Excerpt from The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Flamenco Academy

by Sarah Bird

The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird X
The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 400 pages
    Oct 2007, 400 pages


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In that moment, watching Carmen, it was still all I wanted. Even after everything that had happened, all I wanted was one more sip of nectar.

Mi corazón,” a singer wailed the start of a verse in the background behind Carmen’s image fading into history, into legend. I knew the letra, had danced to it dozens of times, and my cheeks were wet before the translation appeared in subtitle: “My heart has been broken more than the Ten Commandments.”

The line sung in flamenco’s unearthly quaver stabbed straight into my chest because I realized then that my own heart was not broken so much as missing entirely and no secret, however carefully interpreted, would ever return it. I was groping in the dark, ready to escape, when the lights unexpectedly came up. I had missed my chance. I was scrubbing tears off my cheek when a hand grazed my shoulder. Thank God it was Blanca, universally recognized as the least bitchy of all the serious dancers. We’d started out together back when Doña Carlota had taught the introductory class.

“Rae, how are you doing?” Blanca patted my shoulder and stared with the damp sympathy I’d dreaded.

“Pretty good.” I injected as much pep as I could into my answer, gesturing toward my reddened eyes. “Allergies are bothering me. All the smoke from the forest fires.” There was no smoke in the air inside the theater.

Blanca nodded. “It’s good to see you, Rae. Really good.” She put too much emphasis on the last good, speaking to me as if I were a patient who doesn’t know yet that she’s terminal. But Blanca was nice. I’d discovered far too late that I should have put a much higher priority on nice. I should have been friends with someone like Blanca instead of Didi.

“Keep in touch, okay?” she said. Her solicitous question was drowned out by the thunder of applause that erupted when the incandescent Alma Hernandez-Luna, director of the flamenco program, bounded onstage. “Bienvenido a todos nuestros estudiantes. Welcome, welcome, welcome to the more than two hundred students who are with us this summer from China, Germany, England, Belarus, Tokyo, Canada, and nearly every state in the union. We welcome you all to the country that we will create for the next twelve days. The country of flamenco!”

The applause fell briefly into compás and the audience laughed at us all speaking the same language with our hands.

“It is strange to be welcoming you. For the past fifteen years our founder, Doña Carlota, has always opened the festival. She cannot be with us here tonight in body, but her spirit fills this hall! We are all here because of Doña Carlota Anaya. She created the first academic home for flamenco in the New World.”

That part was true.

Alma continued, “The festival is her baby.” That part wasn’t true. Alma means soul, and Hernandez-Luna had been the soul of the program for years. The festival was entirely her baby. Through her connections, she was always able to lure la crema del mundo flamenco to our little sunblasted campus. Whoever the reigning god or goddess of flamenco was, Alma would hunt them down and bring them to the festival to perform and teach. I was one of only a handful of locals on this year’s faculty. The night should have been a triumph for me. I knew it wasn’t going to be that, but, until the film, I had thought the festival would be an opportunity for me. An opportunity to learn where Tomás was. To start using my secret. The film, the image of the coveted child toddling toward the world’s greatest dancer, had changed all that.

“I hope everyone has their tickets for Eva La Yerbabuena’s show”–a burst of applause for the acclaimed dancer interrupted Alma–“because they’re going fast. I would like to thank our visiting documentarian”–the maker of the Carmen film stood to a hearty round of applause–“for helping us to kick off this summer’s festival with that astonishing film. Okay gang, the fun is over.”

Excerpted from The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Bird. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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