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The Holidays, Flamenco Style

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The flamenco scene in Denver is underground. In Natalia Perez del Villar's case, it's literally underground: her Flamenco Underground Studio sits in the basement of Stina's Upcycle shop.

Natalia is a hard-core flamenca. Classes that are meant to last two hours span three most times. She insists on her students' practicing palmas, the clapping associated with flamenco, in order to learn compas, the rhythm of flamenco. There's no such thing as just memorizing a choreography and dancing it to music.

Natalia lives what she preaches. At no time is this more evident than during the Holidays when she puts on her annual Navidad Flamenca show at the Mercury Café. Highlights of the show change from year to year. For 2013, the show included guest singer Megan Chandler who, among other songs, performed a rousing rendition of "Chad Gadya," a Jewish cumulative folk song. Galician piper Carlos José interpreted Celtic songs from northern Spain, Asturias and Galicia on his bagpipes. Natalia's onetime regular guitarist, Vincent Chavez, was back from Thailand and performed both accompaniment and solo pieces, reminding fans of what we're missing out on. Singer, and Natalia's husband, Mark Herzog performed haunting interpretations of typical flamenco songs. And Natalia danced.

Of course, Natalia doesn't just dance. She performs. She owns the stage and the venue. It's not just her superb zapateado, or footwork, her perfect body positioning or even her typical flamenco costumes. Natalia commands the stage with her energy, her duende.

In addition to twice weekly lessons, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Natalia runs regular workshops. Recently she tapped her one-time choreographer, Pablo Rodarte, to run a two-day workshop. She has even hosted master dance teacher La China. None of these are for the faint of heart: bruised egos go along with sore toes. That may be what keeps flamenco underground in Denver, but it's the also the flamenca spirit.

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