Spanish language schools, festivals, and restaurants examples of expansion

Flamenco Spanish culture may be starting thriving in the city. An example of this is the cultural diversity displayed at the Calgary International Flamenco Festival held last year where the many volunteers and a large percentage of the audience spoke Spanish.

This past weekend, Aug. 28, 29, and 30, Expo Latino also displayed Spanish style dance by featuring Fiona Malena Flamenco Company. Malena performed at the Flamenco Festival last year and is scheduled to perform again this September.

“I couldn’t imagine my life without this,” Jessica Penalver says about flamenco dancing. “It’s amazing, all the awareness we’ve been creating. We definitely create a connection and share with other cultures.”

Penalver, who performed at the Flamenco Festival in 2014, grew up in Venezuela and moved to Calgary eight years ago. She says festivals like the flamenco show really bring the Spanish culture together in Calgary.

Another festival that Penalver mentions that not only brings the Spanish community together, but also helps educate people on the culture as a whole, is GlobalFest.

Jose Clemente, president of Espana de Calgary, and who has been helping run the Spanish pavilion at GlobalFest for four years, has noticed more people becoming interested in the Spanish culture from this festival.

“There seems to be a thirst for knowledge about Spain. People asking questions, and we don’t sell anything, we are just a culture pavilion so what we try to show is the architecture, the culture, the gastronomy, the different festivals, and things in Spain,” says Clemente.

Although flamenco dance, music and festivals are most often associated with Spain, the cultural cues do not end there. Meals are also considered to be a valuable time in Spanish culture.

Most Calgarians know 17th Avenue as a cultural hub within the city. Some of the restaurants along that busy avenue include the Ox and Angela, Brava Bistro, and Una Pizza and Wine.

GlobalFestSpanishGlobalFest incorporated Spanish dance into their main stage lineup on Aug. 25. flamenco dancing is becoming more popular with Calgarians as more studios pop up around the city.
Photo by Melissa Kadey

The Ox and Angela is where flamenco dancers Nikola Tucakov and Karen Pitkethly ate while they stayed in Calgary during the Flamenco Festival last year.

“There’s a lot of trendy little spots there (on 17th Avenue) that we managed to find, and they were all fantastic,” says Pitkethly.

John Gilchrist, food critic for CBC, says he has noticed an increase in certain Spanish influenced food around the city.

“We’ve seen an increase in the tapas style of Spanish cuisine, but we don’t really have a great Spanish restaurant in the city. We have Portuguese, but not much for Spanish. But we are seeing more tapas oriented both global tapas and Spanish tapas as well – so yeah, there’s definitely growth.”

Another flare up of Spanish culture within Calgary can be found in schools.

More Spanish dancing schools have also been popping up around the city, but these are not the only facilities that are beginning new programs to encourage study of Spanish language and culture.

Mount Royal University started a Spanish major program in 2008 where students can learn the language and the culture. This new program has already seen an increase in popularity and now a four-year program is being offered.

“The program develops students’ communication skills in Spanish to an advanced level as well as knowledge and understanding of Hispanic cultures,” says Cecilia Sessarego, a professor in Mount Royal’s Spanish program.

Despite the apparent flourish of Spanish culture in Calgary, the number of people who say Spanish is their mother tongue has dropped about five per cent in the past three years. In 2009, Calgary released a report stating that 7.4 per cent of Calgary’s population spoke Spanish. In 2011, Spanish was the mother tongue in Calgary for around two per cent of people.

Although the Spanish language may have declined in the past six years, many other aspects of this culture have grown within Calgary and experts within the city agree it will continue to grow.

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