flamenco_2.jpgFlamenco of Southern Spain

By Mary Heberling

What is Flamenco?

Flamenco is a type of dance, which has been around for over 500 years, and originated in Southern Spain, mainly the Andalusia region. The popular songs and dance of Andalusia were very influential to flamenco as well as the gypsies of that region who were said to have created the dance style.

Flamenco is a flamboyant dance that deals with rhythm, song, expressive with lots of emotion, and colorful clothing fashion, which at first represented gypsy fashion of Spain, but has now turned to more costume-like fashion. There are multiple styles of dance in flamenco based on the type of music played. There are over 50 “palos”, music styles, each categorized and performed differently. The three most popular forms of flamenco dancing are: Flamenco Puro, Classical Flamenco, and Flamenco Neuvo. Both men and women dance in Flamenco, some dances may be traditionally just for men or women, but now many women have started to dance the men part so it’s not as set in just one gender dancing that style. In Flamenco there is a raw, mature emotion that usually is emitted, also called duende meaning “soul,” during the dance. Many younger girls are said not to be ready or mature enough to emit that kind of emotion. You will see many professional flamenco dancers in their 40s and 50s dancing. This is very unusual in other dance forms, but the “peak” for flamenco professional dancers is much older than other styles of dance.

The history of Flamenco is very unique, interesting, and unknown, which will be discussed in the next section.


Flamenco originated in Andalusia, but parts of Extremadura and Murica have also helped in developing some styles of flamenco. It has been around for about 500 years, but much of the dance is unknown due to theregionsofspain.jpg oral tradition of the style. Families would pass down stories and songs of flamenco. It wasn’t until documented until 200 years ago and the word flamenco wasn’t used until the 18th century, written in Las Cartas Marruecas of Cadalso in 1774. This causes much controversy in the origins of flamenco because the actual evidence of the dance is very new. Oral tradition usually causes change over time because people adapt the style to their own influences; therefore historians have a hard time figuring out the actual origins of flamenco.
There are some ideas as to who originated the dance. The most popular would be that gypsies as the original inventors of flamenco. Many people say that the Moorish, shepardic, Andalusian, and gypsy cultures influenced flamenco before and after the Reconquest. The Georgians, Jews, and Catholics also influenced Flamenco, but it will always been known as the music of the gypsies and part or their social community.

Flamenco has different stages of the development in history from the 18th century:

- DFLAMENCO-FOTO-2-719676.jpguring the 18th century flamenco fiestas were developed. This was a party that could last for days where flamenco was performed either for payment or not. These parties had a very complex set of rules.

- Late in the 18th century flamenco started to become more popular with the replacement of the 5 string guitar to the 6 string guitar.

- Between 1869-1910 was the Golden Age of Flamenco. This was when flamenco started to develop quickly in cafés that offered ticketed performances. This was new to people and it took off making the dancers attractions for the public. This helped to make flamenco into an art form.

- In 1922 came the period called Etapa Teatral (the Theatrical Period). The cafés where flamenco was performed in the Golden Age were now becoming larger venues like theaters. This made flamenco very popular and they would mix different genres as well to create more of a show. However, some “purists” believed this was the beginning of making Flamenco over commercialized.

- After 1955, a Flamenco “revolution” happened. Those well known in the cafés soon became bigger and moved to larger venues and became even more popular. Due to this the guitar became more popular as well and it eventually starting playing as its own art form.

An interesting fact about the history of flamenco is that it was used as propaganda during the beginning of the Franco era in Spain. When the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War came into power, many thought flamenco would come to virtual extinction. This was because flamenco was so closely associated with the gypsies, who were an ethnic minority and not popular with the nationalist party. However, Franco decided to use flamenco has a tool to cheer up the Spaniards, make them forget about the horrors of the civil war, and also provide pretty pictures for tourists to see. This is probably a main factor is why flamenco became even more popular in Spain and all over the world.

- Now Flamenco is a huge attraction with beautiful ornate costumes and is performed in three forms of expression: the toque (the flamenco guitar), the cante (singing), and the baile (dancing).

The Toque (The Guitar)

The toque is the gFlamencoGuitar.jpguitar used for flamenco performances and dances. It wasn’t incorporated into flamenco until the 19th century, so it is relatively new to flamenco in comparison to the singing and dancing. The toque is very similar to a classical guitar and a descendant of the lute. One of the differences between the toque and the classical guitar is that the toque is equipped with a barrier called a golpeador. That is for protecting the guitar when playing rhythmic finger taps on the guitar. When playing the flamenco guitar, it can be similar to classical guitar, but there are some techniques unique to it:
Golpe- tapping fingers against the golpeador above or below the strings in a rhythmic pattern
Picado- single line scales played using an aggressive style
Rasgueado- when a guitar player strums on the guitar strings in a flicking manner of their fingers
Alzapua- when a guitar player uses their thumb to strum across the strings or for single-line notes
Tremolo- different from classical guitar tremolo because the right hand pattern is p-i-a-m-i

Here is a video showing the toque aspect of flamenco with composer and artist Vincente Gomez performing:

El Cante (Singing)

