Linda Machado is doing what she loves, and it's got people moving their feet to a different beat.

Many people living in Yuma County and the Southwest trace their roots back to Spain. And it's in them Machado wants to instill an appreciation of flamenco, a music and heel-pounding dance form that evokes their cultural heritage.

The Tempe-based Machado is a dancer and instructor of flamenco, a genre that synchronizes hand, arm and body movements in a solo dance accompanied by guitar.

Flamenco has its origins in Spain, the country that conquered and ruled Mexico for more than three centuries. And however Mexicans or Americans of Mexican descent today come to terms with that history, she says, Spain is in fact their mother country.

"A good portion of the heritage comes from Spain," says Linda Machado, a flamenco dancer, "and it's a rich, proud culture. Flamenco allows for the exploration of that heritage."

Machado partners with her guitarist husband Richard de Cristobal in flamenco performances in schools, libraries and restaurants and at events in and around Phoenix and the Southwest, and they will come here to acquaint the public with Spain and Spanish culture at performances in libraries around Yuma County earlier this month.

In the 1800s, Spanish and gypsy musical influences fused in what became the flamenco for which Spain is known today, said de Cristobal, not only a guitarist but a flamenco historian.

The genre's key elements are "el cante," the singing; "el toque," the guitar, and "el baile," the dancing. Of the three, de Cristobal said, "el cante" is the most essential to Spanish flamenco, a style in which the guitarist is "trained to follow the dancer rhythmically and the singer harmoniously."

The music and the dances may be improvisational, he said, thus making flamenco a challenge for the guitarist who must keep time with the singer and the dancer.

Equipped with an instrument distinct from a classical or acoustical guitar, a flamenco guitarist executes a variety of strums and stokes with speed and precision in a tempo that makes the playing hand appear at times as a blur to the observer, de Cristobal said.

Machado calls flamenco a marriage of extreme guitar with the world's second-most challenging dance form.

Flamenco presents a challenge to the brain in synchronizing the body's weight shifts and alternating motions in quick succession, says Machado, who with her husband also teaches flamenco in the couple's Flamenco Now! ... the Studio, in Tempe.

"I had a student who was a neurologist who said that flamenco dancing is a good exercise for the brain," she said.

Someone who has attempted the exercise of patting the head while rubbing the stomach can begin to understand the coordinations required for flamenco dance, said Machado.

"Adults think they know their left from their right until they try flamenco," she said.

The couple performs the "village style" of flamenco, in which the audience is encouraged to participate by clapping and shouting to the music and dancing.

In flamenco, such audience expressions of approval are called "jaleos," Machado said, as opposed to other musical genres in which such simultaneous applause would draw glares and might get the offender booted from the concert hall or theater.

Machado and de Cristobal will visit all other libraries in the county. Attendance is free, courtesy of the Connie Hey Memorial Fund.

Audiences "will be taken on a vicarious journey through Spain," Machado said.

From The Associated Press.

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