Dance Around the World: Flamenco

After taking an extended hiatus from blogging, I wanted to complete the posts that I had started writing previously. It’s quite likely some of you wondered if I had given up on dance. That could not be further from the truth. I actually saw a record number of performances this year including the New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey, and the Scottish National Ballet. Most of these performances were at the Kennedy Center, so in 2016, I resolve to make a greater effort to see dance performances at other venues.

Several months ago in March 2015, the Kennedy Center sponsored an Iberian Festival where they invited playwrights, artists and musicians from Portuguese and Spanish speaking nations. In addition to viewing a collection of sculptures by Picasso and attending a Brazilian dance performance, I saw a flamenco group from Spain. The flamenco performance  was everything I thought it was going to be. It had the passion, the musicality, and of course, the amazing red dress.

Flamenco Barcelona

“Flamenco dance, as one-third of the quintessential Spanish phenomenon of flamenco, has an extensive historical background that parallels the cultural development of Spain itself.”

For a high school Spanish class, I actually wrote a paper on the origins of flamenco. Although I struggled with writing the actual paper (my Spanish language skills were relatively mediocre), I immensely enjoyed learning about flamenco. After researching for this blog post, I can distinctly remember one of themes and even sentences of that Spanish paper. El flamenco es una mezcla de culturas differentes. Although flamenco is associated with the Roma (Gypsies) of Adulusia, a region in southern Spain, it is actually a mix of different cultures and was influenced by Greek, Roman, Indian, Moorish, and Jewish cultures.  Many of the songs in flamenco reflect a sense of desperation, struggle, hope, and pride of groups that were persecuted.

At the beginning, flamenco was only song and rhythmic hand clapping (palmas). Later the guitar and dancers were added during the Golden Age (1869-1910) by way of musical cafes called cafes cantantes. It was also during this period that the dance became professionalized.

Both flamenco music and dance involve personal improvisation and expressions of deep emotion. The flamenco dancer must physically interpret the words of the singer. Every aspect of the body is used, from the fingers to the torso. It is much more than just its intricate or rapid fire footwork. Flamenco can be absolutely mesmerizing and even transcendent.

The first clip is a performance by Maria Pages at Riverdance. It was actually her company that I saw perform earlier this year. In this video, you can distinctly hear the Irish influences in the music and see the parallels with Irish step dancing. I also love the fluidity of her movements at the beginning. The second video is how I imagine Flamenco in one of those cafe cantantes looked like. This clip is incredibly authentic and you get to experience all three aspects of traditional Flamenco. As a warning, this video is very loud so I would turn down your volume by a third.




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