History of flamenco dance

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The dance is one of the most important parts of a flamenco show. But did you know that it was not until the 18th century that it began to accompany flamenco singing? In fact, in its origin, flamenco singing was performed “a palo seco”, that is to say, it was sung without any kind of accompaniment, other than the voice and some form of percussion with the palms or knuckles on some surface.

Thus, flamenco dance is a later incorporation to the appearance of flamenco, in spite of being one of the main attractions for the tablaos that host different flamenco shows.

Flamenco show: origin of dance

As we have already mentioned, flamenco dance has a history of two centuries and in its evolution, Andalusia has a fundamental role.

The first manifestations that exist of it go back to the descriptions that foreign travellers made in their books, during the 18th and 19th centuries.

For this reason, it is considered that the appearance of flamenco dance may have occurred in this period, although there is no exact data about this origin. This is also true of flamenco itself, whose origin remains a mystery to scholars of this art form.

The explanation for the lack of knowledge about the first appearances of flamenco is due to the origin of the singing itself: flamenco started with singing and was used to express feelings in intimate environments, such as work and one’s family routine.

It was not until the appearance of the singing cafés, in the 19th century, that flamenco took that leap and went from being appreciated at family and friends’ gatherings to becoming a cultural part, especially by Andalusians, who attended a flamenco show in their leisure time.

Returning to the evolution of flamenco dance, we find the text by Jean-Charles Davillier, in 1862, entitled “Viaje por España” (Journey through Spain) and illustrated by Gustavo Doré. This copy, many of which are reproduced, speaks of a different Spain, with stories seen from the perspective of folklore and its people, among which the dance is described as part of this art form as pure and Andalusian as flamenco is.

Another outstanding text that alludes to flamenco dance was described by Serafín Estébanez Calderón, in his book “Escenas Andaluzas”. In the chapter “Un baile en Triana” (A Triana´s danxce), the author tries to transmit, through numerous adjectives, how it is a flamenco juerga with flamenco dancers and singers.

In Andalusia there is no dance without the movement of the arms, without the grace and spicy provocations of the whole body, without the agile looseness of the waist, without the breaks of the waist and without the lively and ardent of the beat, contrasting with the sleepy and restlessness of the sifting, fainting and hanging.

Extract from the book “Escenas Andaluzas”, by S. Estébanez Calderón

In this first stage, the dancers were not professionals, but performed at private meetings and parties to which intellectuals and foreign visitors were often invited. The dancers performed their art to the rhythm of guitarists in the patios of taverns, usually at night parties that lasted until dawn, hence the name “bailaores de candil”.

Cádiz, Granada and the Triana neighbourhood in Seville were three of the places where these flamenco festivals were held the most.

flamenco show

Later on, singing cafés appeared and with them the professionalization of flamenco dance. The artists would get on a wooden platform (called tablaos) where they would perform their art, usually tangos, garrotín, alegrías and soleás.

La Macarrona was one of the great figures of this period, considered the Golden Age of Flamenco.

This stage gave way to other types of shows, and the flamenco show started to be performed in places with more people, and was called “Flamenco Opera”. The dance took a back seat, although it had outstanding figures, such as Pastora Imperio.

Nowadays, the dancers enjoy a high artistic prestige and are considered artists. Without a doubt, passion, strength and duende are three inherent characteristics of flamenco dance.

Characteristics of flamenco dance

If you have attended a live flamenco show, you will have seen that flamenco dance is made up of movements of the feet, hands, arms and body, in other words, that the artist is completely exposed during his performance.

As for the feet, we highlight the zapateado (with a very characteristic percussive sound), the punteado and the pateo.

On the other hand, the movement of the arms is called braceo (from bottom to top and different according to the flamenco style). As a curiosity, the movement of hands and fingers is attributed to women.

Finally, the body, in which we find the torsion, the swaying and the convulsion, attributed to the moment of the flamenco show of maximum frenzy. Normally, the bailaor or bailaora (flamenco dancer) begins motionless, starting at the moment he or she considers most appropriate.

The expressions on their faces are also part of the flamenco, reflecting pain, claw and ecstasy.

All of these movements are carried out under the improvisation of the dancers on the stage, letting themselves be carried away by the guitar playing and the rhythm of the cantaor.

We leave you a little piece of our art. Olé!

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