Many people have asked me about my stage name “La Chayí”. It came from one of my most favorite and influential teachers in Seville, Pilar Montoya Manzano “La Faraona”. It was a nickname that she had given to me. Pilar had a special talent of giving students nicknames. In my case, she had trouble pronouncing my name Sachiko, so she started to call me “Chayí (or Yayí)”. She tragically died from cancer in March of 2015. As her students, the months before her death were very intense for us. Her passing was so sad for us but also bonded us as dance students. We appreciated her affection toward her students more than anything. She called us “mis niñas” (my girls) instead of ‘my students’. She needed us as much as we needed her.
I was in her last class before she died, and I happened to be the only one who knew the choreography that she had taught us. She put me in front and we showed her our last Tangos. I remember that there was such an amazing sensation running through my body. I no longer knew where I was or what I was feeling. As I danced tears went down my face. I did not want to lose her and I wanted to dedicate my dance to her. I had never felt that way before. Afterwards, I ran to her like a little girl and she took my hands and whispered “Has bailao mu bien (You danced very well)”. That was my last memory of La Faraona.
I returned to Minneapolis one month after her death. It was an emotionally intense time in my life. I was grieving her death and also adjusting to life outside of Seville after living there for five years. I decided to use the nickname “La Chayí” as my stage name to honor La Faraona. I always remember what a giving teacher she was. When I call myself “La Chayí”, it is with pride and I remind myself that I must dance well as she expected me to. It helps me to keep the memory of La Faraona and her love for Flamenco and her students alive.