A visionary in pushing the boundaries of flamenco, Tamara Adira Say is shaping contemporary Spanish dance throughout the country at Arte y Pasión. With degrees from MIT, Tulane and study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, along with a decade of training under flamenco maestro Teo Morca, Say has the training and expertise to conquer any creative pursuit she envisions. Through Arte y Pasión, Say has built a multi-generational community with interns as young as fourteen, and company members ranging to age 82. Through her deliberate outreach to diverse artists, her inclusive approach to creative collaboration is shaping the future of performance in San Antonio. Adira shares her insights on the road less traveled that has allowed her gifts to shine into the spotlight of national acclaim.
A Tale of Two Callings:
As a dancer who also does management consulting, I have found my approach to life from the right and the left brain, working to define the science behind emotion, always exercising both my mind and my heart to do my job. The best of my strengths is drawn from both sides, finding as much beauty in a glorious work of choreography as I do in the elegance of the perfect database.
It hasn’t always been this way. I’ve fought the duality of my being throughout my life, hiding parts of myself to build trust with those around me and work through the rhythms of day-to-day responsibilities. I sensed that some artists around me did not understand my spreadsheets, and some engineers around me did not understand my dancing. I set my course with some hesitancy because I didn’t have the support I needed from the people I looked to most. But, at the end of the day, you have to follow your insides, not your outsides: your passion and your reason for living will enable you to attract the energy you put out. The truth is, dance has saved my life and set the example for my children to follow. You must be true to yourself to fulfill God’s plan for your gifts to the world.
There are three ways to manifest a vision: your thoughts, your words, and your actions. My dancing is what keeps all of that together for me. I found the right mentors, surrounded myself with people who exuded positive energy, and studied as much as I could. The late flamenco maestro Teo Morca was my mentor for ten years before he passed away at 82 years old. Teo used to say, “Come in with an empty cup. Then I can fill it. If you come in with a full cup, already knowing everything, I can’t give you what I know.” He was there for me, passing on knowledge beyond flamenco, offering the wisdom that a father would offer to a daughter.
Even when I am not “inspired” I must remember to keep moving. My children have seen that they have a mom that is willing to follow her convictions and follow the practice of discipline to manifest what I need. It hasn’t always been easy, but if it was, I wouldn’t be able to give back as effectively. I am a work in progress, and I am improving every day.
On Arte y Pasión:
Arte y Pasión takes a three-fold approach to our work. We share and promote the authentic art of flamenco, explore evolution and specific subject matter, and foster mentoring and outreach to young artists and creatives so the work can continue.
Arte y Pasión has been active in the dance and music community now for almost a decade in San Antonio, where now we see the emergence of art and the avant garde. It’s an unexpected gift from a city that is a bit off the beaten path in Texas, and that makes San Antonio the well-kept secret with an element of surprise.
A true testament to the advancement of any civilization is its art. San Antonio is at a critical stage in advancement. It is an exciting time for artists and makers in our city, because as artists grounded in tradition and exploring evolution, we have the unique opportunity to have a direct hand in shaping San Antonio’s cultural identity as it develops on the national stage.
On community impact, both on and off stage:
Our most direct and deliberate interface with the community is volunteer work and direct involvement with children. We have volunteered in schools across the city and worked directly with the city’s youth programs, including the City of San Antonio’s pre-professional Groups Fandango and Alamotion, and the Alas Theater Troupe of the San Antonio-based Say Sí Theater.
Our joyful and experimental approach is a direct result of multi-generational mentoring that takes place within our company, and is shared by our members. Effects of this reverberate to our audiences and the people who surround us. We have a talented and passionate group of Millennials we work with who have reshaped the way we think, with interns as young as fourteen, and company members up to age 82. It keeps all of us young and enables us to pass wisdom, knowledge and respect to each other. We capitalize on the respective gifts each generation has to offer to grow, and give to the community an experience that draws from the depths of multiple generations.
As a company grounded in tradition, yet exploring experimental work and specific subject matter, we have been given a place in San Antonio’s history. The art of flamenco is here and strong in San Antonio for a definitive reason. When the Spaniards looked for hospitable land here in the New World, they settled here. San Antonio remains the historical anchor for the art of flamenco as red threads of lineage that run through the Southwest.
Through our work, we’ve been able to play a very distinct role in continuing the legacy that the City started over 300 years ago, while taking the cherished opportunity to have a hand in shaping the artistic trajectory of our city.
On her personal female hero:
Josephine Baker (1906-1975) was a dancer, but also an international champion of human and civil rights. She was an American-born dancer whose career was centered primarily in France. She was the first person of color to become a worldwide entertainer and star in a major motion picture. As a high profile artist, she traveled freely between borders without a visa, and spent time at exclusive parties with Germans, Italians and Japanese.
When the French asked her to serve as an agent for the Allied Forces, she would take notes for the French Resistance on conversations from the parties in invisible ink on musical scores. During her periodic visits to America, she refused to perform for segregated audiences. She built a family and adopted children of all races to demonstrate that people who are different can coexist and love each other. She surrounded herself with grace and beauty, living in a minimalist house with a glass-walled pool, then a chateau in the French countryside.
She is someone I greatly admire for following her convictions, and for manifesting great dreams while making others’ lives better. She built her life from the ground up with art and remained steadfast in her convictions from the beginning to the end. Her work in civil and human rights saved lives.
Dance, as an ephemeral art form, has been dismissed as simple entertainment, even frivolous. Baker wasn’t afraid of this and even performed in a girdle of bananas. She did not take herself too seriously and had fun. But, she was a woman who knew her power and took her work and her life seriously. With that, she approached everything with the full force of her resources. After World War II, General Charles de Gaulle awarded her the Knight of the Legion of Honor for her service to the Allied Forces, and in 1975 she was buried with full military honors.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.