The next time you brush aside the notion that seeing a movie might change your life, consider Lindsey Bourassa, Portland-based flamenco dancer.

While a student at Concordia College in Montreal, she rented a 1993 French documentary film called “Latcho Drom,” about the Romani people’s migration from India to Spain. The story was told largely through various music and dance styles, including the dramatic and percussive flamenco, which seemed especially inspiring to Bourassa.

The film helped ignite in her a desire to connect her love of physical movement with culture and history. She left Concordia without her degree and traveled to India, where she took yoga and martial arts, then to France, where she began learning about flamenco. Later, she went to Cuba to study salsa and then spent three months in southern Spain studying flamenco intensely. She fell in love with the traditional folk art form, a melding of sung poems about love and life with emotional, percussive dancing.

“I just fell in love with the place and the culture and really connected with the people,” said Bourassa, 38, of her time in Spain. “It was at that point I really began to focus on flamenco.”

Lindsey Bourassa performs at Mayo Street Arts on Oct. 18. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

She continued to study flamenco around the world while also sharing it with audiences and students back in Maine. Around 2009, she started Bourassa Dance Company in Portland, followed by Bourassa Dance Studio on Forest Avenue in Portland in 2013. She also brings flamenco musicians and dancers to Portland often, including for two shows at Mayo Street Arts in Portland Nov. 22 and 23 featuring artists based in Spain and New York. She’s returned to Spain about once a year to continue her training and studies, and this year received her master of flamencology degree from Escola Superior de Musica Catalunya in Barcelona.

“Lindsey exemplifies robust participation in the arts. She is a master in her field through her study, practice, performance and teaching,” said Blainor McGough, executive director of Mayo Street Arts. McGough said Bourassa is building an audience for flamenco among Mainers, who might know little about it,  because her work “is so emotive, disciplined and passionate. If you see Lindsey dance you will never forget it.”

KEEP MOVING

Bourassa grew up in Freeport, where her father was a veterinarian and her mother an art teacher. She took gymnastics for much of her childhood, as well as some ballet to enhance the gymnastics. Quiet and shy as a child, she loved the physicality of gymnastics, especially the floor exercises, but not the competitiveness.

Her mother took her and her three sisters to museums, and she became interested in other cultures and other parts of the world. After high school, she studied briefly at the American University in Paris, but didn’t love the experience. She had a sister who was very happy at Concordia University, so Bourassa decided to go there too. She started thinking more about dancing while in Montreal, and started doing salsa dancing.

Then she saw “Latcho Drom” and started thinking about flamenco, though her first impulse was to explore the connections between movement and culture in lots of different ways. She enrolled at Goddard College in Vermont, in a program that would let her study around the world. She ended up getting a bachelor of arts in performance, dance, history and creative writing from Goddard in 2009, with a specialization in flamenco and salsa.

Lindsey Bourassa has traveled the world to study flamenco, and now teaches and performs in Maine. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

As part of her studies, she went to India to try yoga and to Cuba to explore salsa. But it was in the southern Spanish city of Sevilla, in Andalusia, that she fell in love with flamenco. She spent three months and, later, a whole year drinking in the culture and the art form.

Flamenco is a percussive, mesmerizing art form that involves a single dancer giving emotion to the music of a guitarist and poem being sung. It was done in the streets and homes of southern Spain, a place with a long and complicated history. The Muslim Moors from Africa ruled the area for hundreds of years, until Christians took over again in the 1400s. Because of its location at the tip of Europe and so close the Mediterranean and Africa, it’s a crossroads for immigrant groups, who have often been persecuted.

“It’s not soft or shy, it’s expressive and bold,” said Bourassa. “It nourished all these different groups who have lived through this very complicated history.”

Flamenco performance is basically storytelling, with the singer, guitar player and dancer all engaging in a conversation with each other. The wardrobe for women usually includes a long dress, hair pulled back, and often a shawl.  In 2017, Bourassa created a multimedia flamenco performance dealing with loss and connections called “El Lobo y La Paloma.” The performance includes Arabic music and song, poetry and projected imagery exploring connections between the physical and spiritual worlds. It was inspired by the death of her father.

She performs around Maine regularly. In October, she did three shows at Mayo Street Arts in Portland with two New York-based artists – singer Barbara Martinez, originally from Venezuela, and guitarist Cristian Puig, originally from Argentina. The two upcoming performances at Mayo Street, which she will not perform in, feature Miguel Vargas, of Sevilla, Spain.

‘YOU HAVE TO SHOW UP’

Bourassa came back to Maine from her studies and travels around 2006, performing here while still visiting Spain regularly. As her senior project at Goddard, she formed a group called Olas Music and Dance in Portland and brought flamenco to Maine. At one point, a teacher of hers told her that, if she wanted to stay in Maine, where there was not the kind of flamenco schools and training centers Spain had, the best way for her to continue to learn was to teach.  So she started teaching from a studio on Forest Avenue in 2013. She has classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced dancers. She also does programs in schools and colleges.

She says that flamenco is a way of life in southern Spain and ingrained in the culture, so teaching it in a place that has no history of flamenco can be challenging. But she feels the students she’s had for five years have made great progress. Most of her students are women.

“It might be a little challenging for women from our culture. But it’s good because it’s empowering,” said Bourassa. “Flamenco asks you to be big and bold and to show up.”

Bourassa said having to “show up” is good for her, because she still considers herself shy and introverted, when not dancing. The dancing in flamenco can be soft and gentle – like during sad parts of a story – or loud and bold during happy parts. The dancer makes sounds with their feet and hands while perfecting movements with the rest of their body.

Bourassa says one of the things that makes learning flamenco different from learning other dance forms is that “you can’t do it half way.”

“Even if you’re not sure about a movement, you have to give it 100 percent, even if it’s 100 percent wrong,” said Bourassa. “In other types of dance, you’re taught to not make mistakes. But with flamenco, expression is the biggest thing.”

Lindsey Bourassa Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

One of Bourassa’s advanced students, Rennie Weingart of Brunswick, became interested in flamenco during a trip to Spain. When she got back to Maine, she decided to look for a flamenco teacher and was surprised, and delighted, to find Bourassa. She’s taken lessons with her for about five years.

Weingart, who has done other kinds of dancing including tap, says flamenco is harder than most dancing. It requires excellent posture and a very strong core, and a dancer has to “multitask” by often tapping feet on one beat and clapping hands on the counter beat.  Movements are very controlled, and unlike tap-dancing, you never jump or bounce.

Weingart says Bourassa’s strengths as a teacher include her patience and technical expertise.

“It’s not of our culture, so we don’t have the muscle memory,” said Weingart. “We have to learn it in a technical way, so we know how to do the dances, but then we almost have to forget it to let the emotions comes through.”

Bourassa plans to take a group of her students to Sevilla in the spring of 2020, where they will spend a week at the school run by Vargas, where Bourassa has studied.

Bourassa says she’s gratified that her advanced students have stuck with flamenco and have a real feel for the art form. And she’s always happy when she sees the faces of Maine audience members seeing a flamenco performance, often for the first time.

“It’s wonderful to me that people in Maine are open to experiencing this,” she said.


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