For our next Dance Genre Buzz, we will be exploring the popular Spanish style of Flamenco Dance! This genre of dance will be well represented by Dance Parade this year. Be sure to check them out as they join us on International Dance Day, as well as in the Parade on May 18th!
Flamenco is a genre of Spanish music, song, and dance from Andalusia, in southern Spain, that includes cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance) and palmas (handclaps). First mentioned in literature in 1774, the genre grew out of Andalusian and Romani music and dance styles.
According to Guitarable.com,In recent years flamenco has become popular all over the world and is taught in many countries: in Japan there are more academies than there are in Spain.On November 16, 2010 UNESCO declared flamenco one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
There are many assertions as to the use of the name flamenco as a musical term (summarized below) but no solid evidence for any of them. The word was not recorded as a musical and dance term until the late 18th century. Others have drawn an image of the Flemish courtiers of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (Charles I of Spain) from the word, who were known for their florid and exaggerated displays of courtesy at the royal court at a time when the native aristocrats patronised Gitano players and performers, more ready to satirize the despised but powerful incomers than any others. “Flama”in Spanish means flame or fire, and “enco” or “endo”, is a suffix which means a quality-of, or having a-similarity-to, or pertaining-to.
Here is a video of Flamenco Dancing featuring Maria Pages
Flamenco performance has evolved during the history of this musical genre. In the beginning (the 18th century at the latest), songs were sung without any guitar accompaniment; during the 19th century, the guitar was used to accompany songs, and since the second half of the 19th century, the solo guitar is played in flamenco concerts. From flamenco’s beginning in the 18th century most performers have been professionals. For most of the genuine life of flamenco, a folk art that has remarkably conserved an extraordinary level of conservatism within the caucus of European folk music, with its unmistakable rhythmic patterns and tones that mark its varied forms, or ‘palos‘, flamenco has actually been the concern, like speech itself, of non-professionals in the countryside: goatherders, charcoal-burners, miners, and fishermen, for example.
Further to this, it must be asserted that it is recognised by widely respected figures of its diffusion such as Pepe Arrebola, former President of the Peñas Flamencas de Andalusia, that it is the product of a certain competition between ´payos´or non-gypsies, and gypsies or ‘Roma’, each with their own distinctive style, just as it is widely recognised by musicology itself that the lack of field-work in flamencology can truly retrieve the level of what intensity the non-professional impact of flamenco was and no longer exists, in terms of a community-wide spread and profundity: nevertheless, the subject matter of the songs themselves should alert them that the authors of the lyrics were not much concerned with urban themes, and this in turn should remind them of the land itself being the ‘author’ of the music.Originally they learned from other performers in the manner of an apprenticeship, not in conservatories or dance schools. This lack of formal training led to interesting harmonic findings, with unusual unresolved dissonances. Examples of this are the use of minor 9th tonic chords or the use of the open 1st string as a kind of pedal tone. Today most guitarists undergo rigorous professional training and often can read and play music in other styles; many dancers take courses in ballet and contemporary dance as well as flamenco.
Flamenco occurs in four settings in the main – in the juerga, in small-scale cabaret, in concert venues and in the theatre, though a ‘zambra’ or spontaneous, and, for the most part ‘Roma’ celebration, can occur outside any place a tourist or ‘expert on flamenco’ would be likely to happen on it (and also quite without reference to musicologists in advance).
The juerga is an informal, spontaneous gathering, rather like a jazz “jam session”, that can include dancing, singing, palmas (hand clapping), or simply pounding in rhythm on an orange crate or table, adapting to local talent, instrumentation and mood. The cantaores (singers) are the heart and soul of the performance. A meeting place or grouping of Flamenco musicians or artists is called a peña flamenca.
There are also tablaos, establishments that developed during the 1960s throughout Spain, replacing the café cantante, that may have their own company of performers for each show. Many internationally renowned artists, like the singer Miguel Poveda, started their careers in tablaos flamencos.
The professional concert is more formal. A traditional concert has only a singer and one guitar while a dance concert usually includes two or three guitars, one or more singers singing solo in turn and one or more dancers. One of the singers may play the cajon, a wooden box drum played with the hands or else it may be played by a percussionist, and all performers will clap even if there are dedicated palmeros. The so-called Nuevo Flamenco or “new flamenco“, popularized by artists such as Camarón de la Isla, may include flutes or saxophones, a piano or other keyboard, even the bass guitar and the electric guitar.
Finally, the theatrical presentation of flamenco is now an extended and sophisticated performance in its own right, comparable to a ballet, by such ensembles as the Maria Pagès and the famous Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco Company.
