Lionel Félix, Executive Producer of the Toronto International Flamenco Festival
Interview by: Suzie Walker
Part 1 of 3
Everything tangible in this world starts with an idea. When and why did you come up with the idea to create the Toronto International Flamenco Festival?
The decision to create an International Flamenco Festival in Toronto came to me in 2007, but ideas leading up to this had been evolving in my mind for many years. I wanted to find a way to foster growth in the Canadian flamenco scene because of what I experienced while studying flamenco. What I went through sparked different ideas, which helped to develop my mandate for the festival today. Through the festival I am aiming to foster the growth of our Canadian flamenco artists, to introduce new people to flamenco, and to promote the growth and scope of flamenco audiences in Canada.
It all began when I started studying dance after being a football player. I started taking ballroom dance in the early 1990s and I began to pursue flamenco in 1995. Through my dance training I discovered that something was very different in the world of dance from what I experienced in the world of sport. In Athletics, each coach always tries to raise each athlete to that next level, and pushes his athletes to make sure there is constant improvement. An example of a coach’s goal would be to try and train an athlete to be good enough to enter the NFL. When I started to become involved in dance, I discovered that both teachers and students were just focused on their own schools. In sports the different teams would mingle with each other in spite of the fact that there was competition between teams. However in dance, especially flamenco, the different schools were not even talking to each other. Witnessing this caused me to think, “Wow! Something needs to change here”.
Often dancers and artists work by themselves, or within their own schools and companies, so their efforts take place in a small isolated system. This isolation does not help the bigger picture. When I started studying at a flamenco school, it took me two to three years to realize that there were other flamenco schools and companies in Toronto. I thought this was strange and felt that there has to be a way to bring everyone together. I realized that building bridges between flamenco schools would promote the betterment of each school, and in turn this would improve the art of flamenco in Canada. I feel that dance should be approached with the big picture in mind, and with everyone involved working together.
I came up with the idea of creating something bigger for the flamenco community in 2006 when I had kids and therefore had less time to dance. I started working with a partner to organize workshops that would involve top flamenco artists from Spain teaching in Toronto. This partnership didn’t work out so I decided to continue on my own path and do my own thing. When trying to figure out what my next step would be, my wife Alexandra Félix said “Don’t think of a workshop, think of something bigger”. Alexandra is normally the source of many big ideas. Hence the whole concept of the Toronto International Flamenco Festival arose. After doing some research I realized that Toronto, or even Canada didn’t have a festival that was like the one I was envisioning. I put the wheels into motion and from August 10 to August 15th 2007 we had our first flamenco festival. It was a great success and I was very emotional when I saw the artists from Spain onstage. It was amazing to see something that I had been imagining come to life.
Many people have great dreams, but they remain in the minds of the individuals who think them up. What do you think is the driving force behind the fact that you actually made the flamenco festival happen?
That is an excellent question. I think that most people have to realize that when you get an idea, it is because God, or a higher power gave you that idea. He also gives you the ability to do it. Where most people go wrong is they rely on their friends for feedback about the idea. From that point on, you get a lot of negativity coming up because instead of being encouraged to go through with your idea, friends often see it through their own eyes and they feel that your idea is not possible because of their own limitations. When friends tell you that your idea is impossible, you will become discouraged and not follow through.
In addition, I was reading approximately one book a week about motivation and leadership. If you immerse yourself with positive information you are actually re-conditioning your mind so that you won’t dwell upon perceived limitations. When you read about people who have set large goals and have achieved them, you say to yourself “Well if they can do it, so can I”.
I remember when I read the book “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield, it said that “When you are creating something, you have to make sure that it is good for all levels involved”. When conceptualizing the festival I asked “Is it good for me? Is it good for flamenco? Is it good for Canada and the world in general?” and when I went deeper the answers to all of these questions were yes. If you look at your goal from Jack Canfield’s perspective and determine that everything is beneficial for all who are involved, you know that there is something amazing about your goal because instead of it being an egotistical thing, it is something that will embellish the world. This is what I am trying to do with the festival.
It takes courage to embark upon a project as large as creating an international festival. Did you have any childhood experiences, which helped you develop this type of courage?
I grew up in Montreal, and when I was a kid I used to deliver newspapers at 6 AM every morning. It was the early 1980s when the snow in Montreal was very high, and I had to get up when it was very cold and finish my route. What this experience did was built up my stamina. I used to deliver La Presse, and the Wednesday and Saturday papers were very heavy and I didn’t have the money to buy a toboggan, so I just carried them all on my back. I started this when I was 12 years old and continued with my paper route until I was 17. This job taught me that I could continue with and complete my route no matter what the conditions were like outside.
I was also a football player and started playing when I was 14 years old. This was really helpful for me because at the time I was chubby and needed to find a way to lose weight. I looked at other sports but I chose football because it was the hardest. I thought that choosing a tough sport would be the fastest way to reach my goal, which was to lose weight. I think participating in any sport will shape your personality because you know you have to keep going no matter what. We were playing football with slush on the ground and when I started, my position was left tackle and in this position I had to put my fingers into the slush and snow. This was cold and painful, but it was not an option to say “It is not a nice day today so I’m not going to play”.
It is important to have small victories along the way like delivering papers in the snow or playing football in horrible weather. It is also valuable to be surrounded by encouraging coaches. I think my parents helped with this in all aspects. My Mom always taught me how to do the right thing. If you have surroundings that make you feel that you can’t achieve then eventually you will succumb to the weakness. If you have surroundings where people are beating on you saying, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that”, you are at a disadvantage. The most important thing is to be in a positive encouraging environment.
Another thing that taught me mental strength is when I was17 years old, my Dad gave me the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The messages in this book have affected my life in a very positive way. I’ve read this book probably five times and I know I will read it again.
to be continued….
The Toronto International Flamenco Festival supports Canadian Flamenco artists by producing world-class workshops and shows. This year’s workshops run from Sunday, October 17, 2010 and offers classes in Flamenco singing, guitar and dancing for all levels.
Visit the Official Festival site for information and tickets – Toronto International Flamenco Festival.