When I was six and my sister was four, our parents, on vacation in Andalusia, bought us postcards of flamenco dancers. Mine had a yellow dress and wore a real satin skirt with lace trim that you could lift up to see the print version underneath, a talisman of exotic femininity, in the mind of a six-year-old boy. When journalist and director Ana González was growing up near Madrid in the 90s, flamenco seemed both ubiquitous and backward-looking. For González, this exuberant style of dance and music, which emerged in southern Spain, represented a sickening mark of nationalism. “I used to reject conventional flamenco history, because I associated it with a very conservative tradition,” she said.
It took Manuel Liñán, the subject of “Flamenco Queer”, to change his mind. The film, which González directed with his partner, Frederick Bernas, follows Liñán, a seasoned flamenco dancer and choreographer, as he prepares for a big show in the Andalusian city of Granada. In the opening scene, Liñán and five other dancers sit in a horseshoe, clapping and stomping as another dancer storms and spins in the center. They’re dressed for the stage, with ruffled dresses in gorgeous hues, high-heeled shoes, and lacquered hair. They are all men and their performances are revolutionary. “In the flamenco world there is a conservative faction, as in society in general,” Liñán explains. “Just to be a man, you are not allowed to dance in a particular way.” In another scene, we see Liñán, wearing a long polka dot skirt over Adidas sweatpants, teaching a class of five girls and a boy how to form the sensual hand gestures that are characteristic of the genre. “When I was learning to dance, they told me I should only move two fingers,” he said, didactically. “It was really boring for me. I preferred the whole hand. I thought it was nicer. But you can choose. Children imitate their teacher, holding their hands high above their heads and rotating them in graceful, hesitant circles.
“Art has to change with society,” González told me. Bernas accepted. “If you don’t adapt, you lose all relevance,” he said. But art itself cannot change, it requires artists. Liñán began his training while still in kindergarten and was performing professionally at the age of thirteen. A clip, kept on VHS, shows him appearing on a children’s TV show, wearing a men’s outfit consisting of a white shirt and black vest, but with the same concentrated pout that he wears. decades later. The rules for how boys could dance, or what they could wear, were binding, and at home, in private, Liñán began experimenting with women’s clothing. (His father, a bullfighter, disapproved, but his mother didn’t care.) As an adult, Liñán’s expertise in the flamenco form gives him the power to make it his own. On the evening of the show, in a theater in the gardens of the former Alhambra palace, he dances solo on a huge stage backed by cypress trees. Her dress is geranium red, her movements fluid and bewitching. “In flamenco, I have found the most honest way to communicate,” he says in a voiceover. “I transform a private act into a public spectacle. This is how artists make the change, one by one.