Kathi’s describing how she got into Flamenco dancing — and Flamenco organizing.
My mother’s side of the family is from Cuba, and before that they were from Spain, so my great aunt had a lot of materials around the house, so she gave me records to learn Spanish. They were made out of tin. Yeah, I still have them. She had some fans and some shawls, and then I was an exchange student in Madrid and found a class. Once you hear the music, if you really like it, you never go back. It’s annoying to many people, but I love it. Even the old stuff which sounds crackly. It’s an acquired taste. I have a couple of friends and we joke: Is this too loud? There’s no such thing as too loud flamenco.
Flamenco is very disruptive to the environment. We work in studios and after three months, the owners downstairs or the people who lived upstairs would say, You gotta go. It’s too noisy. It’s too loud. It goes on too long.
We were always finding different hobbles or whatever. There was one time when we worked for a year on the roof of a building on the bottom of Wells and Congress Parkway that was owned by a guy who worked at the Board of Trade. He had a warehouse filled with old computer terminals and as they burned out, he just get new ones and piled the others in the corner. But he had this storage space and let us use it, so we’re on the 12th floor of this building. It had no air conditioning, and it was filthy, and it was the hottest place I have worked. We worked there, like, 26 hours a week. It was a small dance company at the time. I must have weighed 80 pounds. I was so thin, it was ridiculous [laughs].
So we needed a space that could be a center that everyone could use, all the flamencos, where we wouldn’t get thrown out of, and the teachers could all have their classes there, and students could see what else was available.
At the time one teacher was married to an idealist who was all about the Spanish Civil War, and he’s like, Let’s open a studio. They found a spot, an old insurance company that had gone out of business and the guy was still living there in the back. So it was kind of a raw space they could take apart, and someone put in the floor and a bunch of friends got together and we screwed boards in, and hung things up and painted and got mirrors and we started having dance classes.
Other people started teaching there, and after five years the woman who started it and her husband split up. She moved to another place and she said, I just can’t run this anymore. It’s too much running down there to change the toilet paper roll. I think I’m gonna close it.
I had helped her for a long time do the newsletter and run the workshops, and I said, Well, I can do it. She said, I’ll sell you the business license for a dollar. So we went downtown and we did it. I’ve changed some things and left some things the way they were. We started the Flamenco Festival after that, the city festival. That was a really ‚ great. I’m very proud of the flamenco festival.
It’s on Western Avenue by Lane Tech High School across from Waveland Bowl, so it’s on Grace and Western in a building owned by a man who loves music. It’s a commercial building, there’s no one on top of it and it’s on Western Avenue which is really noisy, so you can rehearse there 24 hours a day if you want. There’s a bar on the corner and one of the businesses next to it is a Jackson Hewitt tax place, so they’re not there all year. It’s not the swankiest place. It’s run on the honor system. The teachers all have keys, they recruit their students and I help them, but they just pay the studio rent and they keep the money from their students. We also have a drum circle there and we used to have hula dancing for a while. We have go-go dancing which is extremely popular. Then we bring in guest artists to do flamenco workshops, singing, some guitar — that’s a little hard to do, guitar classes — and dance mostly. People come from all over the world, and we have a riot.