Join in Saturday’s flamenco procession and sing-a-long in East St. Paul

arts / Article

December 3, 2015 by Ira Brooker

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Photo above credit Knight Foundation.

It’s early December and we’re now ankle-deep in the time of year when “As long as I don’t have to go outside” becomes the key motivator for many Minnesotans’ entertainment choices.  But the Flamenco Christmas Procession on Payne combats the cold with a song in its step. The procession,  which takes place Saturday Dec. 5 and is presented by Deborah Elias Danza Española,  is a celebration of any number of things, including the Christmas season, the culture of southern Spain, the neighborhoods of East Saint Paul and more. “It's kind of a combination flamenco procession, performance, and sing-a-long with lots of energy, spontaneity, and festivity,” said director Deborah Elias.

Elias founded Danza Española six years ago to share her passion for flamenco culture and history through performance and education. The Flamenco Christmas Procession, a Knight Arts Challenge winner, draws inspiration from several traditional Spanish celebrations, Elias explained. “The zambomba, where neighbors gather in the streets to sing villancicos (flamenco Christmas carols); the romería, where people process for days, singing and dancing, to reach traditional pilgrimage sites; and the coro rociero, small, lively choirs that sing traditional music.”

The Saint Paul procession begins at Payne and Maryland with a performance at the Arlington Hills Library and moves south along Payne Avenue to Aguirre Street. The parade interweaves the traditional with the modern, incorporating various styles of flamenco dance and carols by the Coro Flamenco Street Choir. The group will also treat area businesses to a series of flash-mob style performances that Elias described as “lots of people in lots of winter clothes suddenly appearing, milling around, laughing and talking, and then breaking into song.” A sudden influx of singing strangers might sound like an impediment to a day of holiday shopping, but Elias said the Payne Avenue businesses are more than happy to play host to some semi-spontaneous performance art.

“To plan the route I have had the invaluable assistance of a collaborator, Anne DeJoy of the Eastside Neighborhood Development Company,” Elias explained. “She is working one-on-one with the businesses along the route to assess their interest and to promote it so that we get local people in the businesses that day.” The Payne-Phalen neighborhood’s sizable Spanish-speaking population also plays a factor in the planning, with Plaza del Sol and Plaza Latina among the  procession’s scheduled stops.  “We look at businesses that might have a special affinity for flamenco – Latino businesses, for example – who would like to host a lively performance,” Elias said.

Credit: Deborah Elias Danza Española.

“Lively” is the watchword for the Flamenco Procession. This isn’t a standard holiday parade where the spectators watch politely from the sidelines. Elias wants everyone to join in the celebration as much as possible. “I am working on ways to get newcomers involved in the procession aspect of the event, clapping, playing rhythm instruments and hopefully I will teach them a couple of the choruses so they can sing with us while we process.”

While the Flamenco Procession draws heavily on Spanish traditions, Elias said the heart of the event is firmly rooted in East Saint Paul. “I love the holidays. It is my absolute favorite time of the year. At this time, I like to be at home, near my family and friends. So the procession is just such a great way to bring the art form and culture I love to the city and people I love. It makes things more lively and full of warm spirit around here, which is how I think the holidays should be. It actually feels kind of old-fashioned to me, the idea of going out and singing and dancing and celebrating and connecting with people, rather than shopping.”

Credit: Rudy Arnold.

Deborah Elias Danza Española’s Flamenco Christmas Procession on Payne, funded by Knight, kicks off at Payne and Maryland Avenues from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 5. For more information, visit dedanza.org.

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