Sunday, September 8, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Melinda Bargreen

Flamenco -- A Celebration Of Triumphant, Flamboyant Masculinity

You would never mistake these people for, say, a pair of certified public accountants.

When Teodoro and Isabel Morca walk into a room, they exude a kind of feline grace that you see magnified on the dance floor when they perform flamenco.

We don't know a lot about flamenco in this part of the world, and Teo and Isabel have spent their careers trying to rectify that deficiency. Now in residence at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where their Hispanic Dance Institute is one of only three such programs in the country, the Morcas also know that the most vital arts education starts a lot earlier - in the primary school system.

"We do a lot of touring for the Washington State Cultural Enrichment program," says Teo Morca, "and when we show up to perform in the gym, we suggest that kids taking P.E. warm up with us."

The response from the teachers? Often it's "Sure, you have the girls warm up with you, and we'll take the boys to the library or something." And you wondered where kids learn their sex stereotypes, where they got the idea that dance is just for girls.

Teo Morca enjoys changing those stereotypes around. He asks youngsters precisely what's so sissy about dance, and when they answer "It's those tights," he reminds them about spandex bike pants and runners' warm-up gear, which look similar. Then he asks how many of them can walk around with a 100-lb. girl raised overhead on one hand.

Then he dances. There goes the last of the sissy myth.

Flamenco is probably the ultimate celebration of triumphant, flamboyant masculinity. When the Morcas act out a version of "man meets woman" choreography, they are fully clothed and never touch, but the atmosphere and gestures are so supercharged you almost want to blush and look away.

Whether it's at the elementary school or at Western, the Morcas keep bumping up against the same fact that bedevils arts educators everywhere: Kids who have no experience of an art form, whether it's flamenco or Mozart or Chekhov, think the arts are something arcane that has nothing to do with their lives. Ideally, they build those experiences and relationships in elementary school - but we all know what has happened to most public-school arts programs in the past two decades.

Maybe things will get better.

"It's a slow educational process, and we're still a young country," believes Teo Morca.

"We're still in the John Wayne mode. Little by little, we can make a difference. Over the 17 years we've been in Bellingham, we've seen a lot of growth, and people come from New Zealand, Australia, 25 or 30 states, to our summer flamenco institute."

Like most savvy evangelists, the Morcas understand the power of TV. Teo, who recently published a book ("Becoming the Dance: Flamenco Spirit"), now has a thrice-weekly cable TV show, "Move With Morca," that airs locally in the Bellingham area on Channel 10. It's a stretch-and-tone class incorporating a wide spectrum of dance moves, ones that have kept both Morcas reed-slim: Teo turns 57 this month and looks more than a decade younger. Isabel has a waistline that would turn Scarlett green with envy.

"We refuse to let out our costumes," says Teo. "Zippers don't lie."

Don't the Morcas feel it's been, well, a lot of uphill work? In a world where dance invariably means ballet or modern, where flamenco is the neglected stepchild, where dance is just for sissies, where the arts are just for the effete, where "cultural literacy" has become an endangered concept, isn't it tiring to buck all those trends?

"I've always believed what Bob Hope once said: I'd rather wear out than rust," says Teo Morca.

Besides, there are all those plans to contend with: expansion of the summer institute, and a 1992 celebration of the 500th year of Columbus' landing in America. Who's better poised to celebrate Hispanic culture in the New World than a flamenco troupe in the great Northwest?

September is National Piano Month, and if you have a set of ivories gathering dust at home, now is the time to tickle them along with Jacques Cousteau, Richard Gere, NBA star David Robinson, Jean Stapleton, Phyllis Diller and William Buckley Jr., all reputed to be piano hobbyists. If you're still stymied, the National Piano Foundation folks will send you a free brochure, "So You've Always Wanted to Play the Piano," if you write to them at 4020 McEwen, Suite 105, Dallas, Texas 75244-5019. Flummox your friends! Annoy your neighbors!

Latest gimmick: If you touch any one of the 24 flags on a 5-inch electronic soccer ball, the ball will play the national anthem of your choice (two AA batteries are required). No, the Brazilian national anthem is not "The Girl From Ipanema." The ball is among the more bizarrely attractive items from the "What On Earth" catalogue, 2451 Enterprise East Parkway, Twinsburg, Ohio 44087.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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