El Flamenco. Mi Flamenco: Flamenco Lessons in Madrid

Written by: Ailish Dixon (Session 1)

Today our Maymester group went to take Flamenco lessons in Madrid! A few days ago we went to see a Flamenco performance in a cave in Granada and the experience was incredible. We were right up close to the performers so we could really see every slight movement and facial expression of the dancers. We could really feel the music and

movement as it enveloped the room. The performance had such a huge impact on me and everyone in our group as we had never seen anyone dance with such skill, passion and emotion before. Although learning Flamenco ourselves for the first time was definitely not going to come out looking like the breathtaking performance we experienced in Granada, everyone was very excited to learn some Flamenco. 

I am a dance minor at Holy Cross and have been dancing since I was little. Having a dance background was definitely very helpful in the class. However, Flamenco was very different from any style of dance I had ever learned before. I found that the

most difficult part of Flamenco for me was the difference in the tempo of the music and the shifting rhythms. Most of the music that I have danced to in the past is in basic 4/4 meter and is based on consistent counts of 8. The rhythm or beat in Flamenco is called the cómpas and dancers use palmas, which is clapping hands and stomping feet, to keep to the rhythm while dancing. The class started with us learning basic cómpas and the corresponding palmas. This compas served as the basis for the rhythm of the dance combination that the Flamenco instructor taught the group. 

Before Flamenco class we spoke about Lorca and his explanation of the concept of duende in our class lecture. Duende is a feeling 

or self-expression that comes directly from one’s soul. Duende is expressed in the arts through passion, moving the audience and demonstrating an intense personal connection between the artist and their art. Although we only had an hour to learn some very basic flamenco steps, the class and the performance we experienced gave me a glimpse into the meaning of duende in Flamenco dance. From the short Flamenco combination, I discovered a contrast between movements exuding passion and movement that established strength or power. There was also a contrast between tension and release in the Flamenco choreography. Many of the movements required intense muscle control, making the movements very precise. Everyone had a lot of fun learning some basic Flamenco steps. I hope to get the chance to take another class and learn more Flamenco in the future!


Written by: Mikaila Lupoli (Session 1)

We traveled from Seville to Granada for the final leg of our Southern Spain tour. I have been so excited to return to Granada since I saw on the syllabus that it would be a destination. As a 17-year-old girl, I fell in love with the beauty of the Alhambra; however, at 22, my adoration expanded. After exploring the city, we headed to the Alhambra and Generalife for an evening tour. Throughout the course, we have discussed the Spanish identity’s different components. At the Alhambra, I was able to see firsthand the intersections between the Muslim and Christian presences in Spain. Even though the Christians took over Granda in 1492, the presence of the Muslims is still prevalent throughout the city. As taught by Professor Juan Iso, the name Alhambra means “ the red one” because of the color of the stones. The Alhambra is positioned at the city’s highest point, on top of a hill, with many walls and towers to protect from enemies. Something that the guide pointed out during the tour that I found fascinating was the ability to feel like you are in different places while standing in the same position but looking in different directions. Overall, I think I was able to appreciate better and understand the magnificence and beauty of the palace and gardens this time, as I had a general lay of the land. 

We went to the Royal Chapel and a Flamenco show during our second day in Granada. In the morning, during our visit to the Royal Chapel, I was taken aback by the grandiosity. Before seeing the tombs of the monarchs, there is a huge grill. For the tombs themselves, I could not believe the intricacy of the marble carvings, especially the angels on the sides of the tombs. Queen Isabella of Castile, King Ferdinand of Aragon, their daughter Joanna and her husband Philip, and grandson Miguel are all buried in the Royal Chapel. If Miguel had not passed away, he would have been the King of Castile, Aragon, and Portugal, uniting European crowns. Their coffins are underneath the tombs, with a viewing window which I found to be so interesting. Although the Catholic monarchs were originally supposed to be buried in Toledo, they chose to have the Royal Chapel built in Granada instead as a result of the reconquest. This day was wonderful, as we went to the Flamenco show later on, which was a surreal experience. Although I did not know much about dance, I could see and feel the story of the Flamenco show. Thus far, Granada is one of my favorite cities that we have visited, and I am already itching to return. 


