Arm Sweeps, Curlicues and Castanets

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In 1965, Liliana Morales, a young aspiring dancer, showed up at a New York audition with the legendary dancer Jose Greco. She was on her lunch break from her temp job as a legal secretary. Without changing her business suit, she executed a few steps for the famed dancer, and instantly landed a gig as a guest artist in his upcoming show at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Morales, who lives in the East 70s, admits that her life has been uncanny for its lucky turns and fortuitous meetings, including her first encounter with the magnetic Flamenco dancer Maria Alba. Both Greco and Alba molded the young Morales and invited her to dance with their companies, which included dates at New York’s Town Hall, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Jacob’s Pillow and tours in the United States and overseas. Although she concedes that Greco was the fiery kingpin of Flamenco, it is Alba whom she considers her real mentor.

Liliana Morales started dancing at the age of 5 and was performing small roles in New York opera companies by age 8.

Liliana Morales started dancing at the age of 5 and was performing small roles in New York opera companies by age 8.

“She was my idol,” Morales said. “She was a great artistic dancer. She had the feeling that is Flamenco.”

A native New Yorker, Morales started dancing at the age of 5. By the time she was 8, she was performing small roles in New York opera companies. Not surprisingly, her first role was in Carmen with the Amato Opera Company.

In August 1969, Morales headed to Madrid, where she began studying with Jose Granero, a ballet dancer from the Jose Greco Dance Company. Her studies were cut short by her mother’s death, which brought her back to New York, but when Morales returned in 1971, she quickly plugged herself into Spanish dance culture. For the next five years, she built a reputation in Madrid’s famous tablaos, including Café De Chinitas, Torres Bermejas, Los Cabales and other celebrated Flamenco venues.

Reflecting on favorite career performances, Morales points to the opening night party for the 1992 Broadway revival of Man of La Mancha. Raul Julia, who starred in the show, was so taken by Morales’s zesty and nuanced dancing that he later invited her to perform at his 50th birthday party.

Since 2000, Morales has been teaming up with diva Natalia Brillante (also an Upper East Sider) as the Spanish dancing duo “Gitana.” Looking forward to their next gig at San Martin restaurant on July 22, Morales says that people of all nationalities can enjoy Flamenco and classical Spanish dance. Just ask Catherine Lenihan, president of the Women’s National Republican Club, which hosted Gitana in June. A dance enthusiast, Lenihan said that she glimpsed in Morales’s solos the great tradition of Spanish dance: the arm sweeps, the hand curlicues, the castanets and the foot stomps.

“She’s danced all over the world,” Lenihan said. “And when I watch her dance, she makes me think of Jose Greco.”

An Evening of Flamenco and Classical Spanish Dance
July 22, at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
San Martin Restaurant, 143 E. 49 St.
212-832-0888

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