Originally flamenco music was just singing, el cante, and palmas, hand clapping. In flamenco there are two types of palmas. The first uses the three middle fingers of one hand being struck against the open palm of the other to produce a sharp precise sound. The second is when the person has cupped the palms of both hands being brought together to produce a more muffled sound. El cante has many influences. Some influences include:

- Punjabi singing of India
- Persian Zyriab song form
- Classical Andalusian Orchestras of the Islamic Empire
- Jewish Synagogue Chants
- Mozarabic forms such as Zarchyas and Zambra
- Arabic Zayal which themselves are the foundation for Fandangos ( a rhythmic pattern used in the music of flamenco)
- Andalusian regional folk forms
- Western African influences via the slaves of the New World Caribbean, Central and South American colonies. These include Rumba , Garotin, Guajiras, Columbianas, etc.

As you can see many of the influences come from all over, but there is a high prominence of Middle Eastern culture, which is very common in southern Spain. The music is in the Phyrygian mode, which is called the “Dorian mode” or “Greek dorian” because Greek music melodies tend to descend, just like flamenco music. This is different than Western melodic patterns, which have increasing melodies. Some people call the singing of flamenco the heart and origin. There are four rhythmic patterns called campas. They are: Solea, Seguidilla, Tango, and Fandango.

Here is a video of the flamenco cante you can also see the palmas, hand clapping, of one of the other artists using the cupped palm style:

El Baile (Dancing)

The dancing of flamenco is very emotional, intense, proud carriage, and expressive use of arms and rhythmic stomping of the feet. The music is very complex making dancing very technical and fast paced. There are three broad categories of flamenco dance:

Baile grande - slower and most serious dances, which correspond to the seriousness of the songscastanets.jpg.
Baile Intermedio - some same elements as baile grande, but lighter in general.
Baile chico – more joyful and lively dances which requires rapid footwork and arm movements.

All dances can be performed by men and women, but also mixed dancing with two or three dancers is appropriate. However, most of the dances are performed as a solo. For female dancers, the movement of the upper body, arms, and hands are key elements to both baile grande and intermedio.

As with many dance forms, different dance styles have been developed:

Flamenco Puro- considered being the closest to the gypsy origins of flamenco. The dance is always performed solo and usually is improvised rather than choreographed. Some flamenco puro dancers don’t like using castanets, small percussion instrument held in your hand as you dance.

Here is a video that illustrates the style of flamenco puro:

“Classical Flamenco” – Considered to be “authentic,” it is characterized by a proud, upright carriage with little movement in the hips and arms are held up high and tight. Since the body is so stiff and upward, many of these flamenco dancers also train in ballet. This is unlike the gyspy flamenco, which is more fluid in the motion of their hips.

Here is a video emphasizing the style of “classical flamenco”, also note the women performer at the beginning wearing traditional men clothing. This became more acceptable later on in the 20th century:

Flamenco Nuevo – As the name mentions, is a new wave of flamenco. The costumes are not as extravagant as other styles and castanets, fans, and shawls are rarely used. The dances are choreographed and include other dance styles into their performances.

Here is a video demonstrating Flamenco Nuevo:

Flamenco Slang:

Flamenco slang is different from Spanish, but unique just to the dance itself. Most of the words deal with song and dance aspect of flamenco:
Hand clapping
Informal gypsy gathering, “jam session”
Rhythmic cycle or layout of palo
Flamenco music styles
The playing of the guitar in Flamenco
Rhythmic feet stomping

Popular Flamenco ArtistsLaArgentina_ElPais.jpg:

La Argentina - the stage name for Antonia Mercé y Luque who was born in Argentina. Her father was from Andalusia and mother Castilian. She originated Spanish dance as a theatrical art. The picture on the right is of her.

Carlos Montoya - famous flamenco guitarist and the founder of the modern-day popular flamenco music style. He would occasionally play with La Argentina.

[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camarón_de_la_Isla|Cámaron (de la Isla)]]
- an infamous flamenco singer, thought to be one of the greatest.


Flamenco! London: Thames & Hudson, 2000. Print.

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"Flamenco Dance History." Central Home Learn to Dance Videos, Exercise Videos, Fitness Videos and Sports Videos DVD Books. Web. 05 Dec. 2009. <http://www.centralhome.com/ballroomcountry/flamenco_history.htm#ixzz0XHZ7GgRO>.

"Flamenco guitar -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 05 Dec. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamenco_guitar>.

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"La Argentina -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 05 Dec. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Argentina>.

Picture Sources:
- http://www.sadlerswells.com/images/genres/flamenco_2.jpg
- http://www.idealspain.com/Illustrations/Maps/regionsofspain.jpg- http://www.enfrentearte.com/hotel-ronda/uploaded_images/FLAMENCO-FOTO-2-719676.jpg
- http://www.freewebs.com/electricgypsy/Emilypic.jpg
- http://travelspain.today.com/files/2009/04/castanets.jpg
- http://3.bp.blogspot.com/__DqFTcOLX0k/Si4PkVAVonI/AAAAAAAAAdQ/EjajuGG2kNs/s320/LaArgentina_ElPais.jpg