Flamenco, Compás (comb-PAS) is everything. Compás means rhythm. The rhythm you listen to, the rhythm a singer sings to, the rhythm a guitarist plays to, the rhythm a dancer dances to and the rhythm a palmero/a (the person who does the hand-clapping) or cajonero/a (person who plays the box drum) claps or bangs out. Compás is THE most important thing in Flamenco. Without compás there is no Flamenco. Regardless of the dancer’s technique or skill level, if the dancer is not dancing to Flamenco rhythms, and staying within the rhythm structure, it just is not Flamenco. (…continued)
For the complete article, go to DanceUs.Org
I came across this interesting video by the BBC about castanets. Interestingly, an increasing number of my students (new and current) are requesting castanet instruction. So this video could not have been discovered at a more appropriate time.
In addition to my Flamenco dancing, I have played castanets for 23 years and I teach people how to play castanets. But I also teach my students how to be educated dancers. And that means how to determine when and when not to play castanets – that is, of course, if one wishes to pursue a traditional Flamenco education.
Castanets are not traditional to Flamenco, but it is one of the things that people recognize and enjoy most. When I tell people I am a Flamenco dancer, many say Flamenco? Then they raise their hands above their heads, bend their arms and click their fingers. I can’t tell you how many potential clients have called me asking “do you play those black clicky things? We want to hire Flamenco dancers that play them.” So if I want to accommodate my clients, I play them. But I play them when appropriate – which is why I say I dance Flamenco “and” Spanish dance. Castanets are part of Spanish dance, not Flamenco. I use them in Sevillanas, Fandangos de Huelva, Verdiales and in classical Spanish dances.
Now every now and then it is fun to cross a line – like playing castanets in Flamenco, but I know that I am crossing a line and I educate my audience to that fact. Usually I will only play castanets in a Rumba – which, originating in Cuba, is considered an “alien” rhythm to Flamenco; or maybe just jamming with the cajon player in a Rumba. I never play them in any other palo. And to play them in the serious palos, such as siguiriyas, soleares, peteneras, etc., in my opinion, is just one step below heresy; sort of like walking into high mass in short-shorts, a tube top and stilettos. Quite attention- getting and very popular with many people, but quite inappropriate for high mass.
So, play them when and where you will, but at least know what you are doing and why. And do your audience a favor – don’t perpetuate stereotypes of Flamenco dancers and castanets – educate them.
To better educate yourself about castanets and for an in-depth take on the subject – read what Ricardo says. But fasten your seat belts – it might be a bumpy ride!
Castanets have a very long history in Spain, much longer than Flamenco; in fact, castanets were used in Egypt. The Carthaginians, a Phoenician Middle-Eastern culture originally based in what is now Lebanon, were the dominant cultural force in Spain for 400 years preceding their defeat by the Romans in 146 BC. A form of metal finger percussion instruments were used by the Puellae Gaditanae, dancing girls from Cadiz described by the Spanish-born Roman writer Martial in 1st century AD Rome. Their dance was influenced by the Phoenicians, and probably resembled what we would call belly dancing more than Flamenco.
Castanets first appeared in Flamenco sometime before the turn of the 20th century, along with other influences from Spanish classical dance: the bata de cola (train dress), and the manton (large shawl). These dance props accompanied a turn to theatrical presentation of Flamenco shows in theaters, with choreographies and piano or orchestral accompaniment. This Opera Flamenca was designed to entertain audiences who had no knowledge of Flamenco, its traditions, forms, history, or artists. This type of Flamenco presentation was disdained by knowledgeable aficionados, and resulted in the well- documented decline of Flamenco in Spain during the 1st half of the 20th century.
The Cante (Flamenco song) was, and is, considered the central core of Flamenco; the primary source, the fountain of inspiration for all Flamenco artists. During the 1st half of the 20th century the major dance companies of a few classically-trained artists dominated Flamenco outside of Spain and put Flamenco dance forward as the major aspect of Flamenco. These dance companies (Vicente Escudero, La Argentina, La Argentinita, Pilar Lopez, Jose Greco), in looking for ways to increase their repertoire, used classical dances, regional Spanish dances, and began dancing Flamenco forms that had been too serious, or even sacred, to be danced: Seguiriyas and Martinetes.
The use of castanets is traditionally appropriate in Spanish regional dances (Sevillanas among others) and in Spanish folk-inspired Flamenco (Fandangos de Huelva in its many variations, and Verdiales, or Fandangos de Lucena). Castanets can be fun and creative in other light Flamenco forms such as Rumbas, Tangos, or even Bulerias. However, the use of castanets in Soleares or Seguiriyas debases a profound art form and ruins the line of the hands which are so important in Flamenco dance. Flamenco that is created to entertain a public with no knowledge of this great and serious art form will condone the use of castanets and anything else that entertains.
