Flamenco dancing is an expressive form of dance, which has its roots in Andalucia, Spain and more specifically, according to some experts, in Jerez de la Frontera. It originated among Indian gypsies who had arrived and settled in Spain after travelling around Europe in the early part of the 15th century, to later be joined by others who came from North Africa.
The gypsies brought with them their own language, Romano, and an oriental style of music never before heard on the Spanish mainland. As the centuries passed, the cultures of the local population of Jews and later the Moors all had an influence on the gypsy music with elements from their musical styles being incorporated.
From their arrival in Spain, the gypsies were classified as outcasts of society and special laws were made specifically for them. Forced to live in camps as they were not allowed to own any property, many took up work in local mines or in the fields of the region leaving those with any sort of skill to make a slightly better living in work such as blacksmiths and jewellers.
The people were treated badly and the flamenco song (the cante) was initially performed at family gatherings as a way to express feelings of depression and misery. During the early years, flamenco is thought to have been entirely a vocal art form, which was accompanied by the rhythmic clapping of hands.
King Carlos III changed the fortunes of the gypsies in the 18th century when he removed their specific laws and gave them the same rights as other Spanish citizens; however, this did not remove the stigma of mistrust that the Spanish people had of them. Due to their newfound freedom, the gypsies were able to improve their financial status and some of the previously out of reach items such as musical instruments became within their means, hence the arrival of the guitar (el toque) and its addition to the cante.
As the flamenco style of music became more popular near the end of the last century, performers began to appear at parties of the richer members of society with professionals staging the music and dance, the most popular of which were the fandangos, at ‘cafes cantantes’.
The ‘opera flamenca’ period followed as the flamenco gained in popularity and began to appear in theatre stage shows. These, however, tended to focus more on the melodic style of music – cante bonito – which did not express the passion as much as the early gypsy styles.
As the Second World War progressed through Europe there was little prospect of performances on stage, but during the 1950s festivals in Andalucian towns such as Malaga, Jerez and Cordoba rekindled public interest producing a new generation of performers.
The motions and facial expressions of the female flamenco dancers can be compared to those of Oriental dancers with the only exception being that they are more forceful. Each style of dance uses a handheld musical instrument – the flamenco dancer, castanets and the oriental dancer, finger cymbals – however; the cymbals used in flamenco are not traditional and have only been in use for the last 100 years or so.
The centuries have seen flamenco progress from sombre home songs expressing feelings of hardship to popular stage shows throughout the world that continues to be developed.
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Written by Mark Buckingham for Rentaccomspain.com. Rent or buy your perfect Spanish retreat direct from the owner. Find other articles on Spain here Find properties to buy in Spain here