Fiona Malena is an international flamenco dancer who divides the majority of her time between Germany, Canada and Spain.
[Editor’s Note] – “Coming from a background as a dance publicist, the aim of “DANCE HYPE – The Real Stories” is to look behind the credentials that performers rely on to promote themselves. In terms of marketing, the opening line (above) is the only hype you’ll get with these interviews. I selected Fiona Malena as my first subject because, during a conversation with her, she was able to beautifully articulate the private spaces that I want to explore with these interviews. I hope you enjoy stepping into the studio with Fiona Malena!” (Reading time ~10 mins)
Fiona Malena: What drives you when you’re training in the studio?
“I suppose in there are many ways in which dancers can create, many of us shut ourselves up in the studio while we explore, create, dance, and train. I personally find that being alone in the studio is a bit of a sterile situation.
I like the studio best when it is filled with life, with inspiration around it – be it the sounds of music coming from beyond, or the location and energy of the studio itself, or when the studio is filled with musicians that I can co-create with. Time alone in the studio is necessary for daily practice and technique training, but my true motivation comes from having energy around me which spurs creative ideas within.
In the past, I often trained in my former studio in Seville, Spain. It was on the rooftop of my home, in a small room with windows on either side. One looked to Plaza de España, the other to the array and jumble of rooftops, very typically Spanish.
On the terrace of her last apartment in Seville, where she stayed for 6 years.
There was the smell of orange blossoms in Spring, I could hear the bells of the Cathedral from the end of the street (La Giralda), the sounds of the horse hooves…
It all sounds very idyllic, but that’s exactly the way it was.
The environment was ‘flamenco itself’ in a sense and moulded my dance, in subtle but important ways.
I also sometimes dance my best in the studio during rehearsals, in that moment when the guitarist is right across from me. That’s when there is so much room for improvisation; a whole palette to explore. I love the exchange of ideas, the whole cascade of new movements or dance passages that come from it. Rehearsing with musicians in the studio is often when my best ideas come forth, with fresh energy. It’s as though one is dancing on fertile ground, and together with the music, palmas and cante – flamenco just flourishes.
Other times when I feel inspired in a studio space is in the dead of night – in a building where everyone has left and most people are doing something else or sleeping
– yet there you are with your shoes and your bata de cola.
It feels like a very private moment of the day and often if I am there at night – it’s because I’m very inspired. It’s not a regulated practice hour where I feel I have to do something productive. It’s almost as if the time is freely given, and in that sense, you feel as though you can try anything – put on whatever music, rehearse anything that comes to mind and to do so for as long as you want to. The feeling of a night rehearsal is limitless, almost as if you are in a secret space of time.”
Digging a little deeper, I asked Fiona Malena what led her to dance?
“It wasn’t just dance that came upon me, seeing flamenco dance for the first time live on stage – was a whole onslaught of musical, rhythmic and expression creativity. The music, emotion, and drive of the dance interested me at first, more than the physical aspect of the dance itself.
I admired the authentic grit.
I first authentically experienced flamenco at a performance in my hometown in Calgary, Canada. The dancer greatly impacted me, she was dancing as though she was in her own world, creating within it this powerful synthesis of music and dance. She was completely engaged, vibrant, and rhythmically spontaneous.
I think I was well prepared to take on the challenge of Flamenco since I had a heavily artistic upbringing. During my childhood at one point, I even had 9 artistic extracurricular activities per week; from violin, jazz dance, to speech arts and drama… somehow nuances of all of that training help me in my dance.
Flamenco, however, felt like a very personal choice, something very attuned to my personality. I felt more drawn to it than anything else I was studying at the time.
In my hometown, however, there was very little opportunity to properly learn flamenco – I felt more or less obliged to head right to Spain. Not very easy and very cost intensive. I self-financed all of my training, throughout all of the years, augmented only every now and then by government grants.
At the beginning,
I was under the illusion that a month immersion in Spain would make a world of difference
and I would return dancing like a pro. I returned with over zealous enthusiasm and began immediately performing and even teaching. However, what I really learned from my first trip to Spain was that I would have to go back, repeatedly, even move there and that it would take years.
So many years later.. this path of learning flamenco is still unending! And that in a way, is part of the beauty of it.
I had to balance my life in Canada with my need to constantly be in Spain. Slowly, I found myself living there for the greater portion of the year, first in Jerez de la Frontera, later in Seville – which is where I more or less settled for many years.”
As lovers of dance, we always see the photos that have been carefully selected out of hundreds of shots. We see the great reviews and interviews that hold a dancer’s life up in idyllic lights. I want to redirect some of that light onto the private moments in the shadows.
I asked Fiona Malena to share some of her struggles.
“One of my biggest struggles was earlier on in my career was the initial struggle with an occasional lack of support in the local community. It included cutting angry remarks, dropping of support, people who I unbelievably admired acting erratically and criticizing my art. This was compounded by the fact I was also heavily dependent on the guidance and approval of those around me at this tentative moment in my Flamenco path.
Starting a Flamenco career in Canada was isolating and difficult, especially then. Without someone guiding your career, without someone to help dispel the tremendous doubt and insecurity – it can be very challenging.
For years following, in the wings of the stage before performing I could hear words which had made me feel worthless as an artist and without real talent. I stopped playing guitar. It felt as though my inspiration, which previously was boundless, was funnelled and challenged.
Years later, I have a very different perspective on those situations (I was also quite young then) and now I know that often a person’s anger is not necessarily a reflection of you, but rather of themselves and their own inner struggle.
Sometimes one has no idea what the other is personally fighting.
Their interaction with you can be just a lashing out of their own frustration. I’ve learned to release judgement, not take things so personally and also, to forgive. To also temper judgement with the present moment, since people can also turn completely around (as many of them did). As well, I’ve learned to be far more dependent on myself, than on the opinion of those around me.
It’s also led me to take my whole career less for granted and sometimes, I surprise myself when I realize in a moment – here I am touring, here I am writing a press release, here I am warming up on an empty stage before the audience comes, here I am on the news… does that mean I actually am a real Flamenco dancer????
Another challenge for me is the vagrant lifestyle, the unstructured freedom of it, which obviously also has its advantages. I find it very difficult to structure my day, to have a routine, to keep up with friendships, to be productive in any sense that isn’t doing something I absolutely love in a given moment.
I move from one thing that interests me to the next and those tasks that are essential but not as interesting, fall into an overwhelming pile of disorganization. I feel as though I have an endless amount of work I have to finish, the constant stress of it takes away from being able to enjoy my life on a daily basis. I am always trying to catch up.
The truth is, I am not just in the studio creating as people often think.
I am trying to manage my own business, which entails copious amounts of office work.
Also, the nature of so much travel can be very unsettling. As soon as I arrive in a country, very soon I leave again, when I arrive in the next, it takes a while to adjust and feel settled, and then I’m off again.
Friends never know when they are going to see me and when I don’t return for years, it’s not quite the same, you’ve missed out on shared experiences, you’ve changed, they’ve changed. I no longer speak to my best friend. I now live in a country (Germany) where I often have cultural shock, where I don’t understand the language completely, where I don’t have the energy to seek out friendships and instead am trying to complete my taxes with a pile of receipts from all over the world strewn in piles around me.
My lifestyle at the moment is this contrast between unsettled turbulence, lack of structure, and then this need to have everything balanced, constant, rooted.
For the first time in years, I finally have my costumes and clothes in a proper closet instead of a suitcase. It felt like a mini-celebration.”
You can contact Fiona Malena via her profile links below.