Photo by Timo NuñezLeilah
From The Local,Spain
Leilah Broukhim isn’t a typical flamenco dancer. For starters she was born and raised in New York City, to parents of Sephardic Persian heritage.
But after being inspired by a flamenco class while studying film at Columbia University she arrived in Seville in 2000 with plans to spend no longer than a year learning more about the art.
Needless to say, she stayed a lot longer than that and built up a career as a dancer on the tablao circuit before launching her own projects.
“When I first started out, there really weren’t many foreign dancers at a professional level,” Broukhim explains. “It wasn’t that it was closed off to anyone outside Spain, it just wasn’t the norm.”
But since flamenco was inscribed on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010, the art has seen a surge in popularity and it has become much more common to see foreigners studying flamenco here.
“It wasn’t that those in the flamenco scene weren’t welcoming, I just felt I had to work harder as it’s not part of the culture I was brought up with. I had to prove to myself as much as anyone that I deserved to be here and was as good as those who came from a flamenco tradition that goes back centuries,”explains Broukhim.
“So I studied hard, went to a lot of shows, worked with amazing people and absorbed everything I could.”
Last year, Broukhim directed and performed in the inaugural show at Madrid’s Centro Cultural Flamenco with a show inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca, a show that ran from the opening in February 2019 until it was forced to close at the start of the pandemic earlier this year.
Leilah (Left) with her “flamenco family” during a performance of Lorca Poeta Flamenco.
“It was show inspired by the poet’s love of flamenco. He was very influenced by the music and plight of the art form at the time, it and the people who performed it were very marginalized but he championed them and in fact supported the first ever flamenco competition in 1922 in Granada.
“It was a fantastic experience, not only in getting closer to Lorca’s work but we formed our own really close flamenco family,” Broukhim reminisced.
Less than a year later and it is hard to believe that the flamenco world is in such dire straits. For the coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the entire performing arts sector not least in Spain where the industry was so reliant on tourism.
A recent report by the Unión Flamenca revealed that 42 percent of those artists professionally employed in the flamenco sector will be forced to retrain and in art that requires 100 percent dedication, many don’t have other skills to fall back on.
“It’s very hard, for many of us flamenco goes beyond a passion, we have dedicated our lives to it but right now the whole sector has been hit really hard. Most flamenco artists don’t have a backup plan.”
For Broukhim though, the coronavirus crisis has provided a pause and an opportunity to pursue other passions. “It was tough all of a sudden to just stop flamenco but it also gave me a chance to take a breath and think about other things I wanted to do.”
“The lockdown gave me time to dedicate my time to yoga, meditation, to look inside myself rather than project myself to an audience and that was really valuable,” she said shyly. “It also gave me a chance to concentrate on writing my own music, playing guitar and singing.”
Lockdown saw Broukhim collaborate with guitarrist Cristian O. Gugliara and producer Fernando Vacas and launch four singles.
“It’s very far removed from flamenco, more of an American psychedelic folk sound,” says Broukhim, who during lockdown released her music videos on youtube and performed live concerts on instagram and facebook.
“The reponse was great, so I’m taking it further and have formed a band, and we’re playing our first gig, in a covid-19 safe environment, in Madrid next week!” she laughed. If you told me five years ago that I’d be doing this, I’d never believe you!”.
“But we have to adapt to survive.”