by Justine Bayod Espoz for The Dance Current Magazine
Sevilla/ Photo by Justine Bayod Espoz
Flamenco, as it is knowntoday, is a relatively modern music and dance form, taking its first baby steps at the end of the nineteenth century.Yet its roots run deep and span continents. Flamenco is the art of Spanish gitanos/gitanas, whose itinerant lifestyle prior to settling on the Iberian Peninsula greatly influenced their culture. Originating in the Northeastern Indian subcontinent, their migration throughthe Middle East and intoEurope, between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, created an assimilation of the customs and traditions of the cultures discovered en route. Nowhere is this mixture more evident than in flamenco, a music that preserves the warbling and tonality of Arabic song and dance that embodies the fluidity and movements of the Indian dance kathak. However, the sensuality, power and emotive nature of flamenco are intensely Spanish, or, more appropriately, Andalucían.
Andalucía is Spain’s largest and southernmost autonomous community. There is a common misconception that flamenco is an art common to all of Spain, but in actuality, each Spanish region has its own autochthonous music and dance, and although flamenco is performed in every corner of the peninsula, it originated in Andalucía, where it permeates the culture of daily life.
Despite being a gitano/gitana art form, flamencowas quickly assimilated intomainstream Andalucían culture, becoming the chosen form of creative expression of the Andalucían proletariat. Flamenco songs speak of love, family and the hardships and celebrations of the working poor, while flamenco dance is a physical manifestation of those emotions and experiences. Styles of flamenco are divided into categories called palos. Each palo represents a different rhythm and tone. A good example of a socially influenced palo is the martinete, which originated in the forges, where metalworkers sung to the beat of their hammers striking the anvil. Later, a dance wasderived. The martinete is typically danced without accompaniment, with only the sound of the footwork to rival the beat of the striking hammer and the silences in between.
Because of its folkloric roots, flamenco is often overlooked as a quaint artistic novelty. However, any aspect of flamenco performance, whether it’s singing, playing the guitaror dancing, requires an intense amount of training, dedication, skill and talent.
“Flamenco se nace” is a saying common among flamenco musicians and dancers. It translates literally to “one is born flamenco” and means that in order to be a successful flamenco, one must have been born in a location and to a family in which flamenco impregnates the very air one breathes. Therefore, it is no surprise that many in the flamenco scene believe that you must have been born in Andalucía to be a true flamenco. However, not having been born in Andalucía is no reason not to study or enjoy flamenco, but if you want to do either, you have to go to the right places.
Part II to follow.
This article was originally published in Marc 2009 and is reproduced with permission from The Dance Current