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John Moore: One Man, Two Lives

Author: Mimi Pollack
Created: 21 February, 2018
Updated: 13 September, 2023
3 min read

Do bilingual people change in personality depending on what language they are speaking? Many would say yes, as every language represents a whole culture and a unique worldview.

John Moore, UC San Diego’s new dean of undergraduate education, is an example of this shift in persona through language by living also as “Juan Moro,” a flamenco guitarist.

By day, Moore could be at a class on campus, but on Saturday nights, he plays at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, where he puts on an evening of authentic flamenco along with dancer Lakshmi Basile and singer Bruno Serrano.

At the Cosmopolitan, he is always in alter ego, introducing himself as “Juan Moro” and speaking fluent Spanish. “Moro” says that in classic flamenco, the guitarist follows the singer and dancers, so it’s crucial to know the structure and forms of flamenco.

While communicating in English, Moore revealed he had a doctorate in linguistics. He has taught at UCSD since 1992 and has advanced through the ranks to become Provost of Muir in 2013 and finally Dean of Undergraduate Education.

During conversation, Moore was a bit shy and reserved, unlike “Juan Moro” who had been gregarious and open.
Moore, who was born in Wisconsin and grew up in the bay area, explained that he took up guitar at the age of 13 and began to learn flamenco when he was 16 years old. He graduated high school early and went to study Spanish at San Jose State University. He also studied flamenco at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the North Beach area of San Francisco, a hangout for bohemians and artists.

At 19, he went to Spain where he quickly fell into a flamenco life, playing for dance classes and later touring Greece and the Middle East with a troupe. He became “Juan Moro” while on this tour. His training as a flamenco musician was on the fly and as an eager student of this art he learned all the intimate details of flamenco.

For him, learning flamenco was like learning a language, as you need to understand the different forms and the “palmas,” or clapping of the hands. To see him play, one would never know he can’t read music.

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While he was touring in the Middle East, Moore read a book on linguistics that piqued his interest, so he came back and enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, where he received his degree in linguistics in 1979.

In 1982, he returned to Spain and stayed there until 1985. He then returned to UC Santa Cruz and earned his doctorate in 1991.

In 1992, he came to San Diego. He was hired as a tenure track assistant professor at UCSD. He also connected up with the flamenco community here and began to play at various places. He worked for many years at Café Sevilla in downtown San Diego, La Gran Tapa and Ole Madrid.

As “Juan Moro”, Moore shows that he certainly has absorbed the cultural characteristics of the Spanish language. You can also see the iberian influence flamenco has on him, as he passionately strums his guitar.

As Moore, his more serious, intellectual, and perhaps solid Midwestern side emerges, which fit his duties as a dean. As “Juan Moro”, his love of flamenco shines through his art and persona.

Moore and “Juan Moro” are two sides of the same coin, united by the worlds of language.

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