Native Italian Chiara Mangiameli has established herself a leader in Chicago’s dance scene, which might not seem surprising given how Italians throw themselves wholeheartedly at anything artistic. But her choice of genre is anything but typical, at least for someone born and raised in Milan: She’s dedicating her life and career to mastering flamenco dance.
“Every time I’ve visited Seville, Spain to study, I’ve felt very comfortable and at home,” says Mangiameli, who today runs her own dance studio in the Logan Square neighborhood. “Italians and Spaniards seem to share cultural similarities that make them compatible. I felt an affinity with their music and I suppose you have to love something to be able to transmit it to others effectively.”
That she does. In addition to teaching a full schedule of classes at the Studio Mangiameli, she’s choreographing and directing “Quejíos – Cries In The Air,” the studio’s fifth annual show. And the DePaul University theater school graduate returned to the stage in 2012 after a decade’s absence as celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ leading lady in the ground breaking “Cascabel” at the Lookingglass Theater.
Mangiameli has also collaborated with some of Chicago’s most critically acclaimed groups including Las Guitarras De España, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater and Chicago Sinfonietta. Yet she’s hardly one to rest on her laurels as a dancer.
“Development of one’s own style takes years and it’s simply part of the dancer’s journey,” she says. “I’m always refining, always try to clean up the details. And I’m becoming more comfortable working with what the singer is giving me at any given moment. Learning to exist in the present and allow moments of stillness has been a big part of my growth.”
For Mangiameli, the journey began at age 6. “I was taking ballet classes but grew restless and switched to tap,” she recalls. “Then I left dance for many years and dabbled with it again in college. Nothing really stuck until I discovered flamenco years later.” She took her first class in 2001, and was hooked: “What drew me to flamenco was undoubtedly the music and the singing: the plaintive, melismatic voice, the intricate rhythms and syncopation of the guitar. I always had a good ear for rhythm and I love the role of dancer as musician in flamenco.”
Looking ahead, Mangiameli hopes to organize a trip for her students to Spain (where she studied with Juan Polvillo, La Choni, Carmen Gamero and singer Esperanza Fernandez). And while the Midwest may seem like an unusual choice for an Italian to practice a Spanish art form, it keeps her, to quote a familiar dance expression, on her toes.
“I’m often asked, ‘What is an Italian doing dancing flamenco in Chicago?’ I suppose I’m a testament to just how small the world has become,” she says. “Possibilities are endless as long as your heart is in the right place.”