January 3, 2024

Three Kings Dance Celebration Features Lisa Botalico’s Students

FLAMENCO FIRE: This summer, the dance studio at the Arts Council of Princeton will be named for Lisa Botalico, who has taught Spanish dance there for 25 years.

By Anne Levin

When Lisa Botalico moved from New York to Princeton with her family in 1998, she worried that her flourishing career as a flamenco dancer, teacher, and choreographer would suffer.

But it wasn’t long before the Arts Council of Princeton hired her to teach. Two levels of classes soon grew into eight. Botalico, whose students will perform as part of the Arts Council’s “Dia de Los Reyes Magos” (Three Kings Day) celebration on Saturday, January 6, is a mainstay of the nonprofit — so much so that starting in June, the organization’s dance studio will bear her name.

“The space will be named the Lisa Botalico Dance Studio. She’s touched the lives of hundreds of students, and we’re thrilled to honor her this way,” said Arts Council Program Director Melissa Kucsin.

The naming of the studio marks Botalico’s 25th year of teaching in Princeton. “The Arts Council was very welcoming to me in the beginning, and I’m grateful for that,” she said. “And I feel like in the last few years, they are really understanding what I do — giving adults and kids a form of expression, and in a high-level way. My students take it seriously. It’s not just putting on costumes. And the Arts Council gets that.”

Botalico, who is of Italian descent with some Spanish lineage, was originally trained in ballet and singing. “I danced all my life,” she said. “Then in my twenties, I discovered flamenco through an opera I was doing, and it took over my life. It has been my passion ever since.”

Flamenco presented a freedom to Botalico that she had not previously experienced in her years of dancing. “It spoke to me so intensely,” she said. “You don’t have to be any body type. I’m petite, and I didn’t have the typical ballet body. Then I met flamenco, where it doesn’t matter. It was such a sense of freedom that I could be me. I like interpreting — acting and feeling how other people are feeling.”

Flamenco “is an art form that is steeped in a personal expression of one’s life,” Botalico said. “It is not a dance necessarily meant for entertaining. It was meant as a way of community.”

The most important aspect of flamenco is the music. “It’s the singing that is the main thing, and most people don’t understand that,” Botalico said. “The guitar follows the singer, and the dancer will interpret what both of them are doing. When the singer stops and takes a break, the dancer can do a part without singing, and then the singer comes back. The singing is so soulful, and the dancer is interpreting that.”

Flamenco was developed as an art form “where three people at that moment were doing something on the spot,” Botalico continued. “It is not improvising, because they knew the structure. Today, it is never the same. It is different every time. Everybody adds a little something. Timing can be different. Of course, the dancer is up front, so they seem to be the main thing. But with pure flamenco, you can sit there for hours just listening to music.”

Botalico’s performing career has included tours throughout the country as artistic director and principal dancer of La Compania Folklorico Latina, principal dancer and co-artistic director of Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre, and others. She dances regularly at the Spain Inn II in Clinton.

Botalico’s students range from young children to one student who is over 90 years old. At Saturday’s performances, there are participants over 75. She enjoys teaching all ages, but admits to a special fondness for her young students.

“They respond to the rhythmic patterns,” she said. “From the very beginning, they start to learn how to recognize them, and put them into their dances. It’s not an easy art form. It’s not ballroom dance. It has vocabulary, technique, tradition, and structure.”

The program is at the Arts Council, 102 Witherspoon Street, and begins at 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 and benefit the organization’s community programming. Visit artscouncilofprinceton.org for more information.