The Kansas City Dancer Has Established Herself as the City’s Premier Ambassador of Flamenco, Through Performances, Classes and Tours
Seville, Spain, is a sister city to Kansas City, as the Country Club Plaza reminds us. Now we have another active, vibrant connection: Melinda Hedgecorth, flamenco dancer and instructor.
Hedgecorth learned flamenco, a form of storytelling interpreted in dance, song and musical instruments, at its wellspring, studying the traditional art form for 14 years in Seville. Characterized by clapping, shouting and foot stomping, as well as the use of castanets, bells and tambourines, flamenco represents a way of life fueled by passion and intensity.
Its roots date to the 9th century with the entry of the Roma from India into Spain, where they mixed with the culture of Spain’s Moors and Jews. One product of this mixing was flamenco, which emerged around the 16th century. It was performed by both sides in the Spanish Civil War, and by the late 20th century had come to be identified with Spain itself.
Hedgecorth’s mastery of the art form has earned her the admiration of Ensemble Ibérica founder and musician Beau Bledsoe, with whom she frequently collaborates. “She has a tireless work ethic,” Bledsoe says, “and a deep tenacity that keeps her continually progressing artistically.”
Hedgecorth has been performing in Kansas City since 2018, when she returned from Spain with her soon-to-be husband, Antonio Rojas Flor, an electric guitarist who sings flamenco. The two perform here and in Spain with “FlamenKcmo” and with “Siento y Vivo,” a group featuring Bledsoe and other talents.
The couple also take small-group tours to Seville. One trip they have planned is to the Feria de Jerez, which will highlight classes, tours, wine tastings and history. A separate “Tour to Sevilla” in May will focus on the culture of Andalucia — the everyday life, the neighborhoods, the expressions, the best tapas and café con leche.
A native of Kansas City, Hedgecorth graduated in dance from UMKC’s Conservatory with training in ballet and modern dance, and in flamenco with Tamara Carson. In 1998 she travelled to Madrid, where, despite never having been to Europe and speaking no Spanish, she immersed herself in the “Amor de Dios” flamenco school. “I knew from the first time I went to Spain I would study this,” she said. “It was my lightbulb moment.”
Hedgecorth made yearly trips back to Spain until, in 2004, she visited Seville with the intention of moving there permanently. She immersed herself in the flamenco scene, in clubs, cultural centers, theatres and museums and worked with the musicians and famous names of flamenco including Mercedes Ruiz, Belen Maya and La Moneta.
Since returning to Kansas City, Hedgecorth has established herself as a “gifted and generous teacher,” in the words of her flamenco colleague, Laura Onizuka. Hedgecorth taught flamenco at KU in fall 2018 and collaborated with Professor Patrick Suzeau on a Flamenco/Indian fusion performance in May 2019. This past April, she began offering online flamenco classes when live classes were cancelled because of COVID-19.
Despite the disruptions brought on by the pandemic, Hedgecorth has maintained a busy schedule.
She has a Youtube site where she posts videos from tours, events and performances. An online Flamenco Film Happy Hour was instituted on Fridays in March, April and May. In July, Hedgecorth, Rojas Flor and Bledsoe kicked off the Charlotte Street “Making Moves” dance schedule with a neighborhood concert, in which Hedgecorth, a 2020 Charlotte Street studio resident, demonstrated both traditional flamenco and new, fusion flamenco styles. In August, physical classes began in Lawrence; the artist also began a series called “Flamenco Chat,” featuring interviews, presentations and demonstrations from some of the biggest names in the art form, on her website, www.45gradosflamenco.com.
Hedgecorth and Rojas Flor have adopted the title “45º” for their flamenco school and performance LLC. It “has to do with the heat in Sevilla,” Hedgecorth said. “You can find the temperature well over 45 degrees Celsius (Fahrenheit 113) most days of the summer. This heat is extreme, and it makes me think about late night flamenco festivals, folks gathering outside to share a cervecita and catch a little breeze, siesta at the hottest part of the day and the narrow roads built when this was a Moorish empire to keep pathways shady and protected from the heat. These are some of my favorite things about Sevilla.”
Thanks to Hedgecorth, fall in Kansas City is filled with flamenco.
In September she and Ensemble Ibérica were filmed performing an original number to be included in the annual New Dance Partners at JCCC, which will be released online in November. Hedgecorth was paired with choreographer Julia Hinojosa and filmed dancing against the backdrops of Kansas City’s iconic locations.
The end of September brought the Midwest Flamenco Festival to Lawrence, which included online dance classes with Hedgecorth as well as various livestreamed presentations. A special topic was “fin de fiestas bulerías,” a form particularly “rhythmic and sassy” and “downright show-offy,” according to Hedgecorth. On October 16, the full Siento y Vivo ensemble performed a “Drive-in Flamenco” at Alcott Arts Center with donations going to the Center and to local musicians’ needs, and on October 21 FlamenKcmo was on stage at Garment District Place, sponsored by KC Parks and Recreation.
Says Hedgecorth, “Each performance I shed my shell, put away my mask and expose what I keep hidden in my corners and most secret passageways.”
For more information about classes, tours and upcoming performances, visit www.45gradosflamenco.com.
Above: Right: Melinda Hedgecorth was recently filmed flamenco dancing under a bridge over Brush Creek by a film crew from Johnson County Community College. The footage will be part of this year’s New Dance Partners at JCCC, which will be presented in film format in November. (photo by Jim Barcus)