Research conducted in the field of flamenco dance is far less extensive and the resulting information more obscure than the history associated with the music. However, perhaps the first documented evidence of the flamenco dance forerunner may have its origins in the Hindu dancers who were hired to participate as festival performers in the City of Cadiz during the time of the Phoenician Empire. It has been suggested that some aspects of such a dance were later incorporated into local processions and religious celebrations. There are strong resemblances between flamenco and some East Indian dance forms (the Katak, NianiPuri, Kathakal and Bharatanatyam, for example). Such mutually-shared elements include: the deep-seated plie; out-turned leg position; sharp angles of the body and arms; splayed fingers; rapid barrel turns; and percussive foot movements. The art of Spanish dance itself (also known as the sarabande which is Arabic for "noise") can be traced to the Hellenic period (550 BC) and originated in Andalucia, but is not necessarily flamenco. Nevertheless, during the time of Roman rule over the Western Empire, the "dancing girls from Cadiz" were already recognized as authorities of such a dance form. However, the generally accepted origin of the flamenco dance is that it was originally adopted by the ancient Andalucian gypsies from the Moors and to some extent the Arabs, originally intended to express the gypsy desire for recognition and freedom by way of dramatic, technical footwork, intricate guitar playing and sorrowful song. Today, flamenco is danced at weddings, festivals and other varied ceremonial occasions, and the dance continues to be particularly popular in Spain. Although many gypsies believe the original idea behind flamenco dancing has long been diminished, they still religiously perform the art in order to keep the history alive.
Flamenco is often compared to Oriental dances and certainly, the gestures of the female dancers resemble those of Oriental dancers, but the movements used in flamenco are more forcible. Although the flamenco dancer's use of castanets has been compared to the Oriental finger cymbals, castanets are not traditional to flamenco and have only been incorporated into the dance over the course of the last century. Also absent in flamenco are the torso and pelvic undulations, hip shimmies and rotations...all of which are fundamental ingredients of Oriental dance.
Another comparison is often also made to the Mozarabic Zambra, performed on occasion for a very brief period of time during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. However, the role of this "flamenco" form in development of the dance itself is somewhat minimal. Performed in 2/4 time, the Zambra combines certain elements of Andalucian folk dancing with Arabic influences (such as finger cymbals, tambourines and theatrical costumes), but bears little if any resemblance to the performances of Sevillanas, Tangos and Bulerias executed by the commercial and touristic bands of gypsies in the caves of Granada which some identify as the Zambra form. Aside from some of the percussive movements found in the Moroccan Shikhate, there is virtually no similarity between flamenco and dances which originated in the Middle East, even the open-knee hip movements of flamenco being attributed to the colonial African colonies or Indian dance. In short, while Middle Eastern dance is soft, fluid and feminine, flamenco is strong, defiant, explosive and most definitely masculine in character.
There are two basic forms of flamenco dancing. The first is the jondo, a profound and serious dance whose origin expresses the cry of a people who had been oppressed for many centuries. The second form is the chico, a happy, light and often humorous dance. Unlike other disciplined European dance forms, flamenco flows by natural feelings. The dancer creates complex and rhythmic patterns with an intricate footwork technique which is characterized by toe-heel clicking steps. Special dancing shoes or boots (known as zapatos de baile) are used by the dancers to achieve this desired effect. The footwear has dozens of nails driven into the soles and heels and is partially reinforced to add to the stability of the footwear. The upper body of the dancer is intended to express grace and posture (especially associated with the female dancer), appearing undisturbed by the vigorous footwork. The job of the dancer is to project the mood of the song and any clapping by the audience to the rhythm during a dance is not encouraged. Since the dancer is usually accompanied on stage by exact hand-clapping or percussion (in addition to song and guitar) and the object of the dance is to accentuate between beats of the music, then any spectator hand-clapping (which is usually off-beat) tends to be distracting. That having been said, it should be noted that the role of the spectator is supremely important to the flamenco dancer (professional or otherwise), who receives strong support from the intense concentration of the audience and from positive participation...enthusiastic applause during any period of the dance is greatly appreciated, as are spontaneous shouts of encouragement and admiration.
By tradition, the male and female styles of flamenco dance differ greatly. Men concentrate on rhythmically complex, percussive footwork which is performed with a minimum of upper body movement, with extended arms and straightly-stretched hands. The immense physical stamina demanded of this type of austere and controlled dancing essentially reinforces the power and virility of its masculine quality, the concentration almost exclusively upon footwork. In contrast, the woman's dance emphasizes graceful movements of the arms, hips and shoulders and, in particular, the expressive twists and turns of the hands from the wrists. To achieve a high level of competence, the female flamenco dancer must develop great skill in manipulating her skirt with its long train, her shawl and her fan (if one is used). She expresses sensual femininity without being vulgar. However, many modern female flamenco dancers, inspired and influenced to a large degree by Carmen Amaya, dance much more like men and often display equally as impressive elaborate footwork.
