The Story of a Santa Ana Flamenco Guitarist
This is the first piece to be included in a new column dedicated to Flamenco in Santa Ana.
Yes, Santa Ana merits its own column on the Flamenco arts because it turns out that there are a number of performers and entities operating in and out of Santa Ana. The word is, according to a recent visitor from out of town, that Santa Ana has a Flamenco scene. Well, it certainly does, and a bit of a history.
You see, I’ve been active as a Flamenco performer around the LA area (Santa Ana included) since 1997 or 98. I got started with a local teacher, Ted McKown, in Orange who referred me to the Blanca Luz dance studio in Buena Park. Fast forward a bit and I came to meet and work with Juan Talavera at Santa Ana College. From there on I cut my teeth as an accompanist wherever I could, performing with him and others.
I discovered that there was a Flamenco dance teacher at a house on 15th & Ross in Santa Ana. The lady that used to live there taught dance to Lucille Ball believe it or not. I helped out at that studio for a short while. This was back in 2001 or 02. I remember seeing pictures of the woman’s husband, who performed as a pantomime or a clown that went by the name “Pepito.” He was friends with Desi Arnaz. Incidentally, it is known that Lucille Ball used to hang out at Daninger’s Tea Room at the Santora in Downtown Santa Ana in those days. She and George Burns, Milton Berle and more.
Getting back on track, I then got word that a dance studio was opening up in Downtown Santa Ana on Broadway and that Flamenco dancer Gabriela Garza and her husband, Flamenco guitarist Rafael Aragón, were going to teach there. I offered my services and was there for a short while also, because she and Rafael moved to Madrid. Before she left she referred me to Dr. Nancy Ruyter at UC Irvine, she needed a Flamenco guitarist for her dance class. So that’s how I got that job. That was in 2001. Before I forget, it was at this studio on Broadway that I helped Juan Talavera and Sara Parra out while they taught there.
I had two rather lengthy, or somewhat lengthy stints with two Flamenco entities in Santa Ana, those of Claudia de la Cruz who used to be at 410 W. Fourth, and Ricardo “Richard” Chávez over at Sonia’s studio, the “International Academy of Dance” on Broadway. When I was helping Ricardo, Sonia’s studio was on Fourth street directly across the Yost Theater. It was with some of the students from Sonia’s studio, that were studying with Ricardo, that I put on some shows at the Gypsy Den. I did two shows there with the Sonia studio people, and for the last one that I did there I pulled from my network, namely Nancy Gallardo and Gabriela Estrada who was teaching Flamenco at UCI at that time.
After disappointment and disillusionment with these two entities, I established my brand, my self. And so I became the third Flamenco entity, just in the Downtown alone. I conceived of a series that I called Flamenco de la Santora.
Just recently, a fourth entity sprouted here, near the Bowers Museum. Vanessa Acosta (de Albalos), who last I knew was living in Riverside or somewhere else besides Santa Ana, is teaching at the Images dance studio across the Bowers on Main street. I used to perform with her mother, a singer. Maybe she got word that Santa Ana was happening? Well, all parties involved are making it happen now.
And so it turns out that there are a number of Flamenco entities that are contributing to this Santa Ana Flamenco scene. It has been my mission to make Flamenco an integral part of this city, to make Santa Ana synonymous with Flamenco and I’m just getting started.
– Omar Ávalos Gallegos, “Flamencali”