Frank Gilpin, who is also known by his artistic name, Paco Antonio, is a distinguished professor of dance at New Mexico State University. He aims to help students create an appreciation of flamenco and turn their dreams into realities.
Gilpin grew up in Oklahoma and came from a highly athletic family. While going to school, he grew tired of athletic competitions so he decided to make a change in his life. He met friends who pushed him toward dancing and he eventually moved to Albuquerque to pursue his passion.
“Dancing was something to do socially as far as my family was concerned. I came from an athletic background. My mother was a coach of a girl’s basketball team. It was never presented as an artistic path to follow,” Gilpin said.
After Gilpin graduated from high school, he attended the University of New Mexico (UNM) on a wrestling scholarship where he received his bachelor’s degree in dance.
He started his training with ballroom dancing first, then ballet and later modern dance.
“I had no idea that dancing could be a career, but I checked the classes and I loved it,” Gilpin said. “I started dancing flamenco a couple of years later. It captivated and intrigued me. It is a pretty aggressive art form, sort of like wrestling.”
Gilpin has been dancing for more than 20 years. He performed several times in the Festival Flamenco International. He has lived and studied in Spain, and has danced with well-known American flamenco artists.
“When I went to Spain I felt I was the worst dancer of flamenco, but after three months I became better,” Gilpin said.
Not only that, he choreographed and danced in Opera Kentucky’s 2002 presentation of “La Traviata” in Louisville, Kentucky. He also danced for the critically acclaimed “Carmen’s Tango Bar,” and collaborated with interpretive dancers such as Lucilene de Geus and Pablo Rodarte. In 2003, he toured with Dance España’s production of “Fuego Iberico.”
“Dance for me is a psychological, emotional and passion release that helps me to find my higher self,” Gilpin said.
In New Mexico, Gilpin has been in charge of NMSU’s dance program for almost 14 years, where he teaches flamenco, jazz, and world dance classes to students.
“I love learning about different cultures and to travel, so I double majored in dance and anthropology to understand better how dances are related to the cultures that create them,” said Karina Fonseca, a graduate student at NMSU.
She added that Gilpin encouraged her to pursue her goals. She now teaches Arab and Polynesian dance classes in the Las Cruces area.
“I met (Gilpin) when I took the world dance class some years ago and, I guess like everyone, was impressed by his energy and creativity during class. It is really hard to make people forget their shyness and start dancing, and he does it even with people who have not danced before,” Fonseca said.
Gilpin has had a variety of achievements throughout the years that he cherishes and is proud of. He continues to contribute to NMSU’s dance program with his wife, Lucilene de Gues, who is also a professional flamenco dancer originally from Brazil.
“Flamenco is a dance of fierce foot stomping, passionate arm waving, and intense guitar playing that can be a window into the observer’s own culture,” Gilpin said.
He said dancing flamenco takes a lot of time to practice. Each person needs every single part of their body to be connected with the movements and dance.
Gilpin’s mentor was Pablo Rodarte, a Spanish dancer and performer.
“Rodarte helped me to learn flamenco. He had a lot of patience with me. I learned to know how to control body and have synchronization with the steps. It took a lot of focus. I learned to transmit to the people the emotion of the dance,” Gilpin said.
Nowadays, Gilpin and his wife are the co-directors of Sol Y Arena.
“One director of a famous company knows me from years of dance. She told me that flamenco is not very well known in Las Cruces or NMSU. She asked me to start creating a company to help the students,” Gilpin said.
Since Sol Y Arena came to fruition in 2005, about 150 students have majored in dance and focused on flamenco. The company’s main challenge is not practicing with live music. Instead, dancers use recorded music, even though flamenco is traditionally performed with a live guitarist and singer.
“We do not have the resources of flamenco guitarists and singers. For this reason, the dancer is the echo of the voice and also the vehicle for the rhythms of the music to be integrated,” Gilpin said.
“The most important part of the Sol Y Arena company is to work with people who love dance and who are motivated to keep learning and discovering more about it. Each palo, or style of flamenco, each prop such as the fan or the shawl, and each costume has a different meaning and cultural background. Some represent love stories, or narratives of migration. Some are more general and represent an emotion such as loneliness or bravery,” Fonseca said. She has been part of the group since 2013.
Sol Y Arena also provides flamenco and Spanish dance students with the opportunity to live in Spain for a month so they can immerse themselves in the flamenco culture.
“We had three trips to Spain. We took five to 10 students from NMSU per year. Throughout the trips, they participated in workshops and classes while forming longtime bonds with some of Spain’s iconic figures, performers, choreographers, and teachers,” Gilpin said.
“I really love flamenco dance. When I had the opportunity to travel to Spain this last summer it was amazing,” said Cristina Segovia, an undergraduate student of dance at NMSU.
Segovia said the trip to Spain helped her learn more about flamenco and its culture.
“I learned more techniques and how to properly move the fan, the castanet and shawls. We incorporated all things to create the footwork and rhythms,” Segovia said.
Gilpin’s techniques are designed to make the class interactive. He teaches how feet move across the floor and relate to ballet or ballroom.
“I want the students to know the differences of dance and really understand their meaning,” Gilpin said.
Yet even with Gilpin’s talents and immense passion for dance, he has never entered a dance competition.
“For me, a competition of dance was not my goal because it is not something that I am looking for. To tell the truth, I hate competitions… winning is doing [your] best and I am doing it,” Gilpin said.