While it is usually the woman's dance which attracts the attention of an audience, the dancer herself is not the main event. By tradition, she is the provocative temptress whose appearance and movements, obviously reliant upon the power of "nature," threatens to throw the "cultured" man off-balance. In the face of such dance, the singer and the guitarist...much like the bullfighter facing a bull...reassert their cultural compsosure by taming the feminine animal force that they confront. As a point of interest also related to the concept of bullfighting, it is a tradition of good luck that a flamenco dancer perform solo in the presence of a torero or bullfigher immediately before a corrida.
Today, the Sevillda is the national dance of Spain, orignating from the Seguidilla Manchegras. The Sevillda was originally danced by women only to the accompaniment of bells and castanets, and executed with wild mannerisms. However, Spain has forty-seven provinces and each has its own style of dance.
The Bolero. The Bolero is said to have been used by Sebastian Cerezo (a ballet dancer to the Spanish Court in 1780) as the basis for his French ballet. It is one of the oldest "school dances," its name supposedly derived from volar, meaning to fly. This dance was originally performed to the accompaniment of a guitar and castanets. The Spanish Bolero was dance of love and romance, accepted worldwide for its lovely rhythms. A noble, modest and restrained dance which resembles (but is shorter than) the Fandango, it was originally performed by a single female and often danced at the opening of a ball. The Bolero was made popular in the United States by the French composer, Maurice Ravel, who wrote his composition of the same name (originally entitled "Fandango") in 1928 for Ida Rubenstein (a Russian dancer, actress and reputed lesbian) who commissioned him to complete a work for the ballet season at her Paris Opera. However, Ravel's "Bolero" bears only a slight resemblance to the actual Spanish dance. The Cuban Bolero is derived from the Spanish version but the music and rhythms changed when the dance arrived in Cuba. Today, the Bolero is a standard dance form among international ballroom dancers.
The Fandango. The Fandango (which means "go and dance") is native to both Mexico and Spain. However, it is the Spanish who are credited with having invented the dance, its original purpose being a courtship celebration. Nonetheless, there is some speculation that the roots of primitive Fandango may be found in the belly dances of the Phoenicians. By tradition, the Fandango should be danced by two people only who face each other, but never touch with the body or the hands. It is allowed for more than one couple to join in this dance, but by so doing, it becomes more of a Sequidilia than a Fandango. This particular dance form had, by the Nineteenth Century, suffered a great loss in popularity, seldom being danced and having been replaced by the Jota, Sevillana and Bolero. The Tarantella and Furlana are similar to the Fandango, with the main exception being that the couple is permitted to touch in this particular dance. The Fandango has been portrayed in many ballets and may well have originated in Ancient Rome. Although the Romans called this dance the "Spanish Dance," it likely was the Fandango to which they were referring. In primitive Fandango, the woman accompanied herself with castanets or by snapping of the fingers and thumbs. Foot stamping was evident, together with a graceful movement of the foot and the heel. The male originally tossed a tambourine (known as a tambour de basque) but this no longer seems to be considered an integral ingredient of the the dance. Castanets were also employed by the man on occassion, but generally considered to be somewhat effeminate. Costume is an important element of the Fandango. The woman dresses in a short skirt of brightly-hued silk adorned with flounces of lace, normally black in color. The male wears an embroidered, braided waistcoat. The Fandango has been credit with being the foundation to all other Spanish dances. It is one of Spain's leading dances and often compared to dances of the Romans, as well as the Chica dance of Africa and the Plugge-dansen of Holland. The use of castanets, guitars or a mandolin play an important role in the execution of the Fandango and some of its variations are the Malaguena, the Rondena, the Granadina and the Murciana.
The Jaleo de Jarez. The Jaleo de Jarez was usually danced impromptu by an agile gypsy with castanets, accompanied by a guitar and the haunting notes of an ancient love song. Danced exclusively by women, the Jaleo was the veritable expression of the Spanish gypsy soul.
The Jota. The Jota originates from the 1700s and is the national folk dance of Aragon in Spain. It has a fast-moving tempo, corresponding in many ways to the ancient carols which, in the time of Chaucer meant a dance as well as a song. Today, the Jota is often performed at wakes and funerals. In Aragon, it is said that a pretty girl dancing the Jota will send an arrow through the heart with each and every movement.
