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The Tucson Flamenco Festival kicks off Thursday, and local practitioners of the art form say the festival is growing thanks to a large local community of flamenco artists and educators.

Casa Vicent is the de-facto cultural center for all things flamenco in Tucson. It is where I recently met three members of the local flamenco group, Flamenco del Pueblo Viejo, which translates to Flamenco of the Old Pueblo.

"It's interaction between three people without really speaking a whole lot..." says Melani Martinez, dancer in Flamenco del Pueblo Viejo, and artistic director of the Tucson Flamenco Studio. "It's more of a communication through music and...movement."

She says flamenco is based on improvisation -a sort of back and forth between the music and dancer.

"There are three essential elements you have to have...cante, toque and baile (sing, touch, dance)," Martinez says. "Those are the three principle pieces of flamenco."

The music is dictated by certain cues in the performance. In other words, it is not written or necessarily orchestrated ahead of time, says Misael Barraza, the guitarist of the group.

The interaction between musician, singer and dancer is apparent during this informal performance. Barraza watches and listens to the various steps Martinez works into her dance.

"There is something we call 'jaleo,' Barraza says. "Between the musicians, somebody is doing something well, or you feel they did it well, then you want to respond to it and say, 'Ole, tú." It also happens in the audience when they see or hear something they want to respond to they say, 'Ole tú.'"

Macarena Giraldez is the singer of the group. She's originally from Seville, Spain, and says flamenco was simply a part of everyday life where she grew up.

"Well, you would always hear flamenco in my house," she says in Spanish. "I come from a family of Gypsies, my mother sings, and I would hear it (flamenco) ever since I was a little girl."

Emotions are an important part of the flamenco aesthetic. Giraldez says it is something a person has to feel, because if the person doesn't, then it is impossible to sing or dance flamenco.

Martinez agrees, and says that the best flamenco artists allow their emotions to drive the performance, and the interaction takes place on the tableo, or stage.

"...each of us puts in our own wants or desires for that moment..." Martinez says. "But we all have to cooperate...for it to happen nicely...otherwise it can be chaos...the communication has to be there."

More on Tucson Flamenco Festival:

Vicente Sanchez and Marita Gomez, owners of Casa Vicente, partnered with Flamenco del Pueblo Viejo and Club España de Tucson in 2009 and brought Tucson Flamenco Festival to life.

This year, at the fifth annual festival, there will be new events, such as a guitar competition and performances by artists from Spain, Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona. There will also be music and dance workshops, a fashion show, and lots of Spanish wine and food.

Tucson Flamenco Festival begins Thursday, Sept. 18 and continues through Sunday, Sept. 22. For more information visit the festival's website.