Flamenco is a fundamental part of the culture of the south of Spain with its roots in the gypsy community. It is divided into cante ('the song'), baile ('the dance') and guitarra ('guitar'). The gypsies were nomads, believed to have their origin in northern India and they were accustomed to making their own version of local music. Music is, and always has been, an important part of their celebrations and their everyday life.
The first document registering the arrival of gypsies in Spain is from 1447. During this time the Moors had been occupying the south of Spain for almost 800 years, during which science, economy and culture flourished in a rich mix. The Moorish influence from this time can be found in flamenco music, as well as the impact of Jewish, Catholic and local music.
At the end of 15th Century the Moors were ousted by the Catholic Kings, and a persecution of all non-Catholics started that was to last for more than two centuries. The suffering and injustice during this time was expressed in the songs, and is still today noticeable in more serious forms of flamenco.
Flamenco began to be used as a synonym for the Andalusian gypsy in the 18th Century.
History of Flamenco Dance
The first flamenco schools appeared between 1765 and 1860, establishing a firm position in the ballrooms.
During its golden age (1869 - 1910), flamenco was developed in the numerous cafés cantantes ('music cafés') to its definitive form. Also the more serious forms expressing deep feelings, cante jondo, dates from this period. Flamenco dance achieved its climax and was the major attraction of the cafés cantantes. Guitar players who accompanied the dancers became tremendously popular with the ever-increasing audience.
Gradually flamenco developed into an easier kind of music. From 1915, flamenco shows were organised and performed all over the world. This was, however, not appreciated by all, and in 1922 intellectuals such as the composer Manuel de Falla organised a contest in Granada to promote authentic cante jondo.
A flamenco renaissance started in 1955. Outstanding dancers and soloists from the small tablaos, successors to the early cafés cantantes, made their way to the great theatres and concert houses. Guitar players acquired great reputations with their sublime, masterly playing.
Style of Dance
Flamenco dance can be compared to the dances from the Orient. The elegant gestures of the female dancers resemble those of Oriental dancers, only they are more forcible. The dancer's use of castanets, castañuelas, can be compared to the oriental finger cymbals. However, castanets are not traditional to flamenco as they have only been adopted in the last 100 years.
The flamenco dancer creates complex rhythmic patterns with an intricate footwork technique, characterized by toe-heel clicking steps. To do this, special dancing shoes or boots, zapatos de baile, are required. They have dozens of nails driven in to the soles and heels, and are partially reinforced to add stability.
The upper part of the body expresses grace and posture, appearing undisturbed by the vigorous footwork. The ladies wear long dresses with voluminous skirts, sometimes used to emphasize arm movements.
The dancers job is to project the mood of the song. Music and dance fall into three categories: jondo, or grande ('profound', or 'grand'), intensely sad and dealing with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religion; intermedio ('intermediate'), less profound, but also moving, often with an oriental cast to the music; and chico ('light'), with subjects of love, the countryside, and gaiety.
Do not try to clap the rhythm during a dance. The dancer is usually accompanied by hand clapping or percussion, as well as song and guitar. A very common rhythmic pattern is contratiempo where the dancer is accentuating exactly between beats, and to accomplish that he/she requires a very steady mark on the beat. Unfortunately, spectators tend to clap completely off beat, thereby disturbing the pattern. Applause, however, is much appreciated, but you do not have to wait until the performance has ended. Feel free to applaud at any point that you find especially exceptional.
Duende is often described as the spirit of flamenco. You will find it everywhere, though, as it appears in all forms of live performances expressing genuine feelings, separating mere talent from genius.
There have been many attempts to describe duende. It is a very personal experience and the Researcher of this entry describes it thus:.
Duende is like a voice forcing your dark feelings to float up to the surface from the dark dungeons of your subconscious, causing an earthquake, thunderstorm and volcanic eruption inside of you. It is not unusual that people affected by the Duende act like lunatics; crying their eyes out, tearing their hair, throwing themselves at the floor. Afterwards you feel empty, relieved of those 'dark' feelings. Duende is like a catharsis for the soul...