Katie Sheen-Abbott grew up in West Jordan and like many Utah children, took up dance, studying various forms such as ballet, tap, and jazz. Later in her collegiate training, she thought about exploring Flamenco as a hobby and while in graduate school in Maryland, she took a Flamenco class. “It was very intense, athletic but also feminine and I wanted to explore the many aspects it had to offer,” she says in an interview with The Utah Review.
In 2014, she went to Seville, an urban center for the heart and soul of Flamenco, to study the dance art for a year. When she returned to the U.S., she established Flamenco del Lago, a professional trio that specializes in traditional and innovative dance and music forms associated with the art.
Flamenco del Lago will bring all of the hallmarks of the dance art which has captivated writers, composers, choreographers and visual artists to The Round Stage at the Utah Arts Festival, June 25 at 3:15 p.m. the group comprises Sheen-Abbott as dancer (bailaora), guitarist Sandy Meek, and Jake Abbott, guitarist and cantaor (Flamenco singer).
“As the dancer you’re the percussionist as much as you are the dancer,” she explains. In Flamenco, which has perhaps its deepest musical roots in Moorish musical styles, the rhythmic patterns are known as compás, which are built as recurring patterns of betas and accents and which become the basis of various forms known as toques. Indeed, as Sheen-Abbott explains, the rhythmic patterns can become extremely complicated. For example, the seminal form known as cante jondo is a 12-count, with accents on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats.
Songs are built from melodic phrases (falsetas) with the rhythms based on the song form. Think of the delicate hand movements, the speedy footwork and the use of castanets. And, the theatrical elements that appear, which include mantón (shawl) and the fan to signify specific emotions in various songs. In Spain, she studied with some of Flamenco’s best known artists including Luisa Palacio, Angel Atienza, El Choro and Milagros Mengibar. Her favorite props are the mantón and the Bata de Cola, the dress with a long ruffled train.
“What I love about Flamenco is its really explosive nature and how it can be combined with more feminine upper body movements,” Sheen-Abbott says, adding that songs will alternate between longer subdued pauses and bursts of fiery footwork. When she was in Spain, she was impressed by the improvisational ease and skills she saw in the dancers and musicians at the smaller clubs.
After she returned to the States, she was at first hesitant to perform publicly, taking time to absorb everything learned in Spain. Their first performance was at the Sugar Space Arts Warehouse. Now students come regularly to the nonprofit organization to take Flamenco lessons. Sheen-Abbott adds that Flamenco has a great crossover potential for new students, especially if they come from a background of percussive dancing including tap and Irish clog as well as hip-hop, which is known for its strong rhythmic language.
She teaches at Studio Zamarad and The University of Utah and is regular guest instructor at the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts. Sheen-Abbott taught for The Living Traditions Festival, the Salt Lake Arts Academy, Bryant Middle School, Liberty Elementary School, Nibley Park School, Draper Senior Center, Mount Olympus Senior Center and the Osher Institute at the University of Utah.
For more information, see the Flamenco del Lago website.
For more information and tickets, download the Utah Arts Festival app for free, available to Android and iOS users. There also are links to the UAF’s standard website.