ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When members of the Encinias family take to the flamenco floor, they bring heat. Stamping feet, clapping hands and snapping fingers are the ABCs of flamenco, but the centuries-old dance of Spain is so much more.
A discipline that requires precision and heart, rigor and passion, athleticism and soul, the dance of flamenco forges among its practitioners character made of steel.
That strength was tested on a Wednesday afternoon in December when fire broke out inside the costume storage room at the National Institute of Flamenco on Gold Street in Downtown Albuquerque.
Eva Encinias Sandoval, the institute’s founder, smelled smoke around 4 p.m. By 5:30, despite firefighters’ efforts, the building had collapsed. They lost five dance spaces that hosted their conservatory for professional dancers and their children’s classes, their offices and 1,500 flamenco performance costumes collected over decades.
What do you do after you watch your family’s life’s work reduced to ruin?
If you are an Encinias, you dance.
“Excuse me, I’m sweaty. I just finished teaching a class,” Encinias Sandoval says as she welcomes me into her office on the University of New Mexico campus, where she teaches dance.
Gulping water, the 60-year-old dancer describes the low point of watching the rented buildings that housed the institute burn to the ground (the cause still undetermined) and the blessings that have followed.
“My children and I for so many years have worked together to create the projects that were housed by the institute,” Encinias Sandoval says. “The institute is us. It’s our family. It was devastating. Years and years and millions of hours of work were in that building. It was an angst that I felt in my heart, not so much for me but for the people who had worked to make that happen.”
Within 24 hours, condolences were pouring in from around the world. In Albuquerque, businesses and flamenco aficionados were extending offers of free office space, fundraisers and financial contributions.
‘Oh, incredible,” says Joaquin Encinias, Encinias Sandoval’s son and the curriculum director of Tierra Adentro, a 6th- through 12th-grade charter school that partners with the National Institute of Flamenco that has arts at its core. “We had huge amounts of people pouring out their concerns: What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? And how are we going to continue? Also, we had a lot of people say, ‘You guys are the toughest people we know, so I know that you guys are going to be OK.’ ”
“The community came forward to us in such a generous way,” Encinias Sandoval says. “We knew that it was going to be just another challenge – a huge one, but just another challenge that we would be able to overcome.”
In the avalanche of concern and offers for help after the fire, an idea took root: To keep the institute’s classes going without skipping a beat by moving them into temporary quarters at UNM and the 250-student charter school while planning for a permanent home.
Instead of folding up their tent, they’re planning to make it bigger.
So, while classes and plans for the institute’s annual internationally known festival in Albuquerque in June go on, the National Institute of Flamenco is launching a fundraising campaign with the goal of building an extensive campus in Albuquerque devoted to flamenco.
“We could just throw our hands up and say, ‘Oh, well,'” Encinias Sandoval says. “But we aren’t done. What I feel right now is a great momentum.”
The family envisions a campus that houses the charter school, the institute, a costume shop, a design studio to build productions and an archive of the history of flamenco, a fiery, rebellious dance traced to the Gypsies of southern Spain. New Mexico is already a destination for flamenco – the center of the dance outside Spain – and this flamenco campus would help build on that reputation.
“There needs to be a place that is flamenco performance, education, history, philosophy,” Encinias says. “We’re going to try to put flamenco into its rightful place in this country.”
Joaquin and Marisol Encinias, 43-year-old twins, were raised in a flamenco family. Their grandmother taught flamenco out of a studio in her adobe home in Albuquerque, and their mother was a dance major at the University of New Mexico, then a dance professor and, in the early 1980s, established the flamenco institute and the annual summer flamenco festival.
“I started dancing when I was 3 years old,” Joaquin Encinias says. “I probably started performing when I was 5. I’ve been around it my whole life.”
After he graduated from Del Norte High School, he took a detour to Florida Tech to study engineering, but switched to dance in his junior year and has devoted his life to flamenco.
He still feels emotions welling up when he drives by the empty spaces where the institute used to stand. But he also sees in the fire a spark that might lead to a more dynamic future.
“What it brings to the surface is that, more than ever, our community understands the magnitude of flamenco in this community,” he says. “Losing that space, it’s a very physical way of us seeing that.”
The morning after the fire in December, one of the institute’s young dance students found Encinias Sandoval and said, “Remember, Miss Eva, that was just our building. That doesn’t mean that we can’t dance anymore.”
“And that,” Encinias Sandoval says, “is exactly it. As musicians and dancers, we are the music and the dance. We’ll come out of this, I believe, in a very, very healthy place. And we are what will make that happen. I hope, when the dust settles, we’ll have a permanent home and all of our projects will be able to be housed under one roof, which is something we have always wanted. We have an increased fervor.”