If castanets are the heartbeat of Flamenco, as stated in this BBC video, it’s only the theatrical, tourist Flamenco. Senor Vela laments that his art, and the use of castanets is in decline; Senora Ortega (mistress of a dance academy in Madrid) laments that Flamenco is in decline. If they are speaking of theatrical Flamenco and its ebbs and flows with popular or tourist interest, perhaps they’re correct. If they are referring to true Flamenco, the Flamenco of families, of village celebrations, of gatherings of friends in local taverns, they are mistaken. The families who produced great flamenco artists 200 years ago are still producing great Flamenco artists now.
To get the true story of true Flamenco, see: (all in English)
“Gypsies and Flamenco” Bernard Leblon
“Song of the Outcasts” Robin Totton
“Queen of the Gypsies” Paco Sevilla
“Seeking Silverio” Paco Sevilla
“A Way of Life” Donn Pohren
“Returning to A” Dorien Ross
In Flamenco dance, braceo (bra-SAY-oh) is the Spanish term for Flamenco “arm work,” the specific technique of moving the arms. Flamenco dancers, particularly women, are noted for having very powerful, yet extraordinarily graceful arms. This power and grace comes from engaging the arm muscles and controlling the arm movement, often in an extreme manner.
Proper braceo starts with proper posture (which I will discuss when we get to the letter “P” – it’s one of the most important topics, so be sure not to miss it.) While the arm positions in Flamenco are similar to the arm positions in ballet, I teach my students to hold their arms in a “basket” position rather than in 1st, 2nd or 3rd positions: “basket in front,” basket overhead,” and so forth. This helps them to break the association with ballet if they have had prior ballet experience. Ballet arms are very soft and graceful – fluttering like delicate butterflies. Flamenco arms are very powerful yet graceful – more like an eagle.
Read the full article at DanceUs.Org
(by Linda Machado)
I recently came across an article on eHow discussing Character Shoes vs Flamenco Shoes. I had expected to read an article that discussed the differences between these shoe types. Well, it did, but what I also found in that article was shocking.
Here we have a “contributor,” Ms. Fiona Miller, the author of the article, talking about the differences between character shoes and Flamenco shoes. Her opening sentence was correct. Things went downhill from there. The 2nd sentence “While Flamenco dancers can, in fact, use character shoes at the beginning of their training, it is important to later invest in a good pair of Flamenco shoes in order to get that authentic Spanish sound.” This statement is, in fact, "bass ackwards." Flamenco shoes are THE most important part of your Flamenco tools and ARE most critical for new dancers at the BEGINNING. It is the seasoned professionals that could get by without nails, but those professionals understand the consequences of doing so.
Using character shoes for Flamenco dance, especially by a beginner who does not yet understand proper technique, can result in serious foot and leg injury.
Proper Flamenco shoes have strong, thick leather soles – I repeat, leather, not plastic.
They do not have metal plates with little metal “bumps”.
They do not have taps.
They do not have only 3 nails (holding the heel cap on)
They have straps or elastic. In my experience, straps are far better because they firmly hold your foot in place, whereas even new elastic has a little “give.” The strap is close to the ankle – it does not go across the instep.
Proper Flamenco Shoes!!!!!
Over the years, some of my beginning students have come to their first class with character shoes. They say the dance shoe store said it was ok because they were beginners. This is a classic case of a student not asking a teacher for advice before buying anything and of a salesperson uneducated about Flamenco shoes just trying to make a sale. And, unfortunately, I am unable to allow the student to take the footwork portion of the class in character shoes. Until they have proper Flamenco shoes I cannot allow them to “stomp” their feet on the floor. You can imagine how unhappy everyone is at this point. (Bad Flamenco experience now beginning!)
Many new dancers are often hesitant to spend money on shoes “just in case I don’t like it.” I can almost guarantee that if you start Flamenco without proper shoes, you won’t like it. You will have a bad experience and likely come away with an injury. Flamenco dance takes commitment, including committing the financial resources necessary to get proper equipment and proper instruction. Inappropriate equipment and lack of qualified instruction will lead a dancer nowhere; except maybe to an orthopedic doctor; even more so if the dancer is over 50. If you decide to take hangliding lessons and ask your neighbor (a plumber who put a sun shade in his back yard last summer) to teach you and use your bed sheets (budget concern) you will likely get what you pay for – a big medical bill.
Further down in Ms. Miller’s article she expresses concerns about Flamenco shoes with nails being loud and damaging the floor. They are and they do. Which is why the 2nd most important thing in Flamenco footwork is the type of surface you should dance on. Dancing with improper shoes and on improper surfaces will damage you, which is more important than any floor.
I am deadly serious about safety. My new students get the “safety talk” before they take 1 step.
