"Hi, kids! How are you?" shouts Eva Enciñias as a troupe of teens from a nearby charter school tromps through the offices of the National Institute of Flamenco in Albuquerque's Sawmill District. "Have a fabulous class! Dance up a storm! Shake the building!" she adds encouragingly as they head to their rehearsal space.
These days it's not just the students who are noticing Enciñias' encouraging words. Earlier this year the energetic driving force behind the National Institute of Flamenco was recognized with a 2022 National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Then in October it was announced that Enciñias had been named one of the 2022 recipients of the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. The Awards, now in their 48th year, were created to celebrate the extensive role that artists and their work have played in New Mexico. Among the list of sculptors, saddle makers and santeros, the longtime dancer and teacher found herself this year's only recipient from Bernalillo County.
"I didn't know that I was being nominated. I was nominated by our grant team," says Enciñias. "Michelle called me from the governor's office and said, 'I wanna congratulate you on being the recipient of the Governor's Excellence Award.' It was such an honor. You don't even know you're being nominated, and you find out. It's a total surprise. I'm delighted and proud."
Enciñias has a lot to be proud of these days, starting with the beautiful offices, studios and practice spaces of the National Institute of Flamenco, which relocated to its current space in 2019, about six months before the pandemic hit. Founded in 1982 the NIF is an arts-based nonprofit organization which exists to preserve and promote flamenco’s artistry, history and culture.
"Of course, when I receive an award like this, it's very humbling," admits Enciñias. "Because I realize that even though I'm being given the award, there have been so many people who have been key in helping me and my family and our efforts at the Institute to move our agenda forward. Because no one person can do that. It takes a team of people. It just really makes me reflect not only on the people who work so hard and diligently for us right now, but people all over the years."
Since she first began studying dance in her mother's studio as a little girl in the 1950s, Enciñias says, "There have just been so many people that have helped to foster our efforts in sharing the beautiful art form, so I'm so grateful to them. I also teach child's classes here [at NIF]. I had one little child who was going up for a dance competition, and so she asked if she could do a flamenco piece. I tutored her a little bit and got her ready to go. And when she got her trophy—because she won—she said, 'Miss Eva, we got a trophy. But I'm gonna keep it at my house.' So I always think of that when I tell my staff, 'You guys, we got an award. But it's gonna stay at my house.' "
Enciñias "must have been 3 or 4" when she started taking dance classes herself. "I was real small. But my brother and sister, who are older than I am, were already taking class. And, oh, my mother could see I had such a desire to be in there. So she would let me come in. And I started studying. I just loved it. And wanted to take as many classes as I could." After school hours Enciñias spent her life in the dance studio taking classes and participating in rehearsals. Her mother, Clarita Garcia de Aranda, was a famous flamenco dancer and ran a one-room studio in Albuquerque for decades. "We'd do performances for the Old Town Fiestas or Barelas Fiestas or Duranes Fiestas or whatever. We'd go around the state and my mom would teach classes in Cuba, in Bernalillo, in Santa Fe. And I just loved it. I was always her assistant. I'd say I was 13 or 14 when she—maybe even a little younger, maybe 12—when she would let me assist her. She'd leave the class sometimes, and I'd be able to take over."
Enciñias' mother could tell her daughter "loved flamenco and loved dance. Period." She also recognized her daughter's drive to teach others. "She would tell me these funny stories of when I was little, and I would go out our patio area where we had lots of plants and trees. I pretended they were my students and I was teaching them to dance, how to straighten their knees. So she could tell I had a real hunger for teaching." Enciñias believes she is "first an educator and then a flamenco artist. I love the process of educating people. Even when you're teaching a group class, a large group class. You're analyzing and trying to address each student at their level with their particular need. And how you can help them to find the power of expression that flamenco has. It's fascinating. I've always loved it."
By 1973 Enciñias was leading her own dance troupe. "I started a nonprofit for our performing group which was Ritmo Flamenco when I was in my 20s and 30s. We used to do regional touring and a lot of performing here in Albuquerque and at the University. And I did that for many years. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to deal with choreography as well as performing and directing. So it was a great experience for me."
Enciñias was eventually hired by the University of New Mexico, where she became a dance instructor in the college of Fine Arts. She figures she was about 45 years old when she stopped performing professionally because her job at the university kept her too busy to train her body properly for full-time stage work. Also, she was busy developing a major flamenco festival. The Festival Flamenco Alburquerque will celebrate its 36th year in 2023.
"I started the festival at the university," says Enciñias. "The university supported it for the first five years. And then I wanted to take it to an international level. They said, 'OK, we want to support you in any way we can. We'll give you facilities. But we don't want to be responsible for financial issues.' So that's when I saw that coming: I'd better transfer the nonprofit to more of an umbrella organization. So that I could write grants and get sponsorships for the festival. Which worked out really well."
By 1982 Instituto Flamenco (later renamed the National Institute of Flamenco) was officially founded. "Now we have lots of projects that are under that umbrella," explains Enciñias. "We have the festival. We have the conservatory, which is our school here. We have youth performing groups, Niños Flamenco and Teeños Flamenco. We have the repertory company, Yjastros the American Flamenco Repertory Company, which is a professional company that's getting ready to perform here next week. We have a summer kids camp. So lots of projects that are housed under the umbrella organization. It's worked very well. And the diversity that it's allowed us in our programming, I really think has helped us to stay alive during some very difficult times."
Though her energy level still seems indefatigable, the dancing dynamo has slowed down somewhat in the last few years. "I retired from the university, I guess, two years ago," recalls Enciñias. "I had been at the university, developing the dance program, since 1976. So 43 years. When the pandemic hit, I decided it was time to bring on some younger folks and let that grow in its own direction."
Thinking about her so-called "retirement" from academia, Enciñias confesses, "I was looking forward to all this free time—well, forget it. We also have our Institute. So what that's allowed me to do is help them more. My daughter has taken over the direction of the Institute. They call me the 'founding director.' But there's always so much to do." The founding director is "very involved" in costuming. And has started up an archiving project to track the Institute's 40-plus-year history. "We're doing a lot of archiving. Because we have thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of video and audio," says Enciñias. "Now, being the oldster in the group, I'm the one that knows best what's on all those videos. So we go through each one, and I identify what year and what they're doing and who it is. It's wonderful, because we'll have it in our video library and share it with the university. It'll be really great for lots of the young people to use."
Looking back on her decades of dedication to the art of dance in New Mexico, Enciñias says, "People would tell me, 'Well, don't you miss performing?' And I really didn't. Because what I love more than anything is teaching." As for the lifetime achievement award she'll soon be receiving, hopefully at a lavish banquet, the dancer-turned-teacher remains humble. "Through the years, I've seen the Governor's Award and seen when they announce it in the paper. You see all the people that are receiving it. I always think Wow, these people have had these long careers and done all of these things. And now I'm one of those people!"
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