Think of the fire, the passion, and the defiance of those stomping feet, for these are what make the flamenco dance an integral part of Spain's culture. With its roots deeply embedded in Andalusia, the southern region of Spain, flamenco is a passionate music and dance form of the gypsies or Spain's outcast populations. Although the origins of the dance form and the etymology of the word itself cannot be deciphered exactly, it is believed that the origin of flamenco stems from the Greek, Roman, and then from the Indian, Moorish, and the Jewish cultures.
Origin and History of the Dance
It was during 800 and 900 A.D. that nomadic groups from India, moved to Spain. Believed to be members of the lower castes in India, called the untouchables, this group comprised musicians, dancers, traders, palmists, and metal workers. Referred to as the gypsies, they are said to have initiated and maintained this underground art form. The spread of the dance form can be attributed to the 'Inquisition of Reconquista' during which the Kingdom of Castilla decided to get rid of the minorities living in Spain, targeting specifically the Arabs, Jews, Africans, and the Indian gypsies. While some people turned to Christianity or left the country, others formed a band of fugitives and fled to the mountainous region of Spain. It was here that the dance form was developed in defiance of the persecution and anguish of the injustice meted out by the government.
It was the 'Leniency Edict' of Charles III in 1782, which restored the freedom to the Spanish gypsies and allowed the dance form to be presented in public. With the intermingling of various cultures with the existing dance and music culture of Andalusia, the present form of the flamenco dance evolved.
Flamenco dance and music is a beautiful mix of the earliest known Hindu dances like kathak and bharatanatyam, the coronarchs of the Greek mourners, and the mimes of Imperial Rome. During the 18th and the 19th century, the dance saw its golden age, with flamenco fiestas and the day-long social gatherings. Cafes, where flamenco was performed, became widely popular. However, with the advent of the 20th century, most of its traditional roots have been lost with the influences of tourism and entertainment.
Facets of Spanish Flamenco Dance
There are three facets of flamenco which are the 'toque' or guitar music, the 'cante' or the song, and the 'baile' or the dance. Although each of these forms can stand alone, traditional flamenco incorporates all the three. The dance itself is visually arresting with rapid fire footwork, graceful hand movements, and sharp turns. One of the most stunning features of this dance is the improvisation by the dancers, who let the music and the rhythm spark the 'duende' or the internal force which inspire the dance to start. Usually, the flamenco is performed solo. However, the duets by a man and woman are the most fascinating ones to watch. The dancers keep their eyes locked on one another, building off one another in a competition which is marked by sexual tension and emotion. The song and dance may be accompanied by 'jaleo' or loud clapping, rhythmic finger snapping, and shouting. Most of the elements in the dance, like the out-turned leg positions, rapid barrel turns, splayed fingers, and foot movements, bear a strong resemblance to the eastern dance forms.
What developed as a form of personal expression by the gypsies and other minorities during the revolution, has now become a highly polished art form with countless aficionados world-wide, with the advent of the mass media. The history of the dance form is a testimony to the change and adaptation process where one culture is influenced by another, each contributing to the beauty of the flamenco dance form.