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TARA BRADYmeets Nathalie Moyano González, the lady behind Ireland’s first flamenco festival

BORN IN SOUTHERN France to Andalusian parents, Nathalie Moyano González was born to dance flamenco – she just had to come to Ireland first. Confused? Well, even Natalia – as her chums call her – finds her unorthodox education in el baile (dance) amusing.

“I grew up in France listening to my dad’s singing, so flamenco was always in the background,” says the dancer. “I did ballet growing up but had only started flamenco when I got a job in Ireland. I thought, oh well, that’s that. But that was only the beginning. I found an instructor in Belfast and kept training. In a way it’s great that it happened this way. In my family there’s always been a thing about travelling. My father has his gypsy heritage and built roads all over Europe. We kids live in Spain and France and Tokyo and Dublin and all over the place.”

A professional translator and interpreter, Moyano González had little difficulty in absorbing the tenets of flamenco. A student of ballet since the age of six, stamping and clapping also came easily. Having relocated to Ireland in 2002, it did not take long for her new hobby to blossom into a full-blown obsession. “I love it,” she says. “I’m developing bunions.” Two years ago she founded Peña Flamenca El Indalo, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of flamenco culture in Ireland. Interested parties can attend classes and workshops at Dublin’s Liffey Trust Centre or, indeed, watch flamenco greats in action.

“I have such an international classroom – I have Irish and Polish and Russian and lord knows what else,” she says. “People get scared of flamenco. You see it and it’s so technical and it looks like such a hard discipline. But I have older ladies. I have a few students who are over 60 and for them it’s an expression. It’s not just about technique. You’re not expected to learn crazy footwork. My students love translating the lyrics of the songs we are playing. They love the story of each song and piece. Dancers are always percussionists but especially in flamenco. Musicality is very important but that doesn’t necessarily mean wearing you out.”

Moyano González and fellow Peña Flamenca El Indalo director Damian Power are facilitating a flamenco invasion. This month, the inaugural Dublin Flamenco Festival 2011 brings together contemporary performers such as the Camerata Flamenco Project, Rafaela Carrasco and Antonio Campos. “It was supposed to be a little weekend festival,” says Moyano González. “But then Spanish radio picked up on the story and it grew and grew. The artists were so intrigued by the idea of playing in Ireland. One dancer postponed a major tour of Argentina just so she could come here. These are very big names in Spain and around the world but Ireland is a mystery to them.”

There will be jersey dresses, she promises, but don’t expect everything to look like a 1970s Spanish lady lampshade.

“A lot of people think it’s all about the dresses and the clapping and I hope they come out of the festival realising there’s much more to it than that,” says Moyano González. “We have María del Mar Moreno, who is such a beautiful dancer she gave me goosebumps when I saw her. Such footwork. Such beautiful arms. We have Manuel de Paula, who has that classic gypsy repertoire, which is very emotional for me because it’s the movies and music I grew up with. We’re doing a week of clapping workshops with a teacher from Seville. We have guitarists and palmas coming in, palmas are those who clap, which in flamenco is an art and instrument in itself. This is something anyone can do.

“It will be so exciting to see how Irish audiences respond,” says Moyano González, who celebrates her birthday today. “I’m jumping out of bed every morning. There are such interesting parallels with Irish culture. And more than that, flamenco is supposed to be international. All the artists will tell you that flamenco has survived because of international exposure. As recently as the Spanish Civil War a lot of artists fled to the US so that’s why you have that big flamenco school in New York. I go there for international training once a year with the most amazing Japanese students and teachers. It’s a truly global phenomenon.”

The Dublin Flamenco Festival is on July 23rd-31st.