Flamenco in a Nutshell
The Webster’s dictionary defines Flamenco both as a style of music as well as a style of dance. Rightly so, because Flamenco is not just one performing art form, but several of them included under the umbrella name of Flamenco. The different performing arts we are talking about are: Baile (dance) Cante (singing) and Toque (guitar playing). Each one of these aspects of Flamenco is a distinct art form in its own right.
Flamenco, which originated as a multiculturally influenced oral tradition of the people of Southern Spain, has become an internationally recognized performing art form and world music genre.
When Flamenco exactly began is a mystery. Nobody can state for sure that Flamenco began on a specific day, month or year. However, we know that the type of dancing identified today under the generic name of Flamenco such as rhythmical foot stomping dancing as in the Farrucas, or sensual hip-moving dances to singing and clap accompaniment as in the Tangos, were already documented in Spain since the time of the Roman Empire.
If we want to keep it simple, we could say that it was during the 18th century that we find the first written sources using the name Flamenco referring to some of these ancient Spanish dance traditions characterized by swaying of the hips, rotation of the wrists, rhythmic foot stomping, proud postures and fiery turns, accompanied by clapping, guitar and castanets.
The etymology of the word Flamenco is a controversial subject. There are many theories about the origin of the word “Flamenco.” Presenting and discussing these theories is a subject for a whole other article.
In this article, I would like to focus on the different aspects of Flamenco as a performing art.
Baile is the Dance. Those who interpret it are called Bailaor/Bailaora. In Flamenco, we find dances that are traditional, such as the Bulerías, Tangos, Rumbas and Sevillanas. We also find non-traditional dances, such as the Siguiriyas, Tarantos, Martinetes, and Campanilleros. These type of dances were created by specific Flamenco artist as interpretative dances of Flamenco songs.
Cante is the Song or Singing. A singer is called Cantaor/Cantaora. In Spain, Cante is just as important as Baile, sometimes, even more. When the singer sings for a dancer it is called Cantar pa’l Baile. When a singer sings Flamenco as a soloist it is called Cantar P’alante.
Toque is the guitar playing. When dancing or singing takes place without Toque, it is called “a palo seco.” Guitarists in Flamenco are mostly men. The Flamenco guitar player is called el Tocaor, or el Guitarrista. In the case of a woman, she could be called la Tocaora or la Guitarrista. In recent years, it has become popular again to interpret Flamenco using a variety of instruments. Yet, the guitar is still the most traditional and characteristic instrument.
Flamenco expresses the whole spectrum of human emotions: from the deepest sorrow of the jondo styles as in the Siguiriyas, Soleares and Peteneras, to the most joyful and playful expressions of the soul as in the Tangos, Bulerías and Alegrías. Either way, your spirit soars, while your body follows the beat.
This essay is a free lesson from the course: Recognizing Flamenco Styles, based on The Legendary Gypsy Masters Anthology
About the author
Native Spaniard Puela Lunaris, who holds a B.A. degree in Dance Education and Spanish Language and Culture from the State University of New York, is a unique, professional dancer, workshop leader, lecturer, filmmaker, writer, producer and spoken-word artist using many mediums of expression to integrate the primordial aspects of dance with the cutting-edge aspects of technology.
As founder of Dances of the World Society, Puela has developed The Chanelar Flamenco Project, a program focused on saving aspects of Flamenco in danger of extinction. In addition, she is the curator, artistic director and producer of the Legendary Gypsy Masters Anthology, designed to make it easy and fun for people to recognize Flamenco styles.
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