By Sarah Rooke

Flamenco is the well known dance of Spain and has often been compared with its cousin Raqs Sharqi. Raqs Sharqi and Flamenco are both classed as oriental dance. However, the body posture differs in flamenco, the accent is more rigid and the empathises is on the hands and feet, whereas in Raqs Sharqi the body is flexible and the empathises is on the hips and arms. The dance in flamenco is open to also both men and women.

Costume wise, men wear trousers with a shirt and waistcoat or bolero, and they also have boots on their feet. Ladies wear lovely bright colourful dresses or tops with skirts – which are frilled at the hem and are full circle. They also wear shawls and earrings, and have flowers in their hair with flamenco shoes on their feet. Many ladies costumes in flamenco have spots on them since it represents the planets from the gypsy tradition, so there is a touch of the mystical and spiritual there as well.

This is equally borne out in the circular arm movements or the Braceo, which stems from flamenco’s history. The Moors occupied Spain form many centuries and so there is an influx of cultural influences from the Middle East that have left a mark here. Flamenco’s roots are in the Andalucian gypsy, Arab, Jewish, folk and possibly even the Byzantine or Indian sources. Flamenco is therefore not like other European dances.

Despite popular belief, it is actually the singer, not the dancer, who is important in flamenco, for he/she sets the tone for the guitarist and dancer. For example with regards to the Palmas, or handclapping. You would not clap loudly if the song was one of sorrow, for the simple reason of out of respect of the subject matter and being able to hear what is being sung

The cante or songs of flamenco fall into two types, Jondo or profound, which deals with despair and sorrow, or Chico or light, which deals with love and joy. From these we have the various dance forms. For example, the serious Soleares, which are descended from the older Canas. Then you have the lighter Alegrias and its recent form the Bulerias. Other forms, like the Sevillanas or Fandangos, come out of Spanish folk songs. We also have forms like the Rumba, which are borne out of the Latin American or the Zambras, which is very Arabic.

Performances are often accompanied by Jaleo, palmas or intricate handclapping, finger snapping and shouts like the well known ‘ole!’ and ‘viva!’. Though Castanets are used, they were not part of the original flamenco gypsy tradition, being more recent. In the 19th century, gypsies began to dance in cafes professionally to earn a living and the word flamenco bandied about to describe their song and dance. In these cafes, the guitar became more prominent and became associated with flamenco dance and song.

Through the improvised guitar accompaniment and the emotive cries of the singers, ones mind is transported back through the centuries to its beginnings in the Middle East. Today, modern flamenco is recognisable in its current form of guitarist, singer, cajon (sort of drum box) and the percussive sounds of the dancers heels, called Zapateado. Dance is the main part of flamenco and without a doubt, forms the rhythmic structure.

If you would like to take this dance up for yourself, I would recommend getting a proper pair of flamenco boots if you are man and flamenco shoes if you are a lady, as these support the foot, and have tacks on the heel and sole, which are used to make the noise. These can be obtained from Duende at 125 Tarring Road in Worthing or El Mundo Flamenco at 62 Duke Street in London, along with other aspects of costume such as skirts or dresses or trousers, shawls, books, jewellery, fans, castanets, CDs and videos (see website details below)



It is also a good idea if you are a lady to obtain a basic beginners skirt in black or red, and if you are a man, a pair of flamenco trousers. You can then match these with different tops/shirts etc

Also, there is the Flamenco Network that have a host of information on their website. (They have a cool demo of flamenco dance and song here)


Happy dancing and viva flamenco!


Flamenco A to Z

By Sarah Rooke

ALEGRIA – Flamenco dance allied to Cante Jondo
BAILE – Spanish word for dance

BRACEO – Carriage or movement of the arms

BULERIA – Flamenco party dance allied to Cante Chico

CAFÉ CANTANTE – Spanish version of the Café Chantant

CAMBIOS – Jumps with changes of feet

CANA – Flamenco dance allied to Cante Chico

CANTE CHICO – Light songs and dances of the Spanish gypsies

CANTE JONDO – Serious songs and dances of the Spanish gypsies

CARACOLES – Flamenco fan dance allied to Cante Chico

CARETILLA – Roll sound made on castanets

CASTANUELAS – Spanish for castanets

COMPAS – Bar or rhythm of music

CONTRA TIEMPO – Counter rhythm

COPLA – Spanish for verse in song

DOBLE – Double step

ENTRADA – Entrance made by dancers

FANDANGO – Type of Spanish dance

FERIA – Fair or festival

FLAMENCO – Andalusian gypsy music, song and dance

GOLPE – Spanish for beat

GUAJIRA – Spanish courtship dance that uses fans

JALEO – Spanish Classical dance and song

JEREZANA – Point foot and flick skirt upwards

MALAGUENA – Regional dance from Malaga

MANTON – Spanish for large shawl

PALMAS – Stylised Spanish hand claps

PASADA – Passing step

PAS de BASQUE – Typical Spanish gypsy step

PAS de BOURRE – Spanish step from left to right

PASEO – Series of steps

PASODOBLE – Popular Spanish two step

PLANTA NATURAL – Spanish standing posture

RIA – Roll on right castanet

RUMBA – Flamenco dance of South American origin

SEGUIRIYAS – Flamenco dance allied to Cante Jondo

SEVILLANAS – Popular social Spanish dance from Seville

SOLEARES – Flamenco dance allied to Cante Jondo

TA – Single beat on left castanet

TACONEO – Spanish word for heel beats
TANGOS – Flamenco dance allied to Cante Chico

TI – Single beat on right castanet

TIEMPOS – Time of music

VUELTA – Turning step

ZAMBRA – Flamenco dance of Moorish origin

ZAPATEADO – Rhythmic beats of heels and ball of foot

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