Unlikely Gypsy

How one local performer is braiding academic inquiry, self-exploration and one of the sexiest dance forms in existence.

When Victoria Jacobs throws up her arms in a flamenco pose, fingers flexed and tense, you can see the intensity in her breathing. Then she turns on the balls of her feet while her arms – her braseo – provocatively snake around her torso, and she drives her heel hard into the floor, launching into a pattern of percussive stomps. She moves like a summer storm: starting and stopping and starting again.

Photograph by Andrew Waits for City Arts.

This “heating up and cooling off” is characteristic of flamenco, Jacobs explains, which combines percussion, generated from the dancer’s own footwork, elaborate upper body articulation and music – typically singing or guitar. It is steeped in tradition, though Jacobs, a Virginia Beach native who now teaches dance at My World Dance and Fitness in Seattle and runs her own company, Sapience Dance Collective, is far from a typical practitioner.

A piece she recently performed at On the Boards’ 12 Minutes Max uses no music or traditional costumes. In it, Jacobs uses the form she’s studied for over eight years to investigate her distinct place in flamenco’s history.

Created by the gypsy women of Asia and Europe, flamenco is a mash-up of Indian, Middle Eastern, Jewish and Spanish influences. According to Jacobs, it reflects the oppressed social conditions in which its creators lived. Comparing it to modern dance, she points out that in flamenco “you never open up. It’s never relaxed and easy. It’s always tight. It’s always about the little piece of ground that you have right under your feet.”

Trained at Bard College in New York, Jacobs brings some academic skepticism to the emotionally intense form. Dancing in jeans and using a lot of stark repetition, Jacobs masters both the sensual form and physical comedy, evoking the approval-seeking over-eagerness of a Charlie Chaplin – with jasmine flowers in his hair. In the flamenco community, this self-effacement is risky. “This is something you’d never do in flamenco. You do a lot of other things, but you never express self-doubt.”

Therein lies the real humor: nervousness bubbling up from a divine tension. The balance she seeks between her American roots and her proclivity for Spanish rhythms, and between her respect for modern improvisation and her long-standing obsession with the bata de cola (the flamenco skirt with the long train), is perfectly expressed in the title of her piece, which continues a tradition among Spanish flamenco dancers of calling “shout outs” to their hometowns while they dance: ¡Ella es de Virginia Beach! •