Written by: Mikey Mitrokostas (Session 1)

After our week-long tour of Southern Spain, visiting Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada, by far the most stunning city of them all to me was Sevilla.

The city holds a unique beauty. From its people, culture, architecture, and deep-rooted history, Sevilla gave off a vibe and vibrant energy that was different from any other city we have traveled to so far. My only complaint was that we only got to spend two nights there. 

Sevilla is the perfect encapsulation of Spain, and we took full advantage of it. From the moment we dropped our bags off at the hostel, we were off. We started the day off by visiting the Royal Alcazar Gardens. The picturesque city of Sevilla is a seamless mix of Moorish, Christian, and Jewish history, and the Alcazar of Sevilla is the perfect representation of those traditions. The royal palace was one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed in Spain so far. The distinct Muslim and Jewish influence on a palace that housed a Christian King is another reminder of the preservation of culture and prioritizing beauty throughout Spanish history.

I am a big fan of when we all get the chance to share a meal together, which we had the chance to do on our first night in Sevilla. Maybe it was the good food & drinks, or Profe’s tear-jerking toast, or perhaps it was the fact we got to sit overlooking the beautiful river that runs through Seville, but this meal was one of the most fun and memorable moments we’ve had as a group on the trip so far. 

The next morning we woke up early and toured the Archivo de Indias, which as a building has served many purposes over Sevilla’s history but was originally created to centralize the city’s rich trading industry. The tour served as the perfect all-encompassing history of the city’s history.

Afterward, we hurried over to the Cathedral of Seville for mass. This cathedral is an architectural masterpiece, and to be honest, it was hard to focus on the mass while basking in awe of its beauty. (If it wasn’t for our visit to the Mezquita-Cathedral in Cordoba just a couple of days before, I would say it was the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen.) The Cathedral of Sevilla is the world’s largest gothic cathedral and I cannot nearly describe its sheer size through this blog, but hopefully, this picture helps:

After mass, we got to climb the Giralda tower attached to the cathedral and take in amazing views of Sevilla from over 300 feet up!

Later that day we visited the Plaza de Espana. Profe Juan explained to me that this park-like place and surrounding buildings were created in the early 1900s when Spain hosted an Ibero-American expedition for the world fair. Influenced by the Spanish Renaissance, the Plaza’s large marble columns, colorful patterns, and intricate tower designs serve as a beautiful representation of the country.

Profe Juan told me that usually buildings created for world fairs in other countries get destroyed, but the architect did such an impressive job with the Plaza that the city had to keep it; yet another example of Spain’s tradition of preserving beauty. 

During our visit to the Plaza, I got the honor of rowing Profe (& perrito Mambo) around the surrounding river in a small row boat, a personal highlight of my trip so far.

Before coming to the city, Sevilla already had an important place in my heart. When my sister was in college, she studied abroad at the Universidad de Sevilla, which became one of the most fulfilling and special times in her life. Being able to finally see the city that she (constantly) talks about, was a blessing. I am forever grateful to have had the chance to share just some of those similar experiences with her.

After this trip, I think I may have to petition the study abroad office for the creation of a future May-Mester program based in Sevilla. 



Written by: Callie Nairus (Session 1)

Córdoba was our first stop on our six-day trip to the South of Spain. Our first impressions were hindered by the downpour of rain that greeted us as we got off the train from Madrid, but after taking a few hours to recover in our beautiful hostel, we were ready to explore the city. Donning rain jackets and umbrellas and hopeful for some sun, we first visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. The palace’s beautiful mosaics and fountain-filled gardens veil its dark history. Formerly inhabited by Isabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon, the fortress was the site of Catholic monarchs’ planning for the reconquest of Granada and where they granted Columbus permission for his expedition to India. Nearby the Alcazar was the Judería de Córdoba, where we visited the Córdoba Synagogue, one of three medieval synagogues left in Spain. Jews could practice their faith under the Muslim rule of Spain, but the building became a hospital when they were expelled by the Catholic monarchs in 1492. While exploring, we were struck by the architectural contrast from the streets of Madrid we were used to: Córdoba’s white buildings with floral accents made us feel like we had been transported to Greece.

