Carmen Amaya was born in Barcelona, Spain, to a gypsy Romani family. As an infant, she learned to dance from her mother and aunt. When she was only 4, she started to accompany her father in his performances at pubs and clubs. After the show, she picked the coins that the crowd threw on the floor. When she was 6, she caught the attention of a show businessman who booked her shows in better-respected venues, such as the Spanish Theater. The audience loved her, and she became known as La Capitana.
In 1929, the 16 years old Amaya performed at the International Fair of Barcelona in front of Alfonso XIII, the King of Spain. A praising review about her in the newspaper Mirador made her famous across the country. For the next few years, she performed in the most prestigious halls in Spain, including the Zarzuela Theatre and the Fontalba Theatre, as well as in films, such as the musical La Hija de Juan Simón.
In July of 1936, 23 years old Amaya and her cuadro (a troupe of musicians, dancers, and singers) performed in Madrid when the Spanish Civil War began. They managed to cross the border to Portugal and from there to Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, she continued to perform, and after 9 months, she embarked on a four-year tour through Latin America. In 1941, the company arrived in the US, where Amaya’s fame and reputation continued growing. She performed at Carnegie Hall, was invited to participate in several Hollywood films and the White House.
By then, Amaya established herself as a renowned artist with a fascinating personality and sharp wit. Her dancing became known as the most daring flamenco, with constant improvisations and quick and rattling footwork that became her trademark. She broke the rules of traditional female flamenco by adding “masculine” elements and not emphasizing the “feminine” ones, such as upper torso movements.
In 1947, at the age of 34, she returned to Europe, performing in Paris and London, before returning to her homeland Spain as a legend, the most outstanding flamenco dancer of her time. She continued to perform across Europe and Latin America for the next two decades. In 1963, Amaya’s health began to decline. Terminally ill with kidney disease, she did not stop performing until she was over-exhausted. On August 8, 1963, she performed her last dance, collapsing in the middle of the show. She died three months later at the age of 50.
The Legendary Carmen Amaya (1913-1963), Flamenco Potpourri 1
Carmen Amaya is for Spain what Michael Flatley is for Ireland.
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- She was the second of eleven children. Only six survived to adulthood.
- She said that she learned to dance from the sea, copying the movement and the rhythm of the waves.
- She often wore men's trousers, saying it extends her physical freedom and makes her footwork visible.
- At 39, she married Juan Antonio Agüero, a guitarist who was a member of her cuadro.
- She appeared in 17 films.
- She appeared with Queen Elizabeth II in a newspaper photograph titled "Two queens face to face."
- The Carmen Fountain in the Paseo Marítimo de Barcelona, Spain, is named in her honor.
- The Flamenco club Tablao de Carmen in Barcelona, Spain, is named in her honor.
- Several statues of her are standing in Spain and Argentina.
- She was named Hija Predilicto de Bagur (the Adoptive Daughter of the city of Begur.)
- The Medal of Merit of Tourism
- The Lasso of the Lady of the Order of Isabel la Católica award
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The Legendary Carmen Amaya (1913-1963), Flamenco Potpourri 1Carmen Amaya is for Spain what Michael Flatley is for Ireland.
This post is also available in: Español