The art of Flamenco - Spain's folk dance, song and guitar

Traditional Flamenco dancer.
Traditional Flamenco dancer. | Source
Flamenco music scale.
Flamenco music scale. | Source
Flamenco in Cordoba, Spain.
Flamenco in Cordoba, Spain. | Source

Flamenco Guitar Music

Source

Flamenco

Any visit or trip to Spain, must be accompanied with a night out seeing the art of Flamenco, Spain's traditional folkloric dance, song and guitar The highlight of a Spanish trip is not complete without witnessing the passionate, intricate footwork of the dance, the deep profound sadness and anguish of the songs, the trill of the gypsy influenced guitar playing, and the loud stacatto hand clapping that all converge to create an emotional, heart stomping evening experiencing the passionate culture of Spain.

Women and men stand proud and upright and unleash their emotions and passions on stage through dance and music and that reverberates throughout the performance and each person in the audience feels.

Flamenco is a genre of Spanish music, song, and dance from Andalusia, in southern Spain. The word flamenco means "flamingo" a native bird to southern Spain found all along the migratory routes of the Romani people (gypsies) from India to North Africa. This genre grew out of the Andalusian and Romani (gypsy) music and dance styles. The actual word, flamenco, was not recorded as a musical term in Spain until the late 18th century.

No one is sure how or when flamenco began in Spain, and there are several hypotheses as to how it came about. It may have originated as a Spanish colloquialism to label the dance as resembling the bird's elegant movements. Flama means flame or fire and enco is a suffix which means "quality of" or having a similarity to. It also might refer to Muslim Andalusians (Moriscos) who stayed in Spain and mixed with the Romani newcomers when the Spanish reclaimed their land in 1492.

Flamencos beginning in the 18th century popular theatre used performers that were professional. They originally learned from other performers as in an apprentiship and not in dance schools or conservatories. The lack of formal training lead to interesting varieties of flamenco with interesting harmonies in the music. Today, the guitarists undergo rigorous professional training and usually can read and play other musical styles. The dancers take courses in ballet and contemporary dance as well as flamenco dancing.

Also, today, the art of flamenco includes cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), and palmas (handclaps) . All four are included to complete the flamenco performance.

When I studied at the University of Salamanca many years ago, I studied baile flamenco (dancing). I was a former ballet student in the U.S, and that helped me immensely in learning baile flamenco. Each movement from the head to the toes is precise and has a specific line and meaning to it. It is not an easy type of dancing to learn, because it is so precise with staccato tapping of the feet and at the same time keeping the arms moving and curving around the body. Flamenco dancers have to multi-task throughout the dance. The best part for me was learning to snap the castanets and snap open and close my fan which I mysteriously used to hold just below my eyes. Even the eye movements have meaning in flamenco.

I did not come away a professional flamenco dancer. I only studied two days a week and learned the basics - just enough to appreciate the time and work it takes to become a professional in this art. Also the best part were the dresses we got to borrow and wear during our practice sessions. I will never be a flamenco dancer on stage in Spain, but I learned enough to confidently show my Spanish classes - especially the castanets and the fan. It was a fun class but very humbling at the same time. And a flamenco dancer has to have a little life experience to properly convey the passion and emotion it takes to dance this.

When viewing a flamenco performance, and there are several different kinds, most viewers are captivated by the dancing, which is foremost in the presentation. But, it is the music, or canto, that is the heart and soul of the art of flamenco. The music is the traditional melodies and songs mostly of gypsy origin.The metre and time of the music and the layout of the palo is what is so important to the music. The palo is the specific emotional and rhythmic style of the music that makes up this traditional heritage of the art of flamenco. Each of the palos expresses a unique emotion and the cante jondo is the most important one of all. Here the music is deep and profound and intensely sad. It conveys the themes of death, anguish and despair. At times it is sung palo seco or without guitar accompaniment.The cantadores, or singers, are part of the cante flamenco which is part of the tradition in the Andalusian region of Spain.