The following day we were lucky to see the sun again with no rain in sight. We started the day at the Palacio de Viana, a medieval palace surrounded by twelve gorgeous patios filled with greenery and colorful flowers decorated with mosaics and paintings. After, we went to our most anticipated stop: the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. Its combination of Islamic and Christian architecture captivated us after learning about the conquests and reconquests of Spain over the past several weeks. The structure was originally a mosque until the Christian Reconquests, during which Christian elements were added to convert it into a Cathedral. As a result, a Renaissance-style Cathedral sits at the center of the building, surrounded by red and white Islamic horseshoe arches. After admiring the mosque for several hours, we ended our day with a lighthearted olive oil tasting. We learned about different types of olive oil and their uses, ending with us all buying olive oil to bring home to our families. After two great days in Córdoba, we were ready to continue exploring the South of Spain. 

Flamenco. Technique. Duende. Soul

Written by: Avery Byrne (Session 1)

After several tiring yet thrilling days of traveling from Córdoba to Seville, we spent three exciting days in Granada, the second of which was one of my favorite days of this maymester so far. We started the afternoon by piling on the bus and instantly discussing our excitement for the flamenco show we were heading to. We quickly arrived at a small building with “Los Tarantos Zambra” written over a bright red flamenco dancer’s silhouette. As we walked into the building, my curiosity was instantly piqued. We were surrounded by different colored lights, hanging plates with eye-catching details, and various paintings. 

Our group was ushered through a red door into a very narrow room that resembled a cave. We were seated in a line on the left side of the room with a flamenco floor, five chairs, and a microphone in front of us. I found myself intently looking around the room at the paintings, fans, and what looked like kitchen ladles on the walls. After patiently waiting, the lights finally dimmed as the first flamenco group entered the room. The group consisted of three dancers, one singer, and one guitarist. I did not know what to expect from the live show, but I was pleasantly surprised and inspired. The show began with a powerful belt from the singer accompanied by the passion of the guitarist. After several measures, the first female dancer stood up to perform her solo pieces. At first, I was attentively paying attention to the detail that she added to every movement and the intricacy of each step she made. I was quickly captivated by her ability to emote as she was performing such a technically difficult piece. I noticed that each of the three dancers expressed what I observed to be a level of hurt, pain, and passion which I later learned in class was an expression of duende. Throughout the duration of the group’s performance, I continued to focus on each of the dancer’s facial expressions and the way in which their passion matched each movement. I tried to also listen to the palmas patterns that the other group members were doing as one dancer was performing as it was interesting to me how these also helped guide the dancer. I found it so impressive how the dancer’s emotions not only matched their movements, but also the palmas, expression of the guitarist, the expression of the singer, and the changing speeds of the music.


Flamenco Group 1                                    Flamenco Group 2

The second flamenco group was different than the first, though the performance structure was similar. It was easy to see the similarities in tradition, but I thought it was fascinating to see how each dancer distinguished themselves through their personal expression. In the second performance, the singer emoted himself in a very powerful way and would sing while the dancer was performing, whereas in the first, the singer would stop during the performance. In the second performance, an older woman performed with the inclusion of castanets, which was an aspect of flamenco that we had not yet seen. I was completely entranced as I was trying to comprehend how she was putting meticulous detail into her dance technique, her passionate emotion, matching her movements to the other group members, and playing castanets all at once. 

Throughout both performances, I was unable to not focus on the emotions of each dancer as they expressed themselves and their souls. The experience of attending this flamenco show was extremely special to me in order to understand how flamenco music and performance plays a large part in the national identity of Spain and it was an amazing experience to share with the group. 

