Ernesto Hernandez, Flamenco Exponent

26 Apr

Ernesto Hernandez, also known just as Ernesto, died April 23, the last I believe of that intrepid band of dancers who peopled The Spaghetti Factory in its earliest manifestations.  Others may be alive, but Ernesto was one of the original  Los Flamencos de la Bodega.

I know comparatively little about him, and yet he was part of my dance landscape in late ‘Fifties and early ‘Sixties.  I know his family was Puerto Rican, and he may have been born there, though he came to San Francisco early on and, at one time, studied at San Francisco City College.  There was a time when he was a member of Jay No Period Marks’ Contemporary Dancers which was frequently dubbed “the Contemptibles.” Years later, he spoke of the peon work the dancers were expected to accomplish at the old Washington Street Playhouse, on the south side between Polk and Van Ness which also had been an interim studio for San Francisco Ballet before it moved to 18th Avenue.  That memorable wooden edifice has since been replaced by a nondescript apartment building.

I may have seen him dancing flamenco at that time because I had a chance to chat with him and said, “You’re going to have to choose what you emphasize – modern or flamenco and I think it should be flamenco.”  I cannot take full credit for influencing Ernesto, but he did leave Washington Street for North Beach and The Old Spaghetti Factory,  that remarkable institution with its pigeon hole-sized theater.  He and Isa Mura, mother of  Yaelisa, were among the stalwarts, at a time when the visiting Spanish troupes included Carmen Amaya, Teresa and Luisillo, Ximenez and Vargas,  Pilar Lopez and later Jose Greco.  To the best of my memory, the Bodega crowd predated Cruz Luna and Rosa Montoya with Ciro in North Beach, the latter two attracting the more chic crowd, the die-hard lovers with limited pocketbooks gathering around the Spaghetti Factory.

Ernesto lived in North Beach after the Bodega troupe disbursed, continuing to sing and perform, working in a specialty shop for the main source of his lilvelihood..  I talked to him when Joanna Harris was organizing a two-day celebration of Bay Area dance history which  launched  the research resulting in her photographic history of Bay Area dance titled Beyond Isadora. He arranged to have Yaelisa represent the flamenco tradition in the closing performance of the two-day conference.

After Ernesto’s long-term partner died, he was evicted from their flat, but helped by friends to find lodging.  I saw him briefly on the #1 California bus  perhaps six months ago looking quite dapper. I can only assume that his fondness for alcohol contributed  to his death.   I remember with affection his warmth and full bodied engagement with the flamenco tradition, a truly memorable individual.  Ernesto, we owe you a salute for what you gave with such heart.

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3 Responses to “Ernesto Hernandez, Flamenco Exponent”

  1. Go to my site May 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Howdy! This article could not be written any better!

    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept preaching about this. I’ll send this post to him. Fairly certain he’s
    going to have a very good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    • woollywesterneye May 20, 2013 at 2:29 am #

      Many thanks for your comments about my post on Ernesto. During his active years
      he was a genuine delight, cheerful and totally there. Unfortunately, he lapsed
      into alcoholism which invaded his performing capacities. After his partner died,
      a number of flamenco exponents rallied around him, found his senior housing and
      cared for him until the end. I believe he knew he was appreciated and that’s really
      what counts.

      • Ruchama Rubinger August 12, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

        I just happened to come upon your post about Ernesto Hernandez, flamenco dancer. I had the pleasure of working with Ernie in Miami, Florida in the mid to late eighties. Yes, his alcoholism was his downfall – but when he wasn’t totally out of it, he was a fabulous showman and knew how to get the most out of the people with whom he worked. I had talent and a flamenco soul, but he made me a really good performer. He taught me so much! We were quite successful in Miami. We both worked with Miguel Herrero and Chuco Vidal when El Cid Restaurant opened on Flagler Street in Miami. Unfortunately, Sr. Herrero tired of Ernie’s drinking and got rid of him. I stayed on for a while, but performing was never the same for me without Ernesto. I changed careers and finally lost contact with Ernie as I moved around a lot for a while. I miss him and think of him often. I was sorry to hear how rough his later years were – about the eviction, etc. Thanks for your kind words about him. La Chiquitina

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