"The knowledge and experience you developed for years were not left behind, they are with you wherever you go".
Country of Origin: Venezuela.
State of Residency: NSW. Favourite place in Australia: The Gap lookout in Watsons bay. Upon arrival: Surprised by the peculiar sound of the local birds. Photo by: Octopus Studio.
By Cristy Abela
Chachy Penalver is a professional flamenco dancer and teacher. Founder of "The Sydney Flamenco Studio". On 2013 she was awarded a scholarship in the "Ciclo Dedicado a la formation completa del Baile Flamenco" at Amor the Dios in Madrid. In 2015 she was awarded as a "Prominent young talent" by the Australian Hispanic Woman Business Network. She recently joined the Venezuelan Association of Australia where she volunteers to fund raise money to send medical supplies to Venezuela.
Tell us your story
My husband Jonathan and I applied to be Australian permanent residents whilst living in Venezuela as we were looking for a better life. We were attracted to its multicultural society, its international aid programs and the friendly carefree character that defines Australians. We migrated in 2012 after a two year process.I was hoping to continue my career as a flamenco dancer. I knew beforehand that the flamenco community wasn't as big as it was back home, due to the vast cultural heritage difference (Venezuela was colonised by Spain). Nevertheless I found there was a flamenco following with schools and professionals performing regularly. So, I contacted flamenco teachers, performers and musicians through different social platforms. I organised catch ups over coffee where I introduced myself. I felt I could have come across as a crazy person but it turns out coffee catch ups are the norm in Australia. These people were very generous with their time. To this day, I still work with those first connections that helped me understand and navigate the local scene.
After a few months, I rented a small space in an artist’s studio where I gave my first classes. I had to move my classes to five different locations in a year because flamenco can get quite loud and not everyone enjoys the noise. Despite these moves I was able to cultivate a strong student base that followed me around throughout the years with loving loyalty. They didn't care if we were doing our classes in a beautiful studio or under the Harbour Bridge on a Sunday morning. The quality of the human beings that I have crossed paths as students and colleagues is without a doubt the biggest gift that this country has given me. After a four year search for the perfect location, including endless nights reading paperwork, construction assessments, a kick-starter campaign, a bank loan and family loans; I was able to establish my own space! On 18 April 2016 The Sydney Flamenco Studio officially opened its doors and today we run daily classes for all levels and ages. At the moment I am also performing constantly in Sydney and trying to find new ways of exposing flamenco to a wider audience within Australia.
In building my reputation I took any opportunity to show my work. One instance took me to busking on the streets of Adelaide during the 2013 fringe festival where I was asked on the spot to lead a few workshops. Now, I feel I am part of the local flamenco scene joining other artists as well as performing independently. I have worked with incredible musicians including Arrebato Ensemble, Bandaluzia Flamenco and La Peña Flamenca. In 2013 and 2015 I collaborated with a group of classical pianists, led by Natalia Ricci, for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
During all my projects, my husband has been always by my side with his unconditional support. He is the best business partner as he cares for us in the most intelligent and loving way. I won the lottery the day I met him. I think from the day we met we realised we both have the same profound respect for freedom (even within a couple). That is something that has bound us in the most beautiful way. I love our life together in Sydney.
Missing the family - Leaving my family and friends back in Venezuela while I came to Australia in search of a better quality of life was hard. What has helped me overcome this is the technology as it has allowed me to keep them present on a daily basis, despite the amount of kilometers between us.
Language - You always think you speak enough English to get by, until you face "Australian English". I spent several months feeling frustrated as I could not fully understand the accent and the slang. Hence, I couldn’t figure out people’s world views. I knew it would take time to be proficient, but I wanted to see the progress immediately. I had to change my perspective and work towards improvement without a time limit. I allowed myself to make mistakes when I speak but to learn from them. I still try to take every moment as an opportunity to improve.
Setting up a business – The process of trying to comply with the council requirements to establish the studio was a lengthy difficult process. We spent hours reading legal documents about noise regulation, building's fire structure resistance, and disability regulations amongst other things in order to get council approval for the project. I remember there was a point when my husband and I thought on quitting the project and facing debt. We are resilient and managed to find strength to keep going.
Resilience - I think Latinos are inherently very resilient as we come from countries where achieving things is very difficult. We work hardand to look for opportunities where all you can see its difficulties. If we believe in our work or idea, we will make it happen.
Warmth - Latinos are people who like to see into each other’s eyes and to show affection without shame. We kiss and hug each other to say hello (even if you are just meeting that person for the first time). This warmth brings joy into people’s hearts. In this sense I feel Australians are more reserved than Latin Americans.
Welcoming attitude - Australians are humble, friendly people, with a wonderful sense of humour and a welcoming attitude. This is very similar to how Venezuelans used to be - a space where everyone was welcome as long as you were honest, hard worker and a good-hearted person.
Piece of advice
Be patient - Adapting to a new culture might take a while so give yourself the time and opportunity to appreciate the culture. Approach this with curiosity and without comparisons, as Australia offers you a complete different reality. Learning cultural differences allow us to understand where people’s reactions and world views come from. This in turn helps us coexist by respecting each other. For me it has always been important to remember that it’s me who is trying to find my way, and a place, within a society that has being welcoming to me.
Do not dwell on the past - Most of us have had successful careers before migrating. Once here, we miss having that public recognition and it feels very hard to start all over again. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Don’t try to compare and feel bad for what it feels like a loss. All your past achievements are going to be useful at some stage. The knowledge and experience you developed for years were not left behind, they are with you wherever you go.
Find what makes your heart sing - No matter what it looks like, no matter how difficult it seems, believe that you can achieve what you dare to dream. Work hard to achieve it and make sure you prepare well. So, if migrating is your dream, then explore in depth the local context of the culture you are trying to insert in.
In the next few years...
Chachy would love to create more stage productions to spread the word not only aboutthis incredible art form but also about the importance of arts to humans and the huge impact this can have in young generations. Also, she sees her studio growing and allowing new talents to grow as professionals who can also showcase this dance art on their own. She would love to see the community around flamenco becoming stronger and fruitful. If you wish to contact Chachy email us at firstname.lastname@example.org