Liliana Morales weaves through the dressing room of the Harriette Ann Gray Studios at Stephens College. Her gold bracelets jingle, shaking loose from the sleeve of her black winter coat as she points to a portrait of a dancer leaping in a flowing dress.
“That’s her,” Morales say, referring to Gray, the influential dancer, teacher and originator of the dance department at Stephens for whom the studios are named.
Morales began teaching at Stephens in 1976, when the department was still under Gray’s direction. She has returned to Stephens several times since completing her bachelor’s degree in 1978.
Morales is teaching Spanish dance and flamenco for the second session of the fall semester at Stephens this year. Spanish dance is required for dance students, and Morales says it teaches them the essential skills a well-rounded dancer needs.
At a flamenco demonstration on Nov. 9, Morales took the stage with a mix of strength and grace. She swept the skirt of her dress aside to showcase the intricate foot work that creates rhythm with its ball-heel combinations. Her arms remained firm while her hands created “flowers”, as the delicate, circular movements are called. The contagious rhythm ebbed throughout the room, created by a mixture of stomps, castanet clicks and claps.
Flamenco is more than a dance done by gypsies in ruffled skirts; it is a means to propel a dancer into a fruitful career, Morales says. As a renowned flamenco dancer, Morales has the experience to prove the importance of learning ethnic dance forms, especially Spanish dances.
“For the students, (the training is) tremendous because besides their modern and ballet training, they have ethnic dances like East Indian, Russian, Spanish, flamenco,” Morales said. “It really prepares them to dance in various other companies.”
Morales began dancing ballet and tap at age five. Raised in a Puerto Rican household, she grew up listening to Spanish music. Her mother helped her find a Spanish dance teacher, and Morales later joined companies in her native New York City. Through these companies, she was introduced to flamenco, which she describes as the “more famous, more popular, more commercial form of Spanish dance.”
Flamenco is believed to have originated in the 15th century when gypsies, originally from India, moved to Spain and combined their music with Spanish music and that of the Sephardic Jews and Moors. The dance and music most likely started in Andalusia.
Spanish dance differs from flamenco because it requires classical ballet training and is done to classically orchestrated music, while flamenco is done exclusively to guitar.
The castanets, a percussion instrument made of two shells joined together by a string, are held in the hand and clicked together to add rhythmic sounds to the dance.
Deborah Carr, a dance professor from Stephens, says learning world dances helps students “increase their movement vocabulary,” and that they often incorporate the skills in their choreographic work. She said that although Morales’ sessions are short, students are required to practice a lot, and the amount they accomplish is incredible.
Kelsey Rogers, a second year student who assisted Morales with the demonstration, had never taken flamenco before this year. She said Liliana is a tough yet understanding teacher. For Rogers, flamenco was a nice change from ballet because it has a “whole different feel.” Ballet is more ethereal and pretty, whereas flamenco conveys strong emotion and encompasses learning an instrument. Although it is challenging to coordinate so many elements, Rogers said the class is a lot of fun.