The flamenco baile is the dance part of the flamenco performance. It is best known as the staccato steps, proud posture, and lifted head while dancing. The movements are dramatic and sharp with the arms extended or curved around the body. The dance and music of flamenco originally began in the gypsy caves in and around the city of Granada in the Andalusian region of Spain. This original form, flamenco puro, can be viewed today in the caves. In this form the dance is always performed solo and is improvised rather than choreographed and castanets are not used.

The commercialized form of flamenco for the tourists includes group dancing for variety reasons along with male and female solo dancing. It is more choreographed than improvised and the female dancers are dressed in the ruffled spotted dresses worn for the annual Feria in Sevilla at Eastertime. This type of flamenco is usually performed in the cantinas and nightclubs of Spain.

The classical flamenco style usually performed in the theaters, is unlike the gypsy flamenco as there is little movement of the hips. The body is tightly held and the arms are long like a ballet dancer. Many dancers are trained in ballet as well as flamenco. Flamenco baile is a highly technical dance style and requires years of study. The female dancers usually use castanets, shawls and fans.

The dancers of flamenco must have a passion and understanding of emotions and exhibit emotional maturity during the dance. They must show an electrifying passion and attack the dance to convey the "duende" or soul of flamenco. Therefore, older men and women are needed and many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until the ages of thirty and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond. This is not a dance for the young and lighthearted.

The last intrical part of flamenco is the toque or guitar playing part of flamenco. The toque produces a flurry of notes and the flamenco guitar sound is often heard as percussive. It uses a lot of highly modified and open chord forms to create a solid drone effect. Very little traditional flamenco music is written, but is mostly passed on hand to hand.

To play the toque, the flamenco guitarist crosses his legs and supports the guitar on whichever leg is on top. He places the neck of the guitar nearly parellel with the floor. This posture accomodates the different playing techniques and makes it easier and more relaxed if the upper arm is supported at the elbow by the body of the guitar. The guitar music is many times improvised to capture the emotional intensity of the moment.

The highlight of any trip to Spain is attending a performance of the art of flamenco, whether it is in a gypsy cave, a nightclub or the theatre. Here the visitor will begin to feel and understand the passions and emotions of the Spanish people and their culture. The deep Andalusian gypsy influence in the dance and music cannot be denied when viewing a flamenco performance.

Rafael de Utrera,  one of Spain's leading Flamenco singer today.
Rafael de Utrera, one of Spain's leading Flamenco singer today. | Source
Flamenco guitar.
Flamenco guitar. | Source

Flamenco in Barcelona, Spain

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Comments 34 comments

StayPos profile image

StayPos 4 years ago from Florida, USA

Suzette,

This hub is a wonderful expression of the mixture of song, music and culture can be so interesting!

Thanks for sharing your descriptive and moving recollection of the art of Flamenco.

If ever I travel to Spain (which is definitely possible) I'll certainly have to experience it up close and personal.

Voted up and awesome!

All the Best


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

StayPos: Thanks so much for reading this and for your comments. I do hope you get to Spain someday and see a Flamenco performance. It is so moving and interesting. I appreciate your interest and your visit.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

I love flamenco. It oozes with passion and sensuality. There is nothing quite like a warm, Spanish evening with the throbbing rhythm of the music and haughtiness of the dancers. It makes me want to be in Spain!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Peanutritious: I'm with you, it makes me want to be in Spain! I never tire of seeing a performance of Flamenco - it is beautiful and passionate as you say. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments - most appreciated!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Such a fascinating music, art, culture. It seems obvious now, but I had no idea that flamenco was indeed flamingo! :) And I was not aware that it originated in Andalusia. Wonderful hub full of music, dance, and beauty.

When we lived in Greece for three years, we did some traveling, but we never made it to Spain. Now I have. :) Sharing of course!


