By P. A. Gallett
A venerated flamenco dancer and teacher is back this spring on the Upper West Side to gather his stomping flock once again at Steps on Broadway at West 74th Street. After nearly three years stuck at home in order to avoid COVID-19, and a six-week recovery from a recent fall, Victorio Korjhan is bound and determined. “I‘m currently concentrating on building up my dance class,” he said, when I dropped in on him at Steps, recently.
He needn’t worry about having followers; Victorio has been sought out for decades as a teacher and a performer. The son of a New York City police lieutenant, he attained an enviable artistic pedigree. “Dancing was not part of my upbringing,” he said. “At 18, I received a scholarship to Juilliard and worked with some of the most famous in modern dance and ballet, such as José Limón, Antony Tudor, Margaret Craske, and Martha Graham.”
It was flamenco, however, that eventually captured him and carried him off to Spain to learn from masters and to perform on both sides of the Atlantic. His flock followed him for many years at Fazil’s in Hell’s Kitchen, thence to Steps after Fazil’s closed in 2008. This day, he invited me to join the class. Tough as a boiled gizzard, the old geezer is still at it. (Lest there be confusion, Victorio is the one in black.)
Zoom is up and running for the tele-terpsichoreans and the audio system is checked out. Victorio confers with Simon Applebaum who has been his teaching assistant over the course of seventeen years.
Simon explains why he joined forces with Victorio: “I really enjoyed the way he taught the class. He kept it light. He was politically incorrect. He cracked jokes. He was very demanding, very demanding. He was able to get a lot of material into his class.”
A journalist and broadcast producer by profession, Simon has been dancing for nearly 32 years. He began with folk and mambo, then gravitated to ballroom before arriving at flamenco. As usual, Simon will lead footwork and the floor work; Victorio will direct from the comforts of the sideline.
We warm up with armwork we’ll be using in the Gypsy tangos, before footwork. Arms count! The arms dance; the feet work. Casual spectators, bedazzled by flamenco footwork, usually fail to appreciate that the the soul of this dance is in the upper body, the arms, and the emotion projected.
Victorio explains to the class how to snap a turn to a cold, dead stop.
Dariusz Horváth-Krol is the class wunderkind who often gets “volunteered” to demonstrate a turn. Like Simon, Dariusz is a ballroom dancer, and counts 23 years in a variety of dance forms.
Says Dariusz, referring to ballroom dance, “Flamenco is helping with my pasodoble [a Spanish dance], which is the main reason why I started learning it. One of my coaches highly recommended that I learn it from Victorio. He teaches in such a simple way that you do not understand how good it is and how it works. But sooner or later, you realize that you have learned so much without even understanding why or how. Only later do you find out. But in the meantime, all of this information has gotten into your body and subconscious.”
After a few combinations across the floor of increasing difficulty, the inevitable happens. Chaos. The Gypsy tangos dissolve into mush. We get called out. And called back. The bewildered Gypsies are admonished. They repent. Simon deconstructs the steps, demonstrates, and restarts the drill. Satisfaction. The West Side Gypsies are back in formation now, with another progress across the floor, much improved.
His days of leaps and triple knee spins may be past, but Victorio’s compensating reward is a calmer Sunday afternoon teaching a new generation: “The best part about teaching dance is seeing how certain students develop over time and reach a professional level.”
We are exhorted to higher valor. “This is a bullfight! You’re not fighting a hamster!”