Journey Through Time: An Encounter with the Mosque of Córdoba

Written by: Marie James (Session 1)

Stepping foot into the Mosque of Córdoba, I was immediately transported through time. From Mosque to Cathedral in the thirteenth century, the dimly lit space evokes reflection and awe. My eyes took time to adjust, but soon I was able to fully appreciate the renowned red and white arches supported by Visigothic columns. These columns, once part of a basilica that stood here, feature exquisitely detailed capiteles, showcasing the brilliance of Visigothic architecture. Harmoniously integrated Christian developments such as chapels and altars surround the Mosque in a blend of religion and history. The arches overlap with each other in what looks like an entanglement, and they seem to go on infinitely, emphasizing the sublime beauty of the Mosque. 

Arches and Visigothic Column

After a brief discussion as a group with our professors about the transition from basilica to Mosque to Cathedral, I took time by myself to wander and take it all in. I found my way over to the Mihrab. Traditionally, the Mihrab indicates the qibla, the direction of Mecca towards which Muslims should face during prayer. It is an ornately decorated niche in the wall that instantly attracts every visitor’s gaze. Outlined in kufic, a style of Arabic writing, the Mihrab highlights the stunning Islamic architecture within the Mosque.


Near the Mihrab is the custodia, a Christian addition when the Cathedral was built, which had been placed in front of the stunning Islamic architecture away from where it typically is. This juxtaposition of religious elements fascinated me. This sacred structure emphasizes the coexistence of diverse faiths and serves as a tangible relic of history. As I finally walked into the cathedral, it was as if I entered an entirely new space, as if the mosque had entirely disappeared. There, I found myself captivated by the magnificent ceiling and the melodic resonance of the organ, immersing myself in an entirely distinct experience. I had literally stepped foot into a new part of history. Leaving the mosque I carried with me an appreciation for the contrasting influences of Christianity and Islam, a perspective that would continue to shape my outlook throughout the remainder of our Maymester.

Custodia surrounded by Islamic architecture and Cathedral ceiling

The Reconquest (Spanish)

Written by: Sara Terrien (Session 1)

¿Qué es la identidad? Esta pregunta es una que mis compañeros de clase y yo hemos estado preguntando durante nuestro tiempo en España. Una de las maneras en que la identidad podría ser afectada es por la religión. Hemos estado estudiando específicamente el rol de las tres religiones monoteístas: el judaísmo, el Islam, y el cristianismo. Profesor Juan Iso nos enseñó sobre la historia de la dinámica del poder en España en relación a estas religiones, específicamente el Islam y el cristianismo con la Conquista Musulmana y la Reconquista. A partir del 711 AD, acordando al Profe Juan, España estaba cambiando de un país de mayoría cristiana a uno con prominente influencia musulmana como soldados musulmanes empezó entrar el territorio. Sin embargo, esta Conquista Musulmana no fue permanente. Conflicto entre dos sectas de musulmanes – Sunni y Shi’a – y el colapso del Califato de Córdoba debilitaron el poder del imperio musulmán, y proporcionaron una apertura para que los cristianos comenzaran la Reconquista. La Reconquista reintrodujo la cultura y las costumbres cristianas. 

Una pregunta que tuve mientras viajamos por el sur de España – Córdoba, Sevilla, y Granada – fue si la Reconquista completamente borró a los musulmanes de la región. En nuestros viajes, vi como la religión y la cultura musulmana puede influir en una sociedad cristiana. Nuestro primer día en Córdoba, visitamos el Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, un lugar muy bonito y lleno de historia. Aquí, vi como aunque el espacio fue un espacio cristiano, todavía tenía influencia musulmana. Lo que es más obvio es el nombre. “Alcázar,” como aprendí, es una palabra árabe para un palacio real. Otra cosa que noté era la presencia de agua en los jardines en el Alcázar. Como los profesores me dijeron, los cristianos típicamente no se bañaban mucho. Por lo tanto, los musulamanes, cuando llegaron a España, introdujeron agua, y los reyes cristianos guardaron esta tradición y la adaptaron a su cultura. En nuestro segundo día, vimos patios cristianos que eran muy hermosos. Las flores eran brillantes; el agua brillaba con luz trémula. El olor de naranjas maduras colgaba en el aire. Aprendí que todos estos aspectos – los patios, la presencia de las flores y las frutas cítricas – son intrínsecamente musulmanes. Una vez más, vi cómo los cristianos adaptaron otra cultura en la suya. 

