"It began with ballet when I was 4," she starts, her bare feet folded under her Indian style atop her chair. "The art of Flamenco," she went on to tell me, " was born of three entities: the gypsies (the Roma people) who came through what at the time was known as Hindustan (modern day India), the Muslims (the Moors) and the Jews.
The gypsies produced the more visual aspects of Flamenco, the theatrics and the hand work---the hands are the expression of temperament or seduction and it tells the story.
The Moors gave to the art of Flamenco the rhythm," clapping her hands in time, she robustly illustrates such a rhythm to me. "The Jews were said to have contributed the element of song."
After the brief background explanation, she illuminates, "When I first came upon Flamenco, I was a young adult and I didn't know what I was looking at. All I knew was that I had to be a part of it, immediately.
I was in New Orleans watching a Flamenco show at The Red Room. It is, believe it or not, a club that was at one time the top of the Eiffel Tower which they shipped to the United States during the Louisiana Purchase. It was lined entirely with red carpet, red velvet, red roses...red everything.
I didn't know what I was going to see, didn't even know what Flamenco was, and when I saw it I was just mesmerized.
And that was it.
And I took one class a week.
And then two classes a week which turned into five classes a week and then I couldn't stop, and I haven't stopped.
And that was it."
"Prior to learning the art," Tamara recalls, "I had no idea of the connections it had to my own genetic identity. Maybe me getting caught up in it so instantly was some sort of ancestral connection. But who's to say?" I expressed what a beautiful sentiment that is and part of the mysticism of it all---less about what you know and more about what you 'feel'. The first performers she saw that day in The Red Room, Solangel Calix “Lali” and Michele Paule “Micaela” became her first instructors and they remain close even now.
She moved on to study under Teo Morca after being introduced by La Miguelita. Over time Teo became more of a father figure to her. Soon it wasn't about an 'art of dance' anymore. He would teach her a way of life. To this day Tamara seeks to honor her master in her performances.
"I remember one day when I was on stage at the Carver about to do a classical piece and I heard Teo's voice in my head say, 'Well, ok...You said you were going to do it. Hope it's good.' (in a cynical tone), and I'm thinking, 'BE QUIET!!!" yelling to emphasize the internal angst she felt.
And when I do Teo's choreography I always feel a pinch because I want to keep his work alive. I also know that nobody will ever do it like him again." This elicits a tear which she holds back, recentering herself in her chair.
She battles herself, she explains, in trying to take her work from the drawing board to the street. Over-perfectionism can become crippling. Tamara came to realize that isn't the point---that "it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good."
People can't relate to perfect. They idealize perfect, like to see it in their celebrities, but when it comes to art, perfectionism can cause it to flop, to fall short of the art's intended message.
Things that are raw, that are even ugly or messy, those are the things that touch people because those are the things people can relate to.
"It's funny you say that, because Flamenco and dance saved my life. I'm a survivor of domestic violence and they say that one of the best cures for narcissism is art. I think that's what redeemed me in the end because I really went through some terrible stuff. I'm still going through it."
Her performance titled "Angel of Gravity" was born of this very concept; a project about narcissism and love. "It was about loving somebody and not being loved in return. Being suspended in this longing, in a sense where you're in love with the idea of being in love and the other person kind of lets you do that because it serves them. That piece was really beautiful. Doing 'Angel of Gravity' was like giving a gift that comes straight from my soul because it's based on what I've gone through and I wanted them to feel it."
The question then becomes "when you look at this piece that I've made, what does it make you feel? Is it relatable?" Tamara produces alot of work that is open to the public, often times free, extending herself so that the community as a whole can experience her art form. In the past it was a more exclusive genre only dedicated to the privileged. "Only the elite could witness this sort of thing," she tells me. As such, she is an advocate for the community which has recently garnered a grant from the city for her troupe, Arte y Pasion as a result.
This brings me to what originally drew me to Tamara Adira: her public performance for the ancestors of Holocaust survivors, "Estrellas".
She breaks down the concept behind the installation.
"Estrellas" (which means stars) was about the genetic memory of the descendants of the Holocaust survivors. It was multimedia and I derived alot of inspiration from Darian Thomas after his amazing installation called 'Move On, Get Over It' which was about what it means to be a black person in America."
Darian ultimately was the voice of certainty who gave her the confidence to "just do it".
"On each star I silk screened the word 'Jude' which is the word the Jews had to wear. I also silk screened the word 'Mexicano' and the word 'Muslim' because I wanted everyone to see the universality of the star." She needed this to be personal to the audience, to be more impactful. "Our country is going in that direction. And that's why I chose to do this. I really felt that it was time. And I want to perform this piece again and again."
Tamara isn't interested in popularity. This is an EDUCATION.
Estrellas was the first piece that Tamara would present which was a definitive subject, concise and deliberate. So she knew that in order to yield her desired results, she had to carry that certainty with her.
"It took months; to plan, to storyboard, to construct. I had to install broken glass and mirrors on the floor symbolizing The Night of Broken Glass. That was the night the Nazis destroyed all the Jewish businesses before the Holocaust began.
So by the time I'm performing, I'm already exhausted."
I interjected that actually the exhaustion lends itself to her cause. When we imagine how exhausting war, genocide actually is, cruelty beyond measure. It would not have suited to go into the thing refreshed and caffeinated. You walk into something like that carrying your heaviness, your pain. And you give the performance despite the pain that you're feeling which actually makes the performance.
"Thank you!" She says, "One thing you mentioned was genocide. I had to meditate a whole lot on what it means to be an ancestor of the people who survived." We began touching on what Tamara refers to as genetic memory. "There was a type of Jew who was willing to sell out other Jews in order to survive. They had children, these not-so-nice Jews. And they had grandchildren..." She alludes to a very bloodstained legacy, cupping her bowed forehead in a mixture of shame and sadness.
"Why was I a black sheep in my family? I realize I was a black sheep in a world full of wolves."
"That's not something that's easy to look at. Something that happened in history affected me today, in 2017. I've been ashamed to talk about it." She explains her sense of responsibility, "I don't want to see that happen to anybody else. It already happened to my people."
The most powerful word in the English language.
It's only when we decide that we've had enough that healing can begin. It takes courage. To me, Tamara Adira is courageous beyond measure. "I hope to instill in others a sense of responsibility infused with their own flavor."
~author K. Day