Like a Flame

Courtesy of Clinard Dance Studio

Wendy Clinard’s passion for dance began with a few failed sketches of a flamenco class. “I couldn’t capture the energy of what I was feeling and seeing on the page,” she explains. “Everything that I came away with paled in contrast to what I felt and saw.” Driven by artistic curiosity, she decided to try the dance herself. Clinard immediately encountered the emotion inherent in the dance–the passion and vivacity that fill every movement. This is what she couldn’t capture in painting; this is what draws the audience in.

Clinard was hooked. She trained as a professional flamenco dancer, drawing inspiration from her familiarity with the lines of the human body from years of painting. She now runs the Clinard Dance Theatre in Pilsen, which is home to a professional performance company and provides lessons for all levels of dancers.

During Second Fridays in Pilsen, Clinard hosts an open performance in her studio where her students can show off what they’ve learned. As Clinard explained at the beginning of the most recent Second Friday show, “To be witnessed is really important as a performer.” That night, the crowd squeezed in around the edges of the hardwood stage, tangling feet and chairs.

The intimacy of her studio created an experience reminiscent of the tablaos where flamenco is performed in Spain. Since space is so tight in the tablaos, a sense of closeness develops between the performers and the audience, which encourages the viewers to participate in the show. “Flamenco was born in the tradition of a community-minded art form,” Clinard says.

On that evening, the performers covered a wide range of ages and abilities. Clinard’s classes often bring dancers of different levels into the studio at once, as more advanced dancers perfect the fundamentals that beginners are still just learning. Clinard joked to the audience that age is “no trouble” for a flamenco dancer. She believes that the dance is accessible to anyone. “Flamenco is a type of art form that accepts your individuality and embraces it,” she later remarked.

Affirming that flamenco has no age limits, the first performance on Friday featured two members of the youngest flamenco class, girls who barely reached their teacher’s waist. As their lanky, awkward bodies tried to imitate the sophisticated fluidity of their teacher’s movement, their faces showed an expression of concentration as intense as any that evening.

In the performances that followed–one by the class of older dancers and another by Clinard herself–the emotional intensity reached new heights. Energy coursed through the dancers and was reflected in the musicians and singer. The musicians, a group called Las Guitarras de España, began each piece by slowly strumming the first chords on their guitars. Singer Patty Ortega joined in soon thereafter with her powerful alto. The dancers were called forth, with stomping feet and proud, upright postures.

The dancers moved with intention, slowly drawing out the movements of their arms and then rapidly snapping their heels and toes about the floor. “They say that the pantheon of the human experience is captured through these forms,” says Clinard.

The final piece of the night was entitled “Fin de Fiesta.” The fiesta atmosphere culminated as crowd members joined in the tradition of jaleo–“shouts of encouragement or confirmation of what you see,” Clinard clarified. The dancers and musicians had called out shouts of “¡olé!” all night, and in the final dance, the audience began to participate in the exchange as well. As the reveling heightened, the viewers were drawn deeper into the heart of the flamenco performance. After witnessing such a scene, it is clear why Clinard was unable to represent the dance in static, two-dimensional art.

Clinard Dance Theatre, 1747 S. Halsted Ave. (312)399-1984 clinardance.org