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Rediscovering La Presy, San Antonio's gift to flamenco



La Presy in Granada, the "Comanche Indian" that became a "Sacromonte gypsy."

Photo: , License: N/A

At El Poco Loco, mid-to-late 60s. El Curro is on guitar.

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"She said she was a full-blooded Comanche Indian," said Nacho Martín, director of the prestigious Granada's Carmen de las Cuevas academy, where La Presy taught from 1996 to 2000. "She had the blackest of hairs, the facial features. She had a very authentic racial look.

Everyone thought she was a gypsy."

Juan Pinilla, a well-known flamenco cantaor (singer), scholar, and journalist from Granada, shed further light on the significance of La Presy's acceptance among the gypsies.

"In flamenco, the most difficult thing to achieve is the acceptance of Andalusian gypsies," said Pinilla. Though flamenco has developed in Andalusia from a blend of cultures, including the Moors and other many peoples who have lived in Spain, it is widely accepted that it is a gitano thing. "The gypsies think they own it and discriminate against Castilian artists. But La Presy was considered a gypsy by the gypsies, which is a badge of honor only reserved for high-quality [performers]."

Renowned bailaor Manolete met La Presy "about 30 years ago," when he spotted her dancing at a Granada hall named El Neptuno.

"Hey, what are you doing in Granada? You're dancing very well," Manolete told her. "I suggested she should stay in Granada." La Presy could not have agreed more.

But at that point La Presy wasn't the full-fledged flamenco powerhouse she would become later. Because she came from a classical and tap school, her body and arms were different, and she was overdoing her footwork.

"She had to adapt her body and understand that, if you do everything with your feet … well, you'll get too many calluses," Manolete said. "She was able to adapt and her transition was successful."

La Presy only took a handful of classes and workshops with Manolete, but she made them last.

"She was like a sponge," Manolete said. "She'd pick up the music and the steps quickly, store them in her little head, and practice on her own. She never forgot anything. And that's why her style always resembled mine. She could dance as well as anybody else and could've achieved more as a dancer. But she chose to stay [in Granada as a teacher] and was very strong at Sacromonte."

In 1985 she gave classes to 50 gypsy children as part of an official minority campaign by the City of Granada, and in 1989 she presented her first choreography in Granada, a three-act ballet based on One Thousand and One Nights. She danced in France, Italy, Greece, and Switzerland, and in 1997 she taught at the Peña La Platería, the world's oldest flamenco association.

As her reputation grew, more and more dancers wanted to dance with her. She left Carmen de las Cuevas to open her own school in one of Sacromonte's cuevas (caves). While most flamenco stars made their career in Madrid and Seville, La Presy stayed in Granada.

"Only Mariquilla [María Guardia], La Presy, and a handful of others were able to establish themselves in Granada," said Nacho Martín, from Carmen de las Cuevas. "She was a key figure because she was a great teacher, especially when it came to classic flamenco basics. She came from the Ciro school, which is a very important one."

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