Meet La Morena: Yinka Esi Graves

You might be familiar with Yinka's story from her piece on following passions and becoming a flamenco dancer in Spain. Well, we're here to share more. We had the opportunity to chat with Yinka a bit more about her experience living in Spain, how she's become a flamenco dancer that tours around Europe, where she finds inspiration and more. 

What are three words that describe YOUR Spain experience?

Enriching/ Challenging/ Happy 

Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in Spain and what you’ve been up to since moving here.

I moved to Spain specifically to learn how to dance Flamenco, I never had any intention of staying very long and I never consciously thought it would turn into my life. 7 and a half years later, I'm fully dedicated to making my life as a Flamenco dancer!

What are three places on your bucket list at the moment?

I'm half Jamaican and I've not been yet so that's number 1! Then, Mali and Iceland!


You’re currently touring with dotdotdot Dance all throughout Europe! How did that come to be and what has your journey been like as a flamenco dancer so far?


dotdotdot dance was created just over a year ago, I joined forces with two other dancers Magdalena Mannion and Noemi Luz to initially just create a show. Everything that we did to put the show together and to take it to the UK (where we're all originally from), soon looked and very much felt like a long term project, so we registered as a company! It's taken me a long time to really say I am a flamenco dancer. I've always felt more comfortable saying I'm learning to be a Flamenco dancer. 


This last year, as more and more opportunities have come my way (and definitely thanks to dotdotdot dance and the amazing experience of taking our show on tour three times in one year) is making me feel more confident about saying, this is what I do! It's a long journey and I feel I'm just at the beginning of it. More than anything I feel blessed to even get a chance to pursue what really was once just a thought!


What has been one of your most memorable moments since living in Spain?

That's a tough one. There have been many amazing moments over the years, I'm very lucky to have met wonderful friends here! The times that have marked me have been when my family have come to visit! They came recently in April and that was magic for me... we were traveling through the beautiful province of Cadiz and just couldn't stop smiling!


What are three things you can’t leave the house without?

My fuchsia pink Moleskine diary (everything goes in there). If I'm leaving the house to go to the studio, I can't live without this gorgeous flask my boyfriend gave me, and i can't leave the house without having sprayed some of my Diamant Fragonard perfume on. I feel naked without it!


Do you have any wise words for those wanting to make the move abroad to follow their dreams but are afraid to do so?

In my experience, whenever I've taken a risk or clearly stepped out of my comfort zone but in the direction of something that I want, I have always found that I have been rewarded. I've moved around a lot and I've always found that it doesn't take long to create and find a community of people to share your experience with. I think in general trusting our desires, if they are real, is vital!


Where do you normally find inspiration?

On a day-to-day basis I find inspiration in the people I love and in the people around me. I'm very close to my family and they inspire me a great deal. Observing the world often inspires me, just standing at a train station looking at how people interact, walk, stand, watching birds go about their business I don't know I take all of it in. I realized that in the a week, I've watched documentaries about Nina Simone, Toni Morrison and Bill Withers; all people whose work has deeply moved me at some point or another, hearing their life stories and visions of the world also inspires me a lot. Reading Zora Neale Hurston's biography a few years back was a huge inspiration! In terms of my dancing, I think I really respond to music so good music will often guide my expression. 


Spanish life… what is your favorite thing about it? What could you do without?

I greatly appreciate the pace of life and the respect for the simple things. I feel like it's still mainly a society about relationships and community. Despite recent economic hardships, people still find time to enjoy their existence because life is not just money here. I really value that. I could do without always feeling different! Having just come back from London, where you can walk down the street without being noticed or looked at, coming back to Spain always takes a while in terms of navigating my outdoor existence, I get a little tired of it. Rarely is it hostile as such, but it's certainly not just 'normal'!

Describe your perfect day.

Perfect days aren't so much about what I do but how I feel usually. One thing I feel a lot of the time, is how lucky I am to wake up next to someone I love and then on top of that get to carve my day as I choose, that's perfect to me.


What motivates you to keep going on the days that are a little tough?

When I'm at my lowest there is always a little voice deep inside that simply doesn't allow me to give up, even though most of me wants to, something doesn't allow me to! This might seem cliché but it's very true, I often think of my african and caribbean ancestors and what might have been through and that also stops me from just giving in. We are survivors, don't give up! 



Finally, what can we expect from Yinka in the near future? Any big plans coming up? 

I don't know about big plans, but I'm definitely trying to put some structure to my yearly routine. Up until now I've very much gone with what's come my way, now I want to put some order and stability in there! I'm working towards really being between Spain and the UK, so let's see how that goes! But as always, as much dancing as possible!

Interview and text by Sienna Brown. Sienna Brown is the founder of Las Morenas de España. From New York to Murcia, Spain, she is constantly on a journey to inspire and be inspired while engaging in different methods of creation.  Her passion for learning about others leads her towards constant exploration and practicing the art of listening as much as she can. See more of her work here and follow her adventures on instagram.