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

Oh Suzette...you really touched me with this one. I was a Spanish major in college and always wanted to go to Spain, but never made it. Just couldn't afford it. BUT...I loved Flamenco and went to see every troupe that visited my city. One night I started flirting with one of the male dancers while he was performing. After the show I went backstage to see if I could "get something started"...all seemed lost until I headed back up the long dark starwell. I suddenly heard a male voice say "Senorita! Un beso por favor". Gotta tell you, that was one kiss I never forgot...and was the only one I ever got from a Flamenco dancer. How sweet it was to be young and adventurous, and how very much I still love Flamenco! Voted up and awesome.


LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 4 years ago from WA

I've always thought Flamenco is such a beautiful and passionate dance. I never realized that there were different versions or that the musicians and dancers had to be so knowledgeable in order to be successful. I had a Spanish teacher in college who was also a Flamenco dancer. We always begged her to dance or at least share a video but she never did. All she did was bring in her dancing shoes one day, which was cool but not nearly as exciting.

Thanks for sharing! I'd love to go to Spain one day and see this for myself.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I love the music and dance. I love the photos and all the information you have shared. Voted UP and sharing.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

phdast7: I bet you will get to Spain someday. It is a beautiful country, but having its own economic problems right now. I'm so glad you read this and enjoyed it. I love flamenco and never miss seeing a show when I am in Spain. Thanks for the visit and I appreciate your comments!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Timetravler: You were a Spanish major also? That's great. I'm so glad you enjoyed this article and that it brought back great memories for you. What a great Flamenco story you have! I've never flirted with nor kissed a male Flamenco dancer before in all the performances I've seen. How fun that must have been. Well, you had a great Spanish experience if you ask me. Thanks so much for reading this - most appreciated.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Lisa: Hi, I've been so busy this weekend and am just getting to comments. Thank you so much for reading this. If a flamenco performance comes to your town, be sure to see it. It is beautiful and passionate as you say and I think you would love it. I hope you get to Spain one day - it is a beautiful country and the Spanish people are so friendly. Study Spanish there if you ever have the opportunity to do so. It is so much fun. Thanks so much for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it! Your visit is most appreciated!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks so much for your visit and your vote, Carol. I appreciate it. I'm so happy you enjoyed this piece. Flamenco is so beautiful, intense, and passionate and I have always loved it. It was fun to write this article. Thanks for your comments.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

Suzette, you are extremely artistic and talented. the flamenco is such a graceful dance!! a beautiful write, I share on the Hubpages Writer's Community on FB, and here on HP.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

midget: Thank you so much for the compliments. I really do appreciate it. I love flamenco dancing and never miss seeing this when I am in Spain. It is so beautiful and passionate and just makes my soul soar. Thanks so much for reading and for your input. Most appreciated!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

...well I just keep away from your hubs - I am like an ant on a mountain of sugar - here - and this world class presentation is no exception - I am a big fan of Carlos Montoya, the Gypsy Kings and Paco de Lucia and of course I love the 'dance' itself - big fan of all styles of dances especially classical ballet.

You do such great justice to this particular art form though.

Will post this madly and gladly to my Facebook group Let's just talk music or cinema and sending you warm wishes from lake erie time 8:15pm before I head out the door for work.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Epi-The warmest of wishes to you, too, always. Your opinion means so much on this particular article. This took me forever to write. While I knew a lot about the dance, the music and guitar were more difficult for me. You really know your music-I am so impressed. Your knowledge base is like world wide. Have you studied music? Self taught? I took ballet as a child, but do some at home on my own now. I too love dance and I' m really just getting into vocal music in my "old" retirement here.Lol. Never to old to learn! Thanks so much for your visit and for the share-You are a gem, Epi.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Very interesting to read and well done on learning the art of it. I didn't realise there was so much to flamenco dancing. Now I'm wondering which is easier.... The Samba, The Salsa or The Flamenco?

As the hosts say, on UK's Strictly Come Dancing Show: "Keep Dancing." :-)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

For me the Samba is the easiest, but I love Latin music and dances in general. So glad you enjoyed this piece and thanks for stopping by to read and comment - most appreciated!


