The beginnings of Flamenco can be traced back to Spain in 1492. In this year, Spain’s King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella decreed that everyone under their rule must convert to Catholicism. Those who refused to convert were subject to harsh punishments, including torture and death. Due to this persecution, the Gypsies, Muslims, Jews, and others came together to help each other, and the melding of their cultures resulted in the birth of Flamenco.

In general, there are three artistic elements of Flamenco: the dancing, the singing, and the guitar playing. Often, a fourth element of hand-clapping is added by members of the Flamenco group. At heart, Flamenco is an improvisational form, but the singing is the center of the performance. The emotion and vocals displayed by the singer is expressed by the dancer in interpretive dance and movements.

Flamenco began in Jerez de la Frontera, a small city in the south of Spain. Due to the nomadic nature of the Gypsy people, Flamenco quickly spread into several towns around Spain. As the Flamenco evolved through the 18th and 19th centuries, many non-Gypsies began performing the dance. Due to these non-Gypsies, the dance gained notability and was performed in theaters and cafes.

By the end of the 19th century, Flamenco became commercialized and this led to the rise of “professional” artists with song and dance cafes where the Flamenco could be seen in public. The growth of Flamenco continued until the 1950s when many tourists traveled to Spain to watch the performances. In the late 1950s, an artistic resurgence of Flamenco occurred, and Flamenco headed back to its historic roots. The Flamenco Festivals were established as part of this artistic movement. Annually, the Flamenco Festival in Jerez attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

The music of Flamenco is derived from the Muslim influence and is mostly classical Arabic in nature. The lyrics are not completely improvised, but variations occur with every performance. The common rhythm of the classical Flamenco is 2/4 or 4/4 time signature. The more contemporary, non-Gypsy style uses a western influenced 3/4 time signature.

An indispensable part of the Flamenco lies in the dancer’s feet. They wear special shoes which allow them to produce a combination of rhythmic sounds with the toe, sole, and heel of their foot. The dancer must keep their back straight and their feet in line with their hips. Various foot movements are performed, including the blow, the foot plant, the heel plant, and the toe plat, each producing a unique rhythmic sound.

Additionally, the dancer is very expressive using their arms, especially in the woman’s part of the dance. Requiring strong technique, lots of practice, and artistry, the dancer’s arms must be held high over her head with the elbows not visible, and bent into a rounded shape. The hands are turned inwards and outwards to the beat of the music, and add character to the performance.

Flamenco is not only a dance, but an art form. It entertains, educates, and inspires people around the world through its beautiful and soulful movements. A story, history, and emotional voyage are told to the audience through the music, singing, and dancing of Flamenco. Remaining a popular tourist attraction for thousands of visitors each year to Spain, Flamenco displays a beautiful part of the heritage and history of the Spanish culture.

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Gypsies, Muslims, Jews 

Region of origin: 
Jerez de la Frontera, Spain 

Popularized by: 
Nomadic Spanish Gypsies


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