamenco singing, which is an entirely different way of listening to the music.

MC: I know many Zoomers attend your classes already. What differences do you notice in their appearance or movement after they've started dancing flamenco?

EE: How they're more in tune with themselves. Flamenco helps you to know who you are. Flamenco is not taking on a character but allowing you to be the person you could have been in a different life. So whatever life you could have had you can express through flamenco.

 

MC: This Thursday through Sunday, your dance company celebrates its 30th anniversary. Did you ever think you'd be marking this occasion when you started out?

EE: No, I didn't. I never looked to how far I can take it. I just knew that I had to continue and I took one day at a time.

 

MC: How much longer do you see yourself teaching and performing?

EE: As long as I'm able to. Who knows? I don't think it'll be another 30 years. [Laughs] But I have no idea. I know the company will continue to exist. As for myself, I will gently fade out.

 

Aguas/Waters, celebrating 30 years of the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, features dancers Esmeralda Enrique, Paloma Cortés, Ángela del Sol, Ilse Gudiño, Noelia La Morocha, award-winning Spanish singer Juan Ogalla along with Manuel Soto and Niño de Elche, and guitarist Oscar Lago.

Performances: Thursday, April 19-Sunday, April 22, Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. For ticket information, call 416-973-4000 or click here.

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