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What's That Dance?

Flamenco

By Jackielou Perez | Published October 08, 2010

Flamenco dancing
Photo by Freddi H via Flickr (cc)

Bright, colorful costumes, foot stomping, dancers strongly holding their heads high, crowds getting into the jaleos (ha-lay-os) spirit cheering and yelling Ole!

"This is how dancing should always be," says Flamenco dancer Margarita María Rigó. "The look, the music and the foot stomping, there’s something very tribal about this dance."

The liveliness of a raw, passionate Flamenco performance is more than just the dance. It’s about expressing inner emotion and with its roots in southern Spain, it has always been accompanied by guitar and singing.

There are typically three categories of flamenco dance: Baile grande (slower, most serious dances/songs), Baile intermedio (elements of serious music, but lighter in general), Baile chico (joyful, lively dances with footwork and arm movements).

Because the dance depends on self-expression and doesn’t require a lot of travelling, Flamenco can be performed on small stages or spaces. For example, in Granada, caves are used for studios and performances.

While the dance looks restrictive and basic compared to other Latin dances, it's a lot more complicated than people think.

According to Rigó who is a member of the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, coordination is very important. You have to follow the rhythm of the music as your feet move one way, arms going another and hands turning in –all while keeping the body rigid.

"The upper body is an important part of the dance, giving the look of a tall, strong figure," says Rigó. "It’s important for the aesthetic and expression to convey it."

When it comes to footwork, there are four main stomps which are used in a variety of combinations:

1) Golpe (foot)
2) Planta (balls of the foot)
3) Tacon (heel)
4) Punta (tip of the shoe)

Meanwhile, arms and hands are key elements, especially for the female dancer who in the early days of Flamenco, did almost no footwork because of their long skirts. Arms are usually in a ballet first or third position, as the hands turn inward (dentro) or outward (fuera).

With Flamenco, fashion is an important element to the performance.

"Costumes are a big part of what makes Flamenco fun," says Rigó. "There’s a whole other world in Flamenco fashion."

Flamenco outfits have ¾ length sleeves with the dress usually hugging the body until knee level or calf. Because women danced with limited footwork in the past, a lot of the ruffles and frills were around the chest and arms. As women started to do more extensive footwork, skirts were shortened or loosened to allow more fluidity. For more flare, some dresses included a bata de cola, which is a long train that is frequently used as part of the dancing.

Going with fashion rages, there has been a variety from bows, polka dots, monotone, florals, even skirts above the knee responding to the 1980s mini-craze. There’s even a fashion week held in Madrid and Seville every year just for Flamenco! See some colourful outifts from this year’s fashion week. Men’s costumes on the other hand are a lot simpler. They either wear high-waisted pants, a vest and poufy shirt or a suit.

When it comes to shoes, sneakers just won’t do. There are specific flamenco shoes that have nail heads on the tip and heel of the shoe to enhance the stomp sound. For female beginners, a character shoe or high heel with strap works. Men can use ankle boots or dress shoes.

Those who want to get to stomping, Rigó gives insight on what to expect:

1) A lesson in music
Because Flamenco music varies from a six beat to an eight beat to a 12, you need listen closely for the different cycles in the music or to anticipate what’s coming next.
2) Improvement on coordination
As a Flamenco dancer, you need to keep up with the footwork, and hands and arm movements all while listening to the tempo changes.
3) Sweat!
Mostly from the mental workout you’ll be getting from "trying to separate your body to move in different ways". 

So whether you’re taking in a performance or testing the Flamenco waters for the first time, you’re in for treat. You may be no expert bailaor or bailaora by the end of it, but you will be saying Ole!

WATCH
Flamenco at 5:15
Flamenco dancing at its best from Celina Zambon

VISIT
FLAMENCO DEL MAR in White Rocks, BC
MARIE OSENDE FLAMENCO in Halifax, NS
BEDOUIN BEATS LTD in Edmonton, AB

Margarita María Rigó began her flamenco career in Granada, Spain at the Carmen del las Cuevas flamenco school. She currently teaches both flamenco and classical Spanish to children and adults at the Academy of Spanish Dance. For more on Margarita, visit her website.