The Malaguena. Together with the Fandango, the Malaguena is the principal dance of Spain. It originated as a non-formal folk dance among the Sevillian gypsies in Andalucia. The Baile Flamenco form has its roots in the gypsy culture of Southern Spain and may have originally been Indian in origin. This dance has strict rhythmic rules which must be followed in order to achieve the desired effect. Such rhythm forms include the Alegrias (one of the oldest, purest, refined and most dignified), Soleares (rarely performed in today's society but, when mixed with the Alegrias, said to be the origin of all flamenco dances), Bulerias (similar to the Alegrias but faster and more lively), Farruca (said to be the most gypsy-like of the Spanish dances), Zapateado, Tango and Zambra (Spanish flamenco dance with direct Moorish roots and traditionally danced only by females). The Malageuna costume for females is a ruffled skirt which "roars" when the dancer twists and spins. Often, the fabric of the costume is fashioned from polka-dot material. Traditionally, the males wear tight Spanish outfits intended to accentuate the masculine element of the dance, usually a black suit and hat with a white shirt and red sash tied around the waist. The female dancer named La Argentina is credited with being one of the first to perform this type of flamenco on stage.
The Sequidilla. The Sequidilla originated in Castille and has many varieties and derivatives. It is an extremely exact and definite dance, based on the Pas de Basque. The Sequidilla is similar in style to the Bolero and Fandango, one of its versions being danced by eight performers who will, at intervals, stop in a rigid and immovable pose.
Concha La Carbonera
(19th Century-20th Century)
Born in the Spanish city of Granada, Concha La Carbonera lived in Malaga (Southern Spain) as a girl before moving to Cadiz and finally, to Seville. She was one of the stars at the Cafe del Burrero for many years and, according to some sources, was the first dancer of flamenco. Whether or not this is true, La Carbonera was certainly the first to attract the attention of writers, being referenced in articles dating from 1877 and 1892, at which time she was said to be approximately eighteen years old...although she was, in fact, probably somewhat older than that. Portrayed as a character in Armando Palacio Valdes' 1889 novel, "La Hermana San Sulpicio," La Carbona's personfication therein was described as "thin, an ashy blond, pale, faded cheeks and fiery, cheeky blue eyes." La Carbonera's exact date of birth is unknown...as is the date of her death in the Spanish city of Seville.
Trinidad Huertes a/k/a La Cuenca
Born in Malaga, Spain, La Cuenca was a guitarist as well as a dancer. She is known to have performed at the Eguilaz Theater in the Spanish town of Jerez de la Frontera from 1879 through 1881. Cuenca was the first in many areas...the first leading female dancer to wear male costume and the first female to dance the soleares as they are known today, complete with ornamental footwork. She often imitated bullfighting scenarios in her dance repertoire and was famous for her graceful and artistic style.
Juan Sanchez Valencia y Rendon Avila a/k/a Estampio
(1870 or 1880-1957)
Born in Jerez de la Frontera near Cadiz in Spain, Estampio began dancing at the age of ten. As a young boy, he aspired to be a bullfighter and participated in caping and calf-running under the name of El Feo, even fighting some young bulls in formal corrida costume. Originally said to have possessed little flamenco technique, Estampio rose to become a classic dancer with an exclusive arm movement that others failed to duplicate. He was a master of the alegrias and often performed in the costume of a bullfighter. Upon retirement, Estampio gave dance classes to earn his living and resided in a humble garret. He died in 1957, surrounded by cats, at his home in Spain's capital city of Madrid.
Antonio Vidal a/k/a Antonio El De Bilbao
Born in the Spanish city of Seville, Antonio El De Bilbao is considered by some to be the most complete dancer of all time. He was the son of a modest dancer and guitarist named Nino De La Feria, and debuted at the Parish Circus in Madrid under his real name at the age of eight. El De Bilbao went almost unnoticed until 1906 when, at the age of twenty-one, he caused a sensation at the Cafe De La Marina during an improvised performance. Somewhat "stubby" in build with short arms and legs, El De Bilbao later became part of the Faico and Majigongo group, his speciality being the zapateado. He performed at the Alhambra Theatre in London and also appeared in Paris at the Pigalle. In 1915, El De Bilbao returned to Seville and by the 1920s was touring Europe and America. He eventually settled in Buenos Aires, where he taught the art of flamenco dancing and where (it is assumed) he died. There is no known record of El De Bilbao's date of death.
