an excerpt from

Cultures in motion

Phyllis Akinyi's love affair with flamenco

an excerpt from

Cultures in motion

Phyllis Akinyi's love affair with flamenco

words Stephanie Garcia
photos Baldesca Samper Diaz

words Stephanie Garcia
photos Baldesca Samper Diaz

Flamenco contains a plethora of styles, each a distinct combination of music, dance, and song. It is improvised and spontaneous, never scripted or choreographed. Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain, is the heartland of flamenco. The dance form, reflective of Andalusia’s storied history, is a rich blend of Roma, Arab, Jewish, and indigenous cultures. 
 
“To me, flamenco is a melting pot of outcast cultures,” says Phyllis Akinyi. “I view myself as somewhat of an outcast, of a mixture of cultures, of someone who doesn't necessarily fit in.” Born in Copenhagen to a Kenyan father and a Danish mother, Phyllis is an anthropologist, dance teacher, and bailaora de flamenco who now lives in Madrid.

Flamenco contains a plethora of styles, each a distinct combination of music, dance, and song. It is improvised and spontaneous, never scripted or choreographed. Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain, is the heartland of flamenco. The dance form, reflective of Andalusia’s storied history, is a rich blend of Roma, Arab, Jewish, and indigenous cultures. 
 
“To me, flamenco is a melting pot of outcast cultures,” says Phyllis Akinyi. “I view myself as somewhat of an outcast, of a mixture of cultures, of someone who doesn't necessarily fit in.” Born in Copenhagen to a Kenyan father and a Danish mother, Phyllis is an anthropologist, dance teacher, and bailaora de flamenco who now lives in Madrid.

phyllis 2

Phyllis entered the world of flamenco almost by accident. While performing on stage for an MTV production, she ruptured a muscle, rendering her bedridden. It was a drastic change to go from dancing twelve hours a day to being unable to move. After recovery, Phyllis continued to feel lost. Dance had always been an integral part of her identity, yet her body had changed.
 
A local flamenco school provided an avenue to try a different style of dance — one that was less physically exacting than her work as a contemporary dancer, yet no less powerful. Phyllis was immediately drawn to the emotional rawness of flamenco, a stark contrast to the dance world she had been part of, which emphasised entertainment value above all else. “I was struck by the seriousness — that I didn't have to smile or do it for anyone else. I just had to be there and be myself.”
 
This initial encounter with flamenco was enough for 20-year-old Phyllis to book a one-way ticket to Madrid to study at Amor de Dios, a renowned dance academy. The intensity of the first year shocked her. Phyllis was not yet comfortable in Spanish, and had naïvely hoped to master the dance form in six months. “I was so wrong. I was dancing for hours a day not understanding a word that was said,” she recalls. “I felt like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, like I was walking around in a daze all the time. But the damn thing really spoke to me, so that was a valid reason to stay.”


Find the rest of this piece, along with more of Baldesca’s portraits of Phyllis, in Issue Two

Phyllis entered the world of flamenco almost by accident. While performing on stage for an MTV production, she ruptured a muscle, rendering her bedridden. It was a drastic change to go from dancing twelve hours a day to being unable to move. After recovery, Phyllis continued to feel lost. Dance had always been an integral part of her identity, yet her body had changed.
 
A local flamenco school provided an avenue to try a different style of dance — one that was less physically exacting than her work as a contemporary dancer, yet no less powerful. Phyllis was immediately drawn to the emotional rawness of flamenco, a stark contrast to the dance world she had been part of, which emphasised entertainment value above all else. “I was struck by the seriousness — that I didn't have to smile or do it for anyone else. I just had to be there and be myself.”
 
This initial encounter with flamenco was enough for 20-year-old Phyllis to book a one-way ticket to Madrid to study at Amor de Dios, a renowned dance academy. The intensity of the first year shocked her. Phyllis was not yet comfortable in Spanish, and had naïvely hoped to master the dance form in six months. “I was so wrong. I was dancing for hours a day not understanding a word that was said,” she recalls. “I felt like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, like I was walking around in a daze all the time. But the damn thing really spoke to me, so that was a valid reason to stay.”


Find the rest of this piece, along with more of Baldesca's portraits of Phyllis, in Issue Two

© 2019 Perfect Strangers LLC. All rights reserved.

© 2019 Perfect Strangers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

perf_social_instagram_new