Local dancer performs worldwide, hopes art form will grow here at home

 Dressed in a beautiful flowing multi-coloured dress that hugs her curves, 33-year-old dancer Fiona Malena waits for the Spanish guitarist to lead her into the song.

The Auburn Saloon’s small and quaint stage is dimly lit, setting the stage for an intimate flamenco performance — resembling dance floors that are typical in Spain.

The small bar is packed with wine-sipping flamenco fans waiting for the show to start.

As the rhythm intensifies, so do Malena’s slowly-poised movements, creating a passionate combination of song, dance and music.

Intricate Spanish guitar melodies and pounding-yet-beautiful beats make up the flamenco art form, which Malena knows well.

She explains that when she was growing up in Calgary, flamenco was part of her life to some degree, but her understanding of the art form was vague.

Her family emigrated from Europe, and she was exposed to it several times when her family, friends or classmates talked about world music.

Malena had danced many different styles like ballet and jazz since she was three years old. She later went on to try funk and salsa but ultimately found her calling in flamenco.

Love at first sight

In her twenties, Malena saw a Spanish guitarist at the University Theatre that brought in some dancers from Mexico and it was love at first sight. Fiona Malena dancing during the Flamenco por Flamenco production in March at the Auburn Saloon in Calgary.
Photo by: Maria Bitter

She recalls that what drew her to the art form was its multidisciplinary aspect.

“I saw that it used the different disciplines of music, singing, rhythm and interpretation and all those signs came together in a unified form.

“It was beautiful to see and very captivating,” Malena said.

After that experience she decided to go to Seville, Spain and study the art form at a professional level.

She has been travelling there for her training and education for the last 13 years.

Notable flamenco artists like Juana Amaya, Concha Vargas, Andres Marin and others mentored Malena in several dance studios throughout Seville.

“I don’t have a degree in flamenco or anything, but it’s way more valuable to me in what I’m doing today to have mentored under different artists.

“To have learned the art form right in the heart of Spain and around musicians that inspire me has been amazing,” Malena said.

Flamenco in Calgary

The local flamenco dancer mainly makes her living by touring and collaborating with different flamenco artists throughout the world. She also choreographs and directs flamenco stage productions and shows.

Even though Malena performs worldwide throughout the year, she still spends a lot of time in Calgary because of her family, friends and her non-profit organization — The Fiona Flamenco Society — that she started in 2006.

Malena wants flamenco to grow in the province because she believes that there are a lot of talented people in Alberta that could succeed in this form of expression.

Fiona Malena(second from the left) poses with some of the members and fellow flamenco dancers of her organization The Fiona Malena Flamenco Society.
Photo by: Maria Bitter

She wants to provide them with a path and a learning opportunity.

“Right now we have a great team that come up with new ideas like fundraisers and flamenco festivals and it’s beautiful to see the growth and see it expanding on the vision that I had initially,” Malena said.

The society also brings several artists from around the world to showcase the art form in the city and they also provide flamenco classes to all levels of dancers.

“Calgary is a culturally newer city in terms of flamenco than Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, so bringing artists into the city stimulates the interest in whatever way,” Malena said.

Jessica Penalver has been dancing flamenco for 13 years and is a part of Malena’s flamenco society.

Originally from Venezuela, Penalver said that Malena is “possibly the most valuable asset when it comes to flamenco culture in our city.”

“She’s not only an amazing performer and role model, but an incredible musician who has influenced from dancers to guitarists to percussionists and she has been an incredible influence the local flamenco scene,” Penalver said.

Malena said she will keep “dancing and helping to grow inspiration in other people.”

“I really enjoy dancing, but if it was ever taken away from me, there are so many other ways that I can contribute to the art form,” Malena said.

For more information on Fiona Malena, visit her website.

For more information on upcoming shows and events visit their blog.

mbitter@cjournal.ca