Antonia Merce Luque a/k/a La Argentina
Born in Buenos Aires in Argentina (because her parents happened to be on tour there), La Argentina (not to be confused with La Argentinita) excelled at both ballet and flamenco. Her mother (Josefa Luque) was a ballerina from an aristocratic Cordoba family and her father (Manuel Merce) was a Castillian from Valladolid...the first dancer and master choreographer at the Royal Theater in Madrid. La Argentina learned to dance from her father at the age of four and at nine, debuted with the Royal Opera Theater in Madrid, Spain's capital city. After the death of her father in 1903, La Argentina retired from ballet and began training in native Spanish dances under the instruction of her mother. As a girl, La Argentina is said to have possessed a beautiful contralto voice and her father wished her to be a cante. She studied that art form, but her heart was always in the baile and by 1914, she had become a star dancer at the Alhambra Theatre in London. Her eloquence with the castanets is considered to have been overwhelming (indeed, she was known as the "Queen of Castanets") and she worked exceedingly hard to achieve the very sound she desired from that instrument...a technique that had never before been seen or heard. La Argentina died of a heart attack in Bayonne (France) a little after 9 o'clock on July 18, 1936...the same day that the uprising by General Franco had taken place in Morocco. She received the highest praise for her performances that any artist may expect to receive in a lifetime and is credited with being the first dancer to ever execute the Malaguena on stage.
Encarnacion Lopez Julvez a/k/a La Argentinita
La Argentinita (not to be confused with La Argentina) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Spanish parents. Her father (Felix Lopez from Segovia) was a cloth trader and her mother came from Aragon. The family lived in Argentina for a period of time, returning to Spain and settling in the capital city of Madrid when La Argentinita was around six years old. She frequented the Cafes Cantantes with her father, who was a great admirer of the flamenco art, and attended dance academies. As a thin twelve-year old, La Argentinita began to perform on stage, often in male costume and executing dances traditionally reserved for men. She was also known to be something of a singer and hailed as a child prodigy for her dancing. La Argentinita reached the peak of her professional career during World War I and became friends with many of the brilliant poets of her era. In 1930, together with Garcia Lorca, she founded the Madrid Ballet. La Argentinita was engaged in a long-time romantic relationship with Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, an intellectual bullfighter (married to Dolores Gomez Ortega), for whom she retired from dance for a short period and whose death from a mortal wound in the bullring in 1934, left La Argentinita devastated. With her sister, Pilar Lopez, she later travelled extensively throughout Europe...Paris, London, Holland and Belguim...and then to New York, where she arrived in 1938. Initially, the uninitiated American audience failed to appreciate the dancing of La Argentinita, even walking out during her performances. She died in New York on September 24, 1945 after undergoing two operations, her last performance being given on May 28th of that same year. One of the greatest stars of international dance, the corpse of La Argentinita was transported back to Spain for burial.
Born in the Spanish town of San Sebastian, located in the Basque Region of Northern Spain, Pilar Lopez is the sister of Encarnacion Lopez Julvez (also known as La Argentinita). Greatly depressed by the death of her sister in 1945, Lopez declared that she had no desire to dance again, but friends persuaded her otherwise. However, it is for her dance company and the first-class performers in her group that she will be best remembered, along with her exceptional teaching achievements. The history of Lopez's work is perhaps unparalleled in the art of flamenco and ballet, and she has been called "the teacher of a generation." Today, Lopez lives in the calle General Arrando in the Spanish capital of Madrid...a mansion originally purchased by her sister, La Argentinita.
(See "La Argentinita" for family background)
Arguably the most magnificent flamenco dancer of all time, either male or female, Carmen Amaya was born in a thatched hut in Somorrostro (a neighborhood of Barcelona in Spain). Her father (Francisco Amaya, also known as El Chino) was a guitarist who scratched out a living playing from one tavern to another. From the age of four, Amaya accompanied her father, singing and dancing while he played. Of gypsy heritage, she was an incredibly strong dancer whose style was the "most fiery flamenco" of her era. Amaya was a revolutionary of the medium, often appearing in male costume and performing dances traditionally executed only by men. She appeared in many films (her last in the Spring of 1963, which she did not live to see on screen) and danced according to her own individual instinct, being dubbed the "personification of creativity." In 1952, she married Juan Antonio Aguero, a guitarist in her company who was a non-gypsy from a very distinguished Santander family. Aguero once said that their life had been a honeymoon from the moment of marriage until Amaya's death. In 1959, a fountain on the Maritime Promenade of Barcelona was named in her honor...the same fountain that she had walked past countless times as a barefoot and hungry little girl. Her last stage performance was on August 8, 1963. Unable to complete her dance, she turned to her guitarist (Batista) and said: "Andres, we're finished!" Amaya's mode of flamnco rarely complied to the established orthodoxy but coming from such an immensely talented source, it was accepted without any need for explanation. Amaya was an international cultural icon. She combined fury with tenderness and was a wild, exotic woman inspired by the fierce pride in her native country and the uncontrollable vagrancy of the gypsy spirit. Amaya died of kidney failure in 1963...in the same town where she had been born fifty years before...but her legacy lives on today in the form of her niece, Mercedes, and her grand-niece, Omayra, who combines modern Spanish and World Beat music with that of traditional flamenco dance forms.
