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The three forms of Flamenco

  • Cante - the song
  • Baile - the dance
  • Guitarra - guitar

Historical background

Flamenco is the music of the gypsies from the south of Spain. The gypsies were nomads, believed to have their origin in northern India. 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 to Spain is from 1447. During this time the Moors had been occupying particularly the south of Spain for almost 800 years, during which science, economy and culture flurished in a rich mix. The moorish influence from this time can be traced in Flamenco music, as well as the impact of Jewish, Catholic and local music.

At the end of 15th century the Moors were taken out 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 flamenco, like Seguiriays.

Flamenco began to be used as a synonym for "Andalucian 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 music cafés, cafés cantantes, to its definitive form. Also the more serious forms expressing deep feelings, cante jondo, dates from then. Flamenco dance achieved its climax and was the major attraction of the cafés cantantes. Guitar players featuring the dancers became tremendously popular.

Gradually Flamenco developed into an easier kind of music. From 1915 Flamenco shows were organized and performed all over the world. This was however not appreciated by all, and in 1922 intellectuals such as Falla organized a contest in Granada to promote "authentical" 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 reputation, and their playing arrived to masterity.

Style of dance

[Picture of Flamenco hands] ALIGN="RIGHT" HEIGHT="180" WIDTH="225"

Flamenco dance is by nature oriental. The elegant gestures of the female dancers resemble those of oriental dancers, only more forcible. The dancer's use of castanets, castañuelas, can be compared to the oriental finger cymbals. However, castañuelas are not traditional to Flamenco, these have only been adopted in the last 100 years.

The Flamenco dancer creates complex rhythmic patterns with 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 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.

Hand clapping: 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. Unfortunatelly, spectators tend to clap completely off beat, thereby disturbing the pattern.

Applauds, however, are much appreciated, and 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, here described by Titania, queen of elves:

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 vulcano 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...

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