Maribel La Manchega
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
Love at first sight
(Maribel - image by unknown photographer)
Maribel is the first flamenco dancer I saw on stage.
It was my first visit to Peña Flamenca de Londres, sometime between 2002 and 2004, when they were still based in Union Chapel in Islington. Maribel embodied her artistry as the main dancer of the night.
Being a flamenco dance student, I’d never seen a live flamenco show before. I was struck by her elegance and grace, especially in her Garrotín. Her expression of joy and her smile were branded in my mind.
(When I told her about this later, she said ‘oh no, Garrotín isn’t very flamenco…’)
(Maribel - photography by Nicholas Healy)
After three years in Japan, I returned to London and still couldn’t forget Maribel. Her class could be found on the Internet as ‘Academia Flamenca’, but no e-mail address, only a phone number. Funnily enough, I felt too shy to ring… and another three years past.
In 2010, with my shyness fading, I finally rang her. She spoke with a very strong Spanish accent, husky voice, but sounded very warm. She told me to bring castanets.
Her class was small with a mature, friendly group. As a teacher, Maribel had a good balance of being strict and being adorable. She gave me unconditional encouragement in my preparation for dancing solos.
(Maribel with her daughter Melanie, and Paco Peña)
It was impossible for her students not to fall in love with her. Being a sincere teacher, she was also a welcoming host at home – cooking so many irresistible dishes and enchanting us with her charm. Her hospitality never faded even after she fell ill.
Since I joined her class so late, I was left out from her flamenco courses in Estepona, which most of her other students had enjoyed. Instead, she showed me numerous photos of the courses, along with an old pamphlet with her name on as a promising dancer in Spain, and lots of memorabilia of her remarkable career in England.
In March 2016, Peña Flamenca de Londres organised her homenaje, for the appreciation of her as the joint president, as an artist, as a teacher, as a friend. With many of her colleagues and students showing respect for her, Maribel seemed so touched and we shared such a heart-warming night.
Her last dance
(Maribel with Ron Hitchins)
Thinking of Maribel, I have two biggest regrets - I did not contact her earlier, and I missed the last opportunity of being with her.
In December 2017, at her final appearance in the Peña, her artistry still shined in the fin de fiesta. I was invited to her house afterwards. Wanting her to have a rest, I said no... The guest artists from Spain and some of her friends went. They said she looked after them with her unconditional hospitality as always.
Shortly after, she went to Spain to spend time with her lovely family, and sadly passed away in her homeland before Christmas.
Dancing for Maribel
(Maribel's students, including myself)
In June 2018, the Peña hosted her second homenaje, with her grandson, little Dexter, as a presenter. The money raised by this event was donated to Macmillan Cancer Support. I felt honoured to share the stage with her daughter Melanie and others of Maribel’s students who knew her much longer and better than me.
For the preparation we dined together in Maribel’s favourite restaurant, practised hard in a studio, and most importantly, enjoyed dancing for Maribel. We felt an uplifting energy while dancing on stage, as if her spirit was there with us.
I still tend to monitor myself in a studio, hearing her teaching voice inside me. Her flamenco soul, elegance, grace, kindness, all of these will never be forgotten.
(Maribel with her grandson Dexter)
*The photos kindly provided by Melanie Warwick and Loo White - many thanks xx