Think of Spain and think of flamenco. Think of whirling bodies, strumming guitars, voices mingling as it becomes a three-in-one passion play finally ending with a thunderous silence before wild applause, stomping feet and cries for more.
Flamenco was cultivated in Spain from a fusion of cultures, Roma, Moorish, Jewish and its biggest donor, Andalucia. Over centuries of refinement, abandonment and embrace it is an organic and living art form blending the cante (singing), toque (guitar), and baile (dance). It is so beloved that in 2010, UNESCO declared Flamenco one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
With complex rhythms, intense ardor, and whirling colors flamenco is passion for the people. From weddings and celebrations in tiny towns to stages all over the world flamenco can vary in its performance. It can be informal, the Gitano flamenco, the more refined but still improvised, Flamenco puro, or the “tourist” flamenco which is more choreographed with the castanets, props and even special effects frowned upon by most purists. Flamenco classico is the style used in modern Spanish flamenco dance companies, which has a passing nod to ballet and finally flamenco nuevo the “new wave” of flamenco with many varieties from different regions thrown in for flavor.
Regardless of style, flamenco is known for its intensity, the proud posture of the dancers with graceful, expressive arm movements and rhythmic stamping of feet accompanied by the clapping of hands. Flamenco is an expression of passion to the audience and that passion is returned as the audience is swept up and carried along to the end.
El baile flamenco is a lifelong devotion for the people who love and practice it. Flamenco dancers, like opera singers, may not peak in talent and skill until their late 30s or even later and its not unusual to see a remarkable dancer well into their 50s. The Spanish believe that living life makes one beautiful and a dancer who has “duende” or soul from a long life will show it in expression and movement.
The same can be said for the flamenco guitarist whose lighting-fast fingerwork, performed with absolute precision, requires years of study and practice. Watching a true tocaore or guitarist is mesmerizing and breathtaking. Fingers flutter and blur and then relax and caress the strings doing both with stunning flair and it’s a delightful battle over who to watch, the dancer or the tocaore.
Finally add the flamenco cante, the third of the triumverate of flamenco. It is said the cante is the heart and soul of flamenco, the sound that drives the dancer. There are many variants of the cante and each expresses its own emotion and meaning. Three main catagories are generally agreed upon: the cante grande, the profound and deep song evoking heartbreak and loss, the cante intermedio, less sad but still meaningful, and finally the cante chico, speaking to love, bawdy humor and happiness.
There are many varieties of flamenco but the main idea is expression of emotion; love, loss, joy and what lies in between. You could study flamenco for your entire life and still leave behind things unknown. It is a journey worth taking.
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