Palos (formerly known as cantes) are flamenco styles, classified by criteria such as rhythmic pattern, mode, chord progression, stanzaic form and geographic origin. There are over 50 different palos although some are rarely performed; only about a dozen of these palos are commonly played. Some are sung unaccompanied while others usually have guitar or other accompaniment. Some forms are danced while others are not. Some are reserved for men and others for women while some may be performed by either, though these traditional distinctions are breaking down: the Farruca, for example, once a male dance, is now commonly performed by women too.
Palos traditionally fall into three classes: the most serious are known as cante jondo (or cante grande) while lighter, frivolous forms are called cante chico – this also depends on whether or not the palo is considered to be of gypsy origin. Forms that do not fit either category are classed as cante intermedio.
A typical flamenco recital with voice and guitar accompaniment, comprises a series of pieces (not exactly “songs”) in different palos. Each song consists of a set of verses (called copla, tercio, or letras), which are punctuated by guitar interludes called falsetas. The guitarist also provides a short introduction which sets the tonality, compás and tempo of the cante. In some palos, these falsetas are also played with certain structure too; for example, the typical sevillanas is played in an AAB pattern, where A and B are the same falseta with only a slight difference in the ending.
Flamenco uses the modern Phrygian mode (modo frigio), or a harmonic version of that scale with a major 3rd degree, in addition to the major and minor scales commonly used in modern western music. The Phrygian mode occurs in palos such as soleá, most bulerías, siguiriyas, tangos and tientos.
A typical chord sequence, usually called the “Andalusian cadence” may be viewed as in a modified Phrygian: in E the sequence is Am–G–F–E. According to Manolo SanlúcarE is here the tonic, F has the harmonic function of dominant while Am and G assume the functions of subdominant and mediant respectively.
Guitarists tend to use only two basic inversions or “chord shapes” for the tonicchord (music), the open 1st inversion E and the open 3rd inversion A, though they often transpose these by using a capo. Modern guitarists such as Ramón Montoya, have introduced other positions: Montoya himself started to use other chords for the tonic in the modern Dorian sections of several palos; Fsharp for tarantas, B for granaínas and A flat for the minera. Montoya also created a new palo as a solo for guitar, the rondeña in C sharp with scordatura. Later guitarists have further extended the repertoire of tonalities, chord positions and scordatura.
There are also palos in major mode; most cantiñas and alegrías, guajiras, some bulerías and tonás, and the cabales (a major type of siguiriyas). The minor mode is restricted to the Farruca, the milongas (among cantes de ida y vuelta), and some styles of tangos, bulerías, etc. In general traditional palos in major and minor mode are limited harmonically to two-chord (tonic–dominant) or three-chord (tonic–subdominant–dominant) progressions. (Rossy 1998:92) However modern guitarists have introduced chord substitution, transition chords, and even modulation.
Fandangos and derivative palos such as malagueñas, tarantas and cartageneras) are bimodal: guitar introductions are in Phrygian mode while the singing develops in major mode, modulating to Phrygian at the end of the stanza. (Rossy 1998:92)
Dionisio Preciado, quoted by Sabas de Hoces  established the following characteristics for the melodies of flamenco singing:
Portamento: frequently, the change from one note to another is done in a smooth transition, rather than using discrete intervals.
Short tessitura or range: Most traditional flamenco songs are limited to a range of a sixth (four tones and a half). The impression of vocal effort is the result of using different timbres, and variety is accomplished by the use of microtones.
Use of enharmonic scale. While in equal temperament scales, enharmonics are notes with identical pitch but different spellings (e.g. A flat and G sharp); in flamenco, as in unequal temperament scales, there is a microtonal intervalic difference between enharmonic notes.
Insistence on a note and its contiguous chromatic notes (also frequent in the guitar), producing a sense of urgency.
Baroque ornamentation, with an expressive, rather than merely aesthetic function.
Apparent lack of regular rhythm, especially in the siguiriyas: the melodic rhythm of the sung line is different from the metric rhythm of the accompaniment.
Most styles express sad and bitter feelings.
Melodic improvisation: flamenco singing is not, strictly speaking, improvised, but based on a relatively small number of traditional songs, singers add variations on the spur of the moment.
Musicologist Hipólito Rossy adds the following characteristics (Rossy 1997: 97):
Flamenco melodies are characterized by a descending tendency, as opposed to, for example, a typical operaaria, they usually go from the higher pitches to the lower ones, and from forte to piano, as was usual in ancient Greek scales.
In many styles, such as soléa or siguiriya, the melody tends to proceed in contiguous degrees of the scale. Skips of a third or a fourth are rarer. However, in fandangos and fandango-derived styles, fourths and sixths can often be found, especially at the beginning of each line of verse. According to Rossy, this is proof of the more recent creation of this type of songs,influenced by Castilian jota.
