Flamenco is an emotive and passionate style of music and dance which grew out of the Andalusian and Spannish gypsy (Gitano) cultures. Flamenco remains a popular art across the world and so you don’t have to travel to Spain to enjoy performances, festivals or indeed to learn how to dance yourself. Flamenco has its own terminology which may confuse newcomers to the style and so here is guide to what you need to know.
The word flamenco in Spanish originally meant “flame-coloured” and now refers to flamingo birds and also the Flemish language and culture. Its origins as a musical term may be connected to its use to describe the Flemish people. The natives of that area were considered to be flamboyant and brash and so were referred to as flamenco and the word became a general term for flamboyant behaviour which could be why it was used to describe Gitano performers. It has also been proposed that the term Flamenco has its roots in the Hispanic/Arabic phrase fellah mengu meaning expelled peasant as the music has its roots in Romani and Andalusian ethnic culture.
The cante is the Flamenco song and is considered to be the most important element of the art. A singer is a cantaor. Although it is the dancer who generally attracts all of the attention it is the music which is at the heart of a Flamenco performance.
The toque is the second principle element of the style and is the guitar playing technique which is distinctive to Flamenco. A guitar player is known as a tocaores. The Flamenco technique produces a more rasping and percussive sound than classical guitar playing. The instruments are similar but the flamenco guitar is lighter than a classical instrument and has a thinner top. Flamenco guitars produce a brighter sound with more resonance.
The third element of Flamenco is the baile or dance. The performance is characterised by intensity, emotion, expressive use of the arms and the dramatic and rhythmic stamping of the feet. The three elements of cante, toque and baile come together to produce a compelling and emotive performance that consumes the artists and draws in the audience.
Traje de Flamenca
The traje de Flamenco is the extravagant costume worn by female dancers. The dresses are adorned with several layers of ruffles called volantes to both the skirt and sleeves. The dresses are generally brightly coloured, often featuring polka dots and fall to the ankles. Dancers may also wear a bata de cola which is a skirt with a train of ruffles and is very difficult to manoeuvre when dancing.
Palmas is the distinctive hand clapping which accompanies a Flamenco performance and accentuates the rhythm of the music. Practitioners are called palmistas and must master the art of both hard claps (fuertes) and soft claps (sordas).
Flamenco has a fascinating history and an exotic culture all of its own. More and more people are becoming interested in the music and dance and now you can talk with some confidence about the subject!
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Sally Stacey is a keen writer and business owner who divides her time between writing and running her shop.