A dream come true: US art patron opens flamenco school in heart of Seville

Cristina Heeren fell in love with the art form at age 12, and has spent 25 years training professionals

Cristina Heeren, a US-born patron of the arts who has been living in Seville for almost a quarter of a century, has just made her dream come true: bringing her various flamenco learning centers together into one single academy in the neighborhood of Triana, the heart of the city’s flamenco scene.

Cristina Heeren at the new school.
Cristina Heeren at the new school.PACO PUENTES (EL PAIS)

The 1,500-square-meter building, located on Pureza street, is already catering to around 100 students from 40 countries. Inside, the sounds of guitar chords, singing and heel-tapping resonate in every corner.

“The next Niña de los Peines could come out of this school, and she could well be from Oklahoma,” jokes academic director María José Sánchez, in reference to one of Spain’s most famous flamenco figures, Pastora Pavón Cruz.

Nobody has been as good to flamenco as Cristina has

María José Pérez, instructor

Heeren’s Flamenco Art Foundation, created in 1993, is the physical manifestation of a passion that developed at age 12, when she attended a show by the 20th-century dancer and choreographer Antonio el Bailarín.

Ever since then, Heeren has devoted herself to this art form, first offering classes in 1996 inside a building in the district of Santa Cruz, then moving to two separate locations in the Andalusian capital.

Now – “without any public subsidies,” she boasts – Heeren has created the kind of school that she had longed for. The academic director, Sánchez, notes that for the first time, the school is offering an integrated and comprehensive curriculum that includes practice and theory, and spans three academic years. For 30 hours every week, enrolled students practice the essential techniques of flamenco singing, dancing and playing, while they also learn about the history, literature and anthropology of flamenco.

The flamenco art form has drawn admiration from all over the world for decades.
The flamenco art form has drawn admiration from all over the world for decades.Javier Fergo

Cristina Heeren will not discuss money. She declines to say how much she has spent on her latest project. “That’s not the main thing,” she says, while her students encircle her and break into a chorus of heel-tapping. Heeren responds with a wide smile.

The new center has two more programs that tie in with the origins of the foundation: a scholarship fund that has already helped 10% of the 6,000 students who have already taken classes under Heeren, and a social fund that allocates money for everything from helping at-risk youths to holding a Flamenco Day at city schools.

Heeren also wants to bring back the flamenco competitions that helped spot young talent in the past, such as the singer María José Pérez, who now teaches at the new school. “Nobody has been as good to flamenco as Cristina has,” says Pérez.

If the center manages to secure a license for its main auditorium, the latter will be turned into a new cultural space that’s open to the public.

English version by Susana Urra.


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