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The History of Flamenco

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Spain is a country filled with extraordinary traditions. One of the most well-known is the southern Spanish practice of Flamenco, a style of music accompanied by singing and dancing.

Flamenco Dress

Any traveler to Spain will have seen posters, pictures and representations of the iconic Flamenco dancers, typically dressed in the "traje de flamenca" (flamenco outfit) trimmed with ruffles on the skirt and sometimes sleeves. The "traje" has expanded to a wide variety of designs that come in a variety of colors, patterns, lengths and ruffles.

A Flamenco dancer in the "traje de flamenca"

History of Flamenco

The origins of Flamenco have only been documented for the past two hundred years, but we do know that this style of music started in Andalusia in the south of Spain when Spain was under Arab domination. Much of what we know has been passed down through generations of families who have partaken in the tradition of singing and dancing to this unique type of music. The style and instruments of the original version have been adapted over time, and the music has morphed into a special kind of sound that is quite different today from the original version.

Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia practicing traditions from flamenco's history

Characteristics of Historic Flamenco

Flamenco started as a way of dancing that was not set to music. Dancers performed to the simple sound of clapping called "toque de palmas". When the style of dance was introduced in music cafes around the 1870s, guitar players started to join in the fun, attracting more and more of the public and developing an awareness of the style. In these cafes, a branch of Flamenco developed called "cante jondo" where dancers express deep emotions using body movement and facial expression. Dancers may clap their hands and kick their feet during their performance, adding to the emotional intensity.

Throughout history, Flamenco Dancers express deep emotion through body language and facial expressions

The Rise of Flamenco

It wasn't until about the 1950s that Flamenco started to make its way to theaters and concert halls. Flamenco guitarists started to play a more dominant role in the tradition, and dancers could be seen holding castanets, a small, handheld percussion instrument. The guitarists and the castanets have become a common representation of Spanish culture and the style of Flamenco that we know today. Flamenco has been brought to the world stage and is now performed in countries other than Spain, but it will always remain an intimate type of music, drawing the audience in with every clap, kick and click.

Castanets - a small, handheld percussion instrument used in flamenco throughout history

Be prepared to be overcome with emotion at an authentic show. You can find a local spot offering multiple weekly showtimes any time of year for this unbeatable experience. As an emblematic element of Spanish culture, a lot of the the shows (especially outside of Andalusia) unfortunately tend to be geared more towards tourists rather than aficionados, having said that, there are many authentic and awesome shows all around Spain. Ask us and we can recommend our favorites!

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