The compás is fundamental to flamenco. Without it, there is no flamenco. Compás is most often translated as rhythm but it demands far more precise interpretation than other Western styles of music. If there is no guitarist available, the compás is rendered through hand clapping (palmas) or by hitting a table with the knuckles. The guitarist uses techniques like strumming (rasgueado) or tapping the soundboard. Changes of chords emphasize the most important downbeats.
Flamenco uses three basic counts or measures: Binary, Ternary and the (unique to flamenco) twelve-beat cycle. There are also free-form styles including, among others, the tonás, saetas, malagueñas, tarantos, and some types of fandangos.
12-beat rhythms usually rendered in amalgams of 6/8 + 3/4 and sometimes 12/8. The 12-beat cycle is the most common in flamenco, differentiated by the accentuation of the beats in different palos. The accents do not correspond to the classic concept of the downbeat. The alternating of groups of 2 and 3 beats is also common in Spanish folk dances of the 16th Century such as the zarabanda, jácara and canarios.
There are three types of 12-beat rhythms, which vary in their layouts, or use of accentuations: soleá, seguiriya and bulería.
soleá, within the cantiñas group of palos which includes the alegrías, cantiñas, mirabras, romera, caracoles and soleá por bulería (also ” bulería por soleá“): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. For practical reasons, when transferring flamenco guitar music to sheet music, this rhythm is written as a regular 3/4.
The Bulerías is the emblematic palo of flamenco: today its 12-beat cycle is most often played with accents on the 3rd, 7th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats. The accompanying palmas are played in groups of 6 beats, giving rise to a multitude of counter rhythms and percussive voices within the 12 beat compás.
Forms of flamenco expression
According to the type of interpreting is spoken of:
Toque airoso (Graceful touch): lively, rhythmic and shiny, almost metallic sonority.
Toque gitano o flamenco: deep and with pinch, preferably using the drones and setbacks.
Toque pastueño (Pastueno touch): slow and quiet.
Toque sobrio (Sober touch): no ornaments.
Toque virtuoso (Virtuous touch): with exceptional mastery of technique, runs the risk of falling into an excessive sensationalism.
Toque corto (Short touch): poor in technical and expressive resources.
Toque frío (Cool touch): evoid of depth and pinch.
Main article: Cante flamenco
The origins, history and importance of the cante is covered in the main Wikipedia entry for the cante flamenco. The singer is very passionate.
El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms and rhythmic stamping of the feet. As with any dance form, many different styles of flamenco have developed.
In the twentieth century, flamenco danced informally at gitano (Gypsy) weddings and celebrations in Spain was considered the most “authentic” form. There is less virtuoso technique in gitano flamenco, but the music and steps are fundamentally the same. The arms are noticeably different to classical flamenco, curving around the head and body rather than extending, often with a bent elbow.
“Flamenco puro” is considered the form of performance flamenco closest to its gitano influences. In this style, the dance is always performed solo, and is improvised rather than choreographed. Some purists frown on castanets (even though they can be seen in many early 20th century photos of flamenco dancers).
“Classical flamenco” is the style most frequently performed by Spanish flamenco dance companies, tending to exhibit more clearly the characteristics derived from the Seguidilla, a traditional Spanish dance. It is danced largely in a proud and upright way. For women, the back is often held in a marked back bend. Unlike the more gitano influenced styles, there is little movement of the hips, the body is tightly held and the arms are long, like a ballet dancer. In fact many of the dancers in these companies have trained in ballet as well as flamenco. Flamenco has undergone an evolution quite as sophisticated as classical ballet and indeed has both influenced it and been influenced by it, as evidenced by the fusion of the two created by ‘La Argentinita’ in the early part of the twentieth century and later, without reference to her, by Joaquín Cortés.
Modern flamenco is a highly technical dance style requiring years of study. The emphasis for both male and female performers is on lightning-fast footwork performed with absolute precision. In addition, the dancer may have to dance while using props such as castanets, shawls and fans.
“Flamenco nuevo” is a recent style in flamenco, characterized by pared-down costumes (the men often dance bare-chested, and the women in plain jersey dresses). Props such as castanets, fans and shawls are rarely used. Dances are choreographed and include influences from other dance styles.
The flamenco most foreigners are familiar with is a style that was developed as a spectacle for tourists. To add variety, group dances are included and even solos are more likely to be choreographed. The frilly, voluminous spotted dresses are derived from a style of dress worn for the Sevillanas at the annual Feria in Seville.
In traditional flamenco, young people are not considered to have the emotional maturity to adequately convey the “duende” (soul) of the genre. Therefore unlike other dance forms, where dancers turn professional early to take advantage of youth and strength, many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until their thirties and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond.
Here is a final video featuring old school Flamenco from the film “Sombrero” released way back in 1953!