Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Maria Benitez

Honored October 2014

Maria Benitez


A life of fire and passion. She is electric. She is an icon, a living legend in Santa Fe and around the world; Maria Benitez has created a powerful legacy within her lifetime.  A fierce professional, strong and inspiring, Maria Benitez is synonymous with Flamenco dancing and has made Santa Fe one of the top venues for quality flamenco worldwide. She has performed throughout the Americas and Europe and has choreographed for the Metropolitan Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Dallas Opera and many more. In 2006 Maria received Spain’s most prestigious award, (La Cruz de Isabel la Catolica) in recognition for her extraordinary commitment to Spanish Arts.  

Maria with her late husband Cecilo Benitez founded the non profit Institute for Spanish Arts as an arts institute to preserve, strengthen and disseminate the rich and diverse artistic Spanish heritage as expressed through music, dance, visual arts). The program currently teaches children flamenco dance and Spanish guitar year round and has expanded to Santa Fe and northern New Mexico schools.

 Maria’s youth group, the Next Generation, is a troupe of young flamenco dancers that can be seen performing on the Plaza during Fiesta and Spanish Market as well as other venues around Santa Fe.  Many of the Next Generation girls were basically raised in Flamenco, and call Maria their “Flamenco Madre.” Through Benitez’ tireless devotion, Santa Fe is a place where immigrant children and children of privilege alike take the same stage. No one is ever turned away for lack of funds.

Maria’s influence has transcended teaching the art of Flamenco.  Her students write of the huge presence and influence Maria had in their lives. She demanded excellence and inspired the importance of commitment and diligence to the art. They say she was strict, demanding,and incredibly blunt. They learned life lessons of self-awareness, self-critique, teamwork, discipline, work ethic, focus and knowledge. Maria was exactly what every young person needs in their life. 

They said, “Maria always told us to have fire and passion when dancing...she taught me to always continue learning from those who have something to offer; anything is possible and giving up is not an option. I learned that nothing is handed to anyone; that if you want something you have to be relentless in your fight to achieve it.  Being a strong woman doesn’t mean putting your feminity aside, but to be soft, graceful, and understanding even towards one’s enemies. Being professional has more to do with grace and social skills; it’s about respecting yourself and appreciating others, in their respective roles and positions... I have not only learned the wonderful art form of Flamenco, but also how to live life to the fullest...Her kindness instilled in me a confidence to continue, the desire to succeed, the warm feeling that there was a place for me.”

Maria’s students indeed have succeeded....many have pursued  successful professional careers  and several have formed dance companies of their own.

When Maria laughs, it’s the type of laugh that literally comes from the gut, she laughs from deep inside...this is how each and every aspect of Maria’s character is expressed.  She’s intense.  She’s deep and wonderful. She lives from within.

She has soared to great heights, but has kept her famous feet firmly planted in Santa Fe




Story by Nancy Dahl

Photo © 2014 by Genevieve Russell