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