Antonio Montoya Flores a/k/a El Farruco
(1935 or 1936-1997)
Born in Madrid (the capital of Spain) or possibly the Spahish city of Seville (sources differ), El Farruco came from a long line of prestigious gypsy flamenco performers. Grand-nephew of the magnificent guitarist, Ramon Montoya, El Farruco's strength was said to lie "in the blood." He was fiercely proud of his heritage...originally basket-making gypsies who wandered the roads by day and sheltered under bridges to sleep at night. His stage name originated from his mother, an accomplished dancer in her own right, who was known as La Farruca. El Farruco's father was shot by the fascists of Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Married at the age of fourteen, a father at fifteen and widowed at sixteen, El Farruco was a grandfather by the time he reached the age of thirty-three. He is said to have developed his gifted style of dancing by imitating the sound of horses with his feet. His only son, Juan Antonio (called El Farruquito), died in a road accident at the age of eighteen and was said to have been a perfect reincarnation of his father. It took El Farruco years to overcome this tragedy...years when he stopped dancing and was said to have had no interest in life. However, El Farruco's legacy now lives on in a grandson born in 1983, Juan Manuel Hernandez Montoya (also known as El Farruquito), whom El Farruco took under his wing and who is described as a dazzling dancer of great promise...possibly destined to be one of the greatest flamenco dancers of the Twenty-First Century. El Farruco has been dubbed the figure-head of a dying race...the gypsy clan who live their lives according to their own laws and manners, where the art of flamenco is handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter...where performers do not graduate from dance academies, but express their suffering in dance and music during the nighttime hours while plying their trade as a blacksmith or basket-maker by day. El Farruco died on December 17, 1997.
Born in November of 1936 in Elda (a village in the Province of Alicante, Spain), Antonio Gades comes from a very modest family. It is said that "Antonio Gades" is but the stage name of this dancer and later choreographer, given to him by Pilar Lopez in 1952, when he entered her company at the age of sixteen. Gades left school when he was eleven years old and, by the time he joined Lopez, had formerly worked as a photographer's assistant, apprentice bullfighter, errand boy and paper boy for a newspaper (among other occupations). With the money he earned transporting crates of fruit, Gades paid for his first courses at a dance academy. He began on the bottom rung of Lopez's company but within a year, had worked his way up to first dancer, remaining with her company for nine years and studying all disciplines of the popular flamenco forms. Known to be a sensible, self-educated and restless character, Gades is said to have included the tragic fury of flamenco with the expressive delicacy of the dance school. However, Gades himself claims that he became a dancer purely by chance and it is truly his choreographic talent (in ballet, as well as flamenco) for which he will probably be best remembered.
Born in the Spanish city of Seville, Cristina Hoyos was the leading ballerina/dancer for Antonio Gades for two decades...from 1968 through 1988...and participated in almost all of this dancer's great works. She later formed her own company...one which garnered much international prestige. Considered by many to be the "bridge" between the Golden Age of the Cafes Cantantes and the more modern style of flamenco, Hoyos possesses impeccable rhythm and harmony of movement. There are many modern factors associated with this poised dancer's performances, but the general concensus is that Hoyos has enriched the art form with some legitimate contributions to its present evolution.
Israel Galvan was born in the Spanish city of Seville. His father, Jose Galvan (who was also a dancer), initiated the young Galvan into flamenco dance at the age of five. Galvan has extensively studied the art of dance and is blessed with much technical knowlege...not to mention the innate talent to express emotion in his performances. One of the most spectacular of modern flamenco dancers, Galvan is said to have an intricate approach and amazing footwork. His quadruple pirouettes have brought him much critical acclaim and he has been dubbed the "Nijinsky of Flamenco." Galvan's avant-garde performances are original and far from stereotypical, offering new perspectives into the art of flamenco dancing. Credited with being the pioneer of a new style, Galvan has garnered every major dance award that his native country has to offer.
For an extensive biography/discography listing of celebrated baile performers
both past and present, click on the link button below to visit the
Flamenco Artists' Encyclopedia at La Web Del Flamenco.