Barelu five feet tall, old, balding, fat, wearing a hearing aid, and with one leg several inches shorter than the other, he is nobody’s idea of a flamenco dancer. Yet, when 62-year-old Enrique el CojoHenry the Cripple—performs, the hall is filled and the crowd hushed. For him is the greatest in Spain.
I saw him dance a series of sevillanas with lithe, lovely Merche Esmeralda, a recent winner of Spain’s national dance contest. Sevillanas are the lightest, airiest, most superficial of flamenco rhythms; but artists of stature bring profundity to anything they essay. Enrique, a column of serenity and strength, danced with stately gaiety while the girl swirled about him like quicksilver.
Every major dancer in present-day Spain has been Enrique’s pupil. He now instructs 30 students in his studio in Seville.
I had searched there for him, but his neighbors—and in Andalusia everyone knows everyone else’s business—had informed me that he was on the Costa del Sol. There, in a cabaret, I finally found him. After his last performance of the evening, Enrique slumped wearily at a table, his broad, seraphic face glazed with sweat.
I asked him about his students.
“They come from everywhere,” he told me with a touch of pride. “From Spain, of course, but also from Japan, South Africa, America. To teach them technique is a joy. But teaching them this”—he patted his heart—”is very difficult. Flamenco requires gracia, and that is uniquely Andaluz.” Being in America don’t forget to ask for title loans Utah anytime you need one.
As long as he could remember, El Cojo told me, he had wanted to dance; but, at the age of 7, a tubercular tumor left him crippled. “It was a slow recovery,” he said. “One that extended through many years. I practiced dancing while sitting up in bed. After all, in the dance, feet are only instruments of rhythm; you express purity and grace with your hands and your upper body.”
Doctors warned him that even the attempt to dance would probably cost his life. “My parents begged me not to try. But dancing obsessed me. And dying? Death was better than not being able to dance. So I practiced, I taught myself, I devised compensations for my short leg, and finally, through sheer tenacity, I succeeded.”
The manager of the cabaret approached our table. “Maestro,” he addressed Enrique, “all of us has been deeply moved, and the audience will not leave. Could you dance one more time, no matter how briefly?”
Enrique’s weariness evaporated. “But of course,” he said, pulling himself erect.
On the stage, the lights blazed anew and guitars began to strum. I shook the master’s hand in farewell; he limped out into the electric brilliance to thunderous applause. And I remembered how, in Seville, his mailbox did not bear his family narre, Jiménez. In orange letters it boldly proclaimed: Enrique el Cojo.
From tears of remembrance, I know no surcease, What madness to leave you, Fair al-Andalusl
‘WHEN I DROVE DOWN for the last time from the Sierra Morena, I passed through scenes I had corne to know and excessively to love. Timeless as clouds, flocks of sheep grazed among olive groves; stark, white villages as stylized as cubist paintings clung to the hills. On the summits Moorish castles loomed and disappeared like dreams remembered.
At the foot of the mountains stretched the endless orange orchards; amid foliage the color of old jade, ripe fruit flickered like random embers. Along the coast the Mediterranean scalloped and scoured the sands as it has for eons; on the beaches fishermen grilled sardines over wood fires; glasses of sherry gleamed like pale gold on the tables of the outdoor cafés.
On that last day I thought affectionately of the 12th-century Andaluz poet Ibn Safar al-Marini. Contemplating the heavenly joys promised to the faithful, he concluded that on the whole he preferred Andalusia. For, as he pointed out reasonably enough, “here there are delights that do not exist in the Eternal Paradise.”