Lucía Álvarez Howard, known as ‘La Piñona’ in Flamenco circles, began dancing very early. She began under the direction of dancer David Morales and went on to study with some of the genre’s best teachers. Only 23, Lucía has amassed performances at some of the best flamenco venues in the country, as well as tours in Kenya, Holland, Russia and more. She has also garnered some top prizes, including the ‘Aniya la Gitana’ award in Ronda, and the ‘Carmen Ledesma’ in Seville. We interviewed her for a national magazine just after she returned from Kenya in 2005 (below>).
Born in 1985 under the sign of Libra, young flamenco dancer Lucía Álvarez Howard, daughter of a British mother and a Spanish father, recently returned from a tour of Kenya. Organized by the Kijani Kenya Trust, a British charity dedicated to AIDS victims, the tour took Lucía and her musicians to various venues, beginning in Nairobi. Of the tour’s success there can be little doubt and the dancer’s enthusiasm for her art is more intense than ever. Having since returned to Jimena from a term at a flamenco dancing school in Granada, studies she interrupted to go to Kenya, she tells us all about it…
Tell me about the tour…
Brilliant! We went as a sort of complement to a tour of Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ as presented by the London Garden Opera, but we were asked at the last minute to appear as an opener to it. I didn’t really know what to do, but we quickly rehearsed some ‘seguiriyas’ and it was a grand success. And that despite the fact that my bags with the dresses got left behind in Málaga… they got them back in the end, but it was quite a close thing.
Who went with you?
The singer was Ramón Jiménez Molina ‘El Pesetita’, the guitarist was José Bustamante Román, a nephew of Quino Román’s, and the percussionist, Juan Heredia Carmona. All cousins to each other… I think they had as great a time as I did. I’m sure they did.
And where did you perform?
First, at Naivasha, then in Mombassa, at Nanyuki at the Mount Kenya Safari Club. The programme included opera, us and an orchestra that played Spanish chamber music.
But we also visited schools, where we gave a few informal classes. We visited an AIDS centre at a hospital, too – the whole programme was for their benefit, and I’m very happy at being able to contribute even just a little to helping with that enormous problem all over Africa. We don’t even realize over here what a problem it is there… it’s horrible.
So how were you received?
Incredible. I had never had such a reception anywhere. They were on their feet many times, clapping away. Of course, they had never seen flamenco dancing before, so we opened a door there.
But the hospitality… marvellous! We went on safari one day and had another one scheduled for the following week, but Stephanie Powers, the film star, came up to our table one night to tell us she had been at the concert, and invited us to the William Holden animal orphanage near Nairobi. It was certainly worth it. I loved Africa and want to go back there.
There is word of a possible tour of Africa…
Yes, well, I can’t say anything until it’s confirmed. We did come into contact with a lot of people in the international music world. I hope to keep in touch with them, as they can be of great help…
And speaking of your career, when did you start dancing?
At age eleven. My mother had insisted that I finish High School, for which I’m grateful, although I rebelled a lot… I had to accept that dancing would have to wait.
So it was a hobby…
Yes, but I enjoyed it more and more. I began to take it more seriously when I used to visit Antonio Aparecida’s home. He told me that if I did want to take it up properly, I should start right then or it would be too late. So I started with classes with David Morales in La Línea, and am now at the Santa Fe Gypsy Association in Granada, at what they call the Gao Caló. I am also studying choreography and contemporary dance to improve myself.
How did you decide to make it a career, then?
I suppose it must be genetic: my mother was accepted at the Royal Ballet in London, but her parents didn’t let her go on. For me, flamenco was natural, as I had always been around it as a child. I used to go to my uncle’s house, for instance; he is Valentín Álvarez, who played with Ketama. But there were always flamenco parties at home. I grew up with in.
Are there any special moments you can tell us about?
I began to feel it, to really feel it… Well, I danced my best yet in Holland last summer, when we went to festivals in Eindhoven and Amsterdam. And I was pretty good at the Taraguilla Feria two or three years ago… but there’s a big difference to my dancing then and now because of my studies. You see, I had learned with men only and my movements tended to be very masculine; I was very rigid from my hips upwards. Now I only study with women.
When I arrived in Granada I was scared. There are only very few good teachers in this area, but loads of them there, and all the dancers were better than me. I got quite depressed about it, and said I couldn’t dance. But with time and a lot of effort I am getting much better. The teachers help you a lot, at least they do me. Whenever there’s a casting, they come and tell us, they offer phone numbers… they are interested in us, and we all help each other out.
What was a normal day like for you in Granada?
I get up at 7.30, have breakfast and head for contemporary dance classes, say, at 9.30 til 11.00. Then there’s a technique class. I have lunch and then head straight for rehearsals or setting up a show, maybe, if they let us have the space. That’s a problem: I don’t have anywhere to rehearse and depend on the school.
What show are you preparing?
I’m always wanting to create the show of my life. (Laughter) It’s a dream for the moment, but I have to work towards it. It’s part of my studies, of my life. But there’s always the question of money. Everything’s very expensive and I can’t do everything. What I need is a sponsor…
But now that I’ve come back to Jimena I want to take up giving classes to the younger ones, which is what I did before I went to Granada. It’s lovely to see their progress. So I’m just preparing to start that again.
What plans do you have for the future?
To carry on with my studies; I’ll never know everything there is to know with my art, but I will never stop learning. It is a wonderful thing.
My ambition is to travel through dancing. I can’t complain so far, can I?
There’s been a lot of future since this interview in 2005. There is one constant in Lucía’s life, and that is her willingness to learn. That implies hard work, lots of practice, inconvenient hours – but, as she has said: “If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”
‘La Piñona’ has her own website but “no time to update it.”