Flamenco dancer Maria Osende has blessed the stages of Halifax with a bit of exotic Spain. The multi-talented Maria is also an artistic director, teacher and choreographer. “From very early on I knew I wanted to dance,” says the native of Madrid, a city with a national ballet where dancers are held in high esteem. “It was not easy to make a living from dance in Halifax; the perception often is that it’s not a real profession.” But Maria persevered and now directs her own successful business – the Maria Osende Flamenco Dance Company.
She was well-traveled before her 2003 arrival in Halifax with her husband and three children. At 15 she danced with the National Ballet of Spain; at 17 Maria received a Fulbright Scholarship to New York’s School of American Ballet; and at 19 she joined the Berlin Opera Ballet and ended up staying in Germany for 12 years. There she met her Canadian-born husband who had moved from London to work as an architect following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. They had twin girls, Adriana and Julia, and a son, Alex. During that time she returned to Spain for a year to study dance.
Her husband was offered a teaching position at Dalhousie, and Maria wasn’t optimistic about Halifax. “But I loved it right away! Wow, this place is so beautiful and everyone is so nice.” They arrived just before Hurricane Juan and neighbours fed them for a week. “People were like, who is this dancer from Spain and an architect from Berlin? I felt people were excited we were here. I felt a desire for us to stay.” Maria still misses big city life but she returns regularly to Spain for professional development and to visit her parents and two siblings. Canada is home and, except for the weather, she likes it. The culture, however, is challenging for the self-described “fiery” Spaniard. “It’s a daily effort – the politeness and how everyone says how great you are. It’s nice but I was brought up differently – not with so many compliments!”
People were like, who is this dancer from Spain and an architect from Berlin? I felt people were excited we were here. I felt a desire for us to stay.
She started working here by teaching her neighbours and participating in a fundraiser which attracted attention from the dance community. She was then recommended for a teaching position. “That’s how it works here. You always need a connection.” She taught weekly for “Nova Dance Studio” in St. Margaret’s Bay Community Centre and Maritime Dance Academy before going solo. Many of her students, she explains, are women at a crossroads in their lives. “They find flamenco so empowering.” Maria performs at multicultural festivals and theatres throughout the country and for five years she has served as the only non-Canadian volunteer board member of the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council.
Maria enjoys family life. The children no longer speak German but can converse in Spanish. “Kids adapt easily. And this is a better country for kids; childhood extends longer here.” She notes with a chuckle that they are more interested in paddling and horses than dancing. The area’s potential keeps her here. “There is no real flamenco culture here but people appreciate it a lot more now. There are wonderful resources, an interesting crowd of different communities. I’m excited to be part of that.”