In Seville, Spain, Not Even a Heat Wave Could Stop Me From Dancing
A traveling group of American ladies aged 58 to 78 enjoys sightseeing, flamenco and Spain's bustling Seville 'feria'
Seville, Spain's annual spring fair, la feria, was on my bucket list — and my sister's — after attending the mesmerizing flamenco fashion show in 2018. My sister Eva is a musician, a flamenco dancer and teacher, and a seamstress. At 62, four years my junior, she has the stamina of a teenager.
Would I hold up for the 10-day journey and my sister's four-page itinerary of dance classes, sightseeing, concerts, trains, flamenco shows (tablao) and the bustling Seville feria during an expected heat wave?
Our traveling group ballooned to a total of six American ladies, from age 58 to 78. All of us had studied flamenco with my sister at one time but some of us didn't know each other well — or at all.
Our travel companions included Linda, 58, a CEO of her family business; Kaitlin, a 63-year-old musician; Diane, a 75-year-old retired Spanish teacher; and our cousin, Sharon, 78, a visual artist.
Would I hold up for the 10-day journey of dance classes, sightseeing, concerts, trains, flamenco shows and the bustling Seville feria during an expected heat wave?
Eva managed to outfit all of us in beautiful flamenco dresses and accessories. Fortunately, the group knew some Spanish or were fluent, like me.
Our trip began with a brief stop in Madrid to visit the Prado and gather more flamenco accessories; we also visited the cathedral of flamenco, Corral de Moreria. It was a sold-out show for the world-famous dancer, Belén Lopez, with whom Eva had studied.
I loved her smokey eye makeup, Cleopatra meets Snow White's wicked stepmother. Described as a force of nature, Lopez's physically demanding performance and creative moves sent the crowd — including the six of us — wild.
A Festival Atmosphere
The next day we arrived in Seville, the city known for its Moorish architecture and the 11th-century palace Alcázar. A festival atmosphere was in the air as local women of all ages wore a large flower on top of their heads and sported a mini shawl or mantoncillo.
In Seville's Triana neighborhood, known for famous flamenco dancers and bullfighters, we attended a flamenco class with famed teacher David Perez. He was advised we were of varying dance levels, as Sharon and I were beginners. There was live guitar and David sang along, showing us how to match steps with the lyrics.
We sailed through the hour-long lesson and rehearsed the Sevillana, which has four parts. My sister expected us to be proficient in at least part one of the Sevillana. I reviewed it on YouTube for weeks and even on the airplane, as if it were a final exam.
After our flamenco class, it was time to dress for and attend the feria. Eva had envisioned us cascading down the streets in traditional garb with no handbags, cell phones or sunglasses and had even sewn a pocket in our flamenco skirts to hide our cell phones. As it was a record-breaking 101 degrees, we were now free to bring handbags with water bottles, sun hats and sunscreen.
Eva donned her polka dot red and white dress while I dreaded putting on my flamenco skirt. I feared it wouldn't zip up after several days of sangria, paella and buffet breakfasts. Shapewear was my friend. Eva pinned my shawl with a broach and arranged flowers in my hair. In the hotel lobby, Eva reviewed the other four ladies, adjusting shawls, flowers and flounces.
All Decked Out
All decked out, we headed to the Seville fair, which began in 1846 and typically attracts over a million visitors. This year was record-breaking in addition to the temps: the fair boasted 1.2 million visitors. Despite the heat, we opted for the traditional horse and carriage for the 2.5-mile ride to the fairground entrance.
As we disembarked the carriage, we had to be careful not to step in horse poop. Not everyone in our group was successful in keeping their hems clean but I won't snitch. At the fair, there were carriage traffic jams coupled with men and women parading on horseback. They dressed in traditional outfits, short jackets and cordobés hats, with some women side-saddled in gorgeous flamenco dresses.
We encountered only locals or Spanish nationals. Almost two-thirds of the women wore flamenco-type dresses, each more beautiful than the one before. The thousand casetas, or tents, were mainly private, belonging to local families and businesses with live or recorded music. There was a massive amount of food and drink.
The six of us entered a caseta, and ordered a pitcher of the feria's official drink, rebujito, sherry mixed with lemonade. We danced on stage with each other or strangers. Several local women noticed my sister was as an accomplished dancer and clamored to dance all four sections of the "Sevillana" with her.
We were soon joined by another one of Eva's advanced students, Teresa, a millennial. She was on an extended visit in Seville studying flamenco and active on local Tinder. She had hooked up with an ex-matador for the week. We six ladies lived vicariously through the smiling photos of Teresa and her young, swarthy Spaniard.
Our main takeaway from the fair was how the older Spanish women held themselves with such pride and elegance. "Coming here has changed my view on aging. I'm not ashamed of my wrinkles anymore," remarked Sharon. Then Linda chimed in, "look how the older women here are totally at ease with their bodies, and elegantly and tastefully dressed."
It was reminiscent of our grandmother, born in Barcelona in 1898. Despite coming to the U.S. as a struggling immigrant, she had a regal air and was always smartly dressed and accessorized. She would have been ecstatic to have been with us, wearing her favorite flamenco-style black dress and high comb draped with a traditional black mantilla.
"Coming here has changed my view on aging. I'm not ashamed of my wrinkles anymore"
Amazingly, we got through 10 days and the four-page itinerary with added activities. We managed not to have anything stolen, or to lose stuff, beyond a pair of cheap reading glasses. Only Diane and I tripped on the cobblestones once with thankfully no injuries.
Our group got along well, sharing confidences, medications and health tips while developing new friendships. We often paired off in twos or threes for sightseeing, shopping, flamenco classes or meals. One afternoon Sharon stayed behind to sketch the view from the hotel room.
The waiting game of three years for this trip made it more special. It was a wonderful opportunity to share this journey with my sister and such a group of adventurous women.
As we packed for the trip home, my sister Eva asked, "What should we wear for next year's feria?"