StephSev108 profile image

StephSev108 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

What a beautiful hub...I love it. Thank you!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 3 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Steph Sev108: Thank you - I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Thank you for visiting and for your comments.


marieryan profile image

marieryan 3 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

I am so glad I found this hub. I too am an 'aficionada' to flamenco and am lucky enough to live in a small town in Andalusia where I can see 'real' flamenco performed very often.

I attend the performances as much as to observe the audience as the flamenco performers. (Not quite true but you know what I mean. ) Passion is transmitted from the performers to the audience and it is considered the greatest compliment to a performenr if a member of the audience shouts out an "Olé" or other such interjections during the performance.

Thanks for the lovely photos and videos too


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

A truly beautiful dance, from what I have seen on television. I have never seen it danced in person but would love to. SUch a passionate dance.Voted up and interesting.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 3 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Crystal: Thank you so much for your kind comments and I'm glad you enjoy flamenco dancing. It is such an expressive and passionate dance, and I love it. I have always loved the passion of Spain and have been fortunate to spend a lot of time there. Just a beautiful, wonderful country and a friendly people.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 2 years ago

Nice job. I'm a flamenco fan also. Several years ago I spent a very late, very memorable evening at Pena Flamenca La Plateria in Granada where I acquired a love of flamenco and a taste for fino (chilled dry sherry).


VVanNess profile image

VVanNess 2 years ago from Prescott Valley

Oh, I've always loved the Hispanic culture. It's so romantic and has a flare like no other culture on Earth. Thank you for this beautiful article!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Ralph: What a great flamenco experience you had in Granada. That is one of the best places to see flamenco. And the Spanish sherry is to die for. So glad you enjoyed reading this and it brought back good memories for you. I have always loved Spain and have visited it many times. Such a passionate country.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

VVanNess: Yes, the hispanic culture is wonderful and so is Spain. It is one of my favorite countries to visit. So passionate and it comes out in the flamenco dance.


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 2 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

I spent some 6 months in Andalusia, in a mountain house - cortijo - near a small village called Lanjaron. There I saw and heard flamenco in the flesh for the first time. Such passion, such intensity. Late into the night I watched, until the dancers were exhausted and the audience, let's say, satiated. There are many different forms of this rhythmic art.

Votes and a share.


StayPos profile image

StayPos 2 years ago from Florida, USA

Suzette,

Thanks for a great share about the wonderful culture and art of Flamenco! It takes me back to when I visited Spain as a teenager. Your hub just allowed me to do a little time traveling!

All the Best,

StayPos


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

chef: So glad you enjoyed reading this and appreciated it so. I love the Andalusian region of Spain and how fortunate you were able to live there for an extended time. I spent a summer in Salamanca studying there and made trips to Andalusia. It truly is the heart of Spain. Did you see Flamenco danced by the gypsies in their caves? That is truly an experience and from what you say it sounds like that is what you saw. It is much different than the flamenco you see in the nightclubs which cater to tourists. I love Spain and anything Spanish, too. It is a wonderful, passionate country.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi StayPos: So good to hear from you again! I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. So you have spent time in Spain also? It is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture and flamenco is one of the best parts of its culture. I am so pleased this brought back pleasant memories for you!


MelRootsNWrites profile image

MelRootsNWrites 2 years ago from California

An excellent article on Flamenco. I enjoyed the history and the descriptions. I've always enjoyed this style of dance. I appreciate how powerful the female seems in Flamenco. She can hold her own.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Suzette. I loved this hub. We were actually planning on going to Spain but instead opted to go to France. This really is a fascinating region of Spain and we were excited about seeing the Flamingo Dancers. It really is an art.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

bdedgiulio: I hope to you get to Spain soon. It is a favorite place of mine and the flamenco dancing in Andalusia is beautiful. You can even see it performed in gypsy caves or in nightclubs. France isn't a bad place to visit either so I can understand your going there. LOL! Spain has a passion for life that is unique and not the same in any other European country.

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