The intensity of expression and passion on flamenco dancers’ faces will surprise even the most knowledgeable dance aficionados.
Flamenco bailadores dance with their bodies and with their faces, like no other form of dance.
Those used to the quiet, calm expressions of ballerinas or the sassy look of hip hop dancers will not know what to make of the symphony of emotions that pass on the faces of flamenco dancers. However, that is what differentiates flamenco and what makes it a global phenomenon – the emotion. The audience can feel the relationship between the guitarist and the dancer, the singer and the guitarist, the performers and the audience. The performers work as a seamless unit, often exchanging glances and interacting on stage, passing words of encouragement and praise.
Image: Palacio del Flamenco
This traditional Spanish dancing style has only been documented for the past two hundred years. Flamenco is an art form that is originally from Southern Spain, specifically the Andalusia region. However, today it is practiced all over Spain and all over the world. Flamenco has already reached popularity in the United States, and there are now more flamenco academies in Japan than there are in Spain. Since the roots of flamenco are so multicultural, being immersed in various traditions around the world before becoming the finished product that we know today, every person can find something to relate to in a flamenco performance. Flamenco has absorbed a little bit of every culture it’s touched.
The Spanish art form is made up of three parts: guitarra (guitar playing), cante (song), and baile (dance). Although flamenco originated in Andalucia, historians agree that it is influenced by many other cultures, including Latin American, Cuban, and Jewish traditions. Gypsies, or the Roma people, brought flamenco from its roots in Andalusia to the rest of Spain. Romani culture places importance on moving frequently, as they do not consider themselves true citizens of the countries they were born in, but rather citizens of their Romani community. They also have a reputation of influencing many different types of music, including certain compositions of famous classical composers Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. Some even speculate that flamenco originates from the Roma people. Flamenco also traveled by boat to other continents through the vast immigrations of the 1800s and 1900s.
Image: Sydney Rae/Unsplash
Although most flamenco dancers receive professional training, it was common in the old days to be completely self-taught. The art was passed down from generation to generation and was considered a part of the community’s tradition. Flamenco is traditionally a very dramatic art form. It’s supposed to tell a story, portrayed by the body language of the dancers, their physical movements, the music, and the elaborate costumes. The costumes are extremely important to the story. No detail is left to chance. Every element, down to the intricate hairpiece of the female dancers, is carefully considered by the costume designer.
Long ago, in its original form, the only sounds accompanying the dance were singing and clapping of hands, called toque de palmas. A sole cry or chant would be accompanied with a type of percussion which kept the rhythm. However, as the reach of flamenco grew larger and larger, musical instruments were added to the performance. Contemporary flamenco dancers use small handheld percussion instruments called castanets, which they snap to the rhythm of the music. The mesmerizing movement of the arms, hands, and fingers gives grace and magic to the dance and is essential to flamenco. Movement of the arms is called braceo and movement of the hands and fingers is called floreo. The posture and the coordination of the arms with the rotation of the wrists during braceo is very important and differentiates flamenco from other styles of dance.
Image: Dolo Iglesias/Unsplash
When you think of flamenco, one of the first things that comes to mind is Olé! This iconic expression is used to energize the singers and dancers and to express enthusiasm and praise for the dance. Some say that olé originated from the Hebrew verb oleh, which means “to throw up in the air.” Others think that the term came from the Bible story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah when Jacob thought he would marry Rachel but he lifted his bride’s veil and discovered it was Leah under the veil. The crowd tried to warn him by saying “Oh, Leah!” Still, others claim that it’s derived from the Arabic word allah meaning “God.” No matter the origin, there is nothing like hearing Olé! rise above the frenzied tapping of the dancers’ feet, the guitar strumming and undulating voices of the flamenco singers during a performance.