Otros lugares que tenían esta mezcla de culturas fueron la mezquita de Córdoba y la Alhambra en Granada. Ahora en día, la mezquita es una catedral, pero todavía hay elementos de la mezquita original. Por ejemplo, los arcos de rojo y blanco son un elemento musulmán. Hay espacios en la mezquita/la catedral donde los elementos de las dos casas de adoración se cruzan. Para mí, esto muestra cómo hay espacio para más de una religión o una cultura, y cómo todos podemos vivir juntos. Finalmente, quiero hablar un poco sobre la Alhambra, que está en Granada, la última ciudad que cayó a los cristianos durante la Reconquista. Una vez más, este lugar es una mezcla de las dos culturas. Un aspecto que fue interesante para mí es que las viñas son una característica musulmana. 

Para terminar mi blog, quiero regresar a mi primera cuestión: ¿Qué es la identidad? Mis viajes por el sur de España han demostrado que la identidad no necesariamente es una religión o una cultura. La identidad puede ser una mezcla, y esto es algo muy bonito. 

The Reconquest (English)

Written by: Sara Terrien (Session 1)

What is identity? This question is one my classmates and I have been asking during our time in Spain. One of the ways in which identity could be affected is by religion. We have been specifically studying the role of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Professor Juan Iso has taught the class about the history of the dynamics of power in Spain in relation to these religions, specifically Islam and Christianity with the Muslim Conquest and the Reconquista. As of 711 AD, according to Profe Juan, Spain was changing from a majority Christian country to one with prominent Muslim influence as Muslim soldiers began to enter the territory. However, this Muslim conquest was not permanent. Conflict between two Muslim sects – Sunni and Shi’a – and the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba weakened the power of the Muslim empire, and provided an opening for Christians to begin the Reconquista. The Reconquista reintroduced Christian culture and customs.

One question I had as we traveled through southern Spain – Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada – was whether the Reconquista completely wiped out the Muslims of the region. In our travels, I saw how Muslim religion and culture can influence a Christian society. Our first day in Córdoba, we visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a very beautiful place full of history. Here, I saw how although the space was aChristian space, it still had Muslim influence. What is most obvious is the name. “Alcázar,” as I learned, is an Arabic word for a royal palace. Another thing I noticed was the presence of water in the gardens in the Alcázar. As the professors told me, Christians typically didn’t bathe much. Therefore, the Muslims, when they arrived in Spain, introduced water, and the Christian kings kept this tradition and adapted it to their culture. On our second day, we saw Christian patios that were very beautiful. The flowers were bright; the water glimmered. The smell of ripe oranges hung in the air. I learned that all these aspects – the courtyards, the presence of flowers and citrus fruits – are intrinsically Muslim. Once again, I saw how Christians adapted another culture into their own.

Other places that had this mixture of cultures were the mosque of Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada. Today, the mosque is a cathedral, but there are still elements of the original mosque. For example, the arches of red and white are a Muslim element. There are spaces in the mosque/cathedral where the elements of the two houses of worship intersect. For me, this shows how there is room for more than one religion or culture, and how we can all live together. Finally, I want to talk a little about the Alhambra, which is in Granada, the last city that fell to the Christians during the Reconquista. Again, this place is a mixture of the two cultures. One aspect that was interesting for me is that vineyards are a Muslim characteristic.

To end my blog, I want to return to my first question: What is identity? My travels through southern Spain have shown that identity is not necessarily a religion or a culture. Identity can be a mix, and this is a beautiful thing.


Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea

Written by: Quin Perry (Session 1)

We started off our trip to Valencia by going to the downtown area to see the Lonja de la Seda. In the mid 1500s, Valencia was known worldwide for their production of silk on the silk road and this was the center of exchange for the area. When you first walk into the castle-like structure with gothic-style architecture, you enter a breathtaking yet peaceful courtyard filled with orange trees and a fountain in the center. Then, as we continued through the structure we saw the La Sala de Contratacion where contract and trade negotiation took place in a magnificent room with very elaborate ceilings and twisted columns. There was also the Pavilion of the Consulate where tables were set up. They served as a form of the first banking systems, and we learned that if a banker mishandled the money or exchange then they would physically break the table that they were working on as a symbol of their mistake.

The next stop we made was to the Cathedral in Valencia. The Cathedral was built in the 13th and 14th century after the reconquest. It is the home to many different architecture styles including Roman, the Visigothic arch, and Spanish Baroque that are present through the entire building along with art by Goya and others. You can also climb up a massive set of spiraling stairs that bring you all the way to the bell tower where you get the most amazing 360 degree view of the city. You can see a wide variety of landscapes from large buildings to more traditional red tops, to the Mediterranean ocean and mountain ranges.

At the end of day, we decided to get dinner by the Mediterranean Sea which we were all excited to get to see. A traditional dish in Valencia is Paella. Specifically, they have Valencian paella which includes the usual rice and then chicken and rabbit. The dish is served in a large pan family-style. We all found the paella to be delicious and even were able to catch a gorgeous sunset which was a perfect way to end a perfect day of exploring a new city.


 The following morning we made our way over to the biggest aquarium in Europe which is in Valencia, the Oceanográfic. The aquarium displayed an extremely wide array of animals ranging all the way from the Mediterranean to the Arctic waters. My personal favorite there was that they had a tank that was full of massive sharks and stingrays that had a walk-through tunnel which allowed them to swim right over your head. They also put on an amazing dolphin show that was very informative on ways to protect our waters along with putting on a spectacular presentation of how intelligent dolphins really are. The trainers were able to get the dolphins to do flips on command, dance with them, jump in unison, and even play fetch.


We ended off our trip to Valencia with a trip to the beach. We went to Playa Cabanal where I was able to get my first experience in the Mediterranean Sea. It was the most beautiful beach I have ever experienced with soft sand, not a rock in sight, and very warm water. It was a very fun and relaxing way to round-off the trip and we all had such amazing experiences on our first trip out of Madrid. We are all even more excited on the trips we have in the weeks ahead.


Madrid: Capital and Development


Written by: Katelyn Tobey (Session 1)

One of the few things that struck me when I first stepped foot onto the streets was the intricate and seamless blending of old architecture from hundreds of years ago with modern applications. Sights such as gorgeous, ornate marble buildings converted into an Apple store, or ancient cobble streets illuminated by flashy neon signs. While that may sound unfortunate it is quite beautiful, in its own unique way. Everything about Madrid is unique, its history, people, and the atmosphere itself. Although it was not always the capital of Spain, today it has distinguished itself as just that. Renowned sites root Madrid as the true center of Spain, such as Museo Nacional del Prado and the Plaza Mayor. Seeing the heartbeat of Spain flow through the streets in music, art pieces, and light is nothing less than a magnificent sight. Slow realizations creep in throughout the days that hundreds of years ago someone stood in the same market that I  wander through still today. The historical influence of all the different peoples who came before me is made evident in the food aromas floating in the streets and the little clues left behind as street names. They mark important people and events with little painted ceramic tiles as street signs. All around, the way of life here fills a hole inside of me that I was unaware of before being exposed to such a fulfilling lifestyle. The people here take their time leisurely talking over lunch, or catching up with their butcher. It is a cultural trait that has lasted through the ages and is still apparent. While I am sure there were not trendy gelato places when Francisco Rizi painted the Plaza Mayor, it is still as striking as it was then. Undoubtedly, Madrid is a spectacular place, and one cannot help but yearn to immerse in its inviting personality. For if not anything else, Madrid is alive. From the spirit of the people before to the pulsating energy today, this city is full of light, love, and life.