1. Your shoes must have nails – no nails, no footwork.
2. You may only dance on a WOOD surface (with some cushioning underneath, like a carpet). Never, never, ever, dance on concrete or tile – ever. (I ask them to repeat this 5x)
3. You can only lift your leg from the knee backwards towards the butt, not from the thigh upwards towards the chest (and I demonstrate it) before “stomping” on the floor.
4. If your “stomp” hurts your (or anyone else’s) ears, it is too hard.
Very often we turn to the internet for information about a subject we are researching – for advice, instruction, recommendation, etc. When it comes to medical advice, the internet has changed us from “passive patients” into “proactive participants” in our own healthcare. But I am sure we are all aware that when researching medical information you need to check the credentials of the person providing the information. Would you take medical advice from a person who has a Masters in Computer Gaming Software and spent the last 5 years reading gardening books at the library? Where is the relevancy in what this person shows as credentials to the subject you are researching? You want medical advice? Get it from someone who has credentials, academic or practical experience, but in any event, experienced on the specific topic! And the old saying still applies today, “you get what you pay for.”
Ms. Fiona Miller has credentials, but all in language and education. Where is her Flamenco dance experience? I had ballet as a child. Does that make me a pointe shoe expert? Hardly. And as a writer, I am unqualified to write an article informing people on pointe shoes. I might be able to research the subject, but without personal experience (other than wearing a pair as a child) and practical knowledge about pointe shoes, I would not be doing my readers justice. I am a contributor to DanceUS.org; I only contribute on Flamenco as I have no experience or expertise (other than a general passing knowledge) in any other dance type.
We as researchers (and anyone who Googles anything is a researcher) need to temper our enthusiasm to learn by becoming even better researchers. Research the “experts” themselves on the subject you are researching. Then take all the information you come up with, put it in a bowl, mix it around, add a little common sense, and see what commonalities and conclusions you can draw. Use your instinct – trust yourself a little more – rely on experts, but do your homework and go with your “gut” feeling – you will never let yourself down!
So, where do you buy proper Flamenco shoes? First ask you instructor. He or she should be able to direct you to the best sources. If he or she says you don’t have to have nails, I would seriously consider finding another instructor. Flamenco footwork is difficult to master (partly because you have to use the whole body at the same time, not just the foot). And if you start out with improper shoes, you are starting off in a negative position.
So here are some Flamenco shoe FAQs and their simple answers:
Do I need Flamenco shoes to start Flamenco?
Not only “yes,” but “absolutely yes.”
Can I use tap (or ballet or ballroom) shoes?
Not only “no” but “absolutely no.” And no ice skates, roller skates, water skis or snow skis. Nor should you use Flamenco shoes for any of these activities.
I don’t want to buy the shoes until I see if I like Flamenco dance first.
This is like telling your swimming instructor you want to see if you like swimming first before you get into the water. No water, no swimming; no Flamenco shoes, no Flamenco footwork.
Where can I buy Flamenco shoes?
Ask you instructor first – he or she should be able to direct you. If your instructor says nails are not important - again, find a new instructor.
Here are some of my personal Flamenco shoe recommendations, and why:
I believe that the best place to buy ethnic dance wear is from the country where the dance originated. Chinese dance, China; German dance, Germany, Spanish dance, Spain.
Flamencista is company that sells shoes (and all Flamenco dance accessories) made in Spain and that will fit all budgets. The top-of-the-line Gallardo shoes have a fine reputation and long history. Flamencista has excellent customer service.
If your budget will not allow Spanish shoes you could try Miguelitos, a Mexican folklorico shoe company. They make shoes in all sizes, even baby-sizes. My 18-month old dancer had a pair. (Yes, even the babies need nails on the shoes) These shoes do not have the weight of a Menkes shoe, but they are leather with wood heels. I have seen some of these shoes with improper strap placement; also, I have seen that the toe boxes on the men's boots are not very strong, resulting in collapsed toes when doing Flamenco footwork. I would recommend you check them out very carefully to be sure what you are buying is proper for Flamenco dance, which is different from Folklorico dance – including the footwork technique.
I cannot recommend Sansha shoes. Why? Mostly because the heel (and possibly sole) is plastic. While these shoes are reported by students as comfortable to wear, you can “stomp” the floor with all your might and still not get the crisp, sharp sound of a wooden heel. And believe me, beginning students, especially children, will pound the floor with all their might to try and make a sound like the instructor, all to no avail – the shoe will not let you do it. Sansha shoes used to be very inexpensive – that no longer is the case. And for the prices dance stores sell them for, a student would be better off saving up their money and investing in a Mexican or Spanish shoe.
So, there you have it. Start your Flamenco journey with the very best foundation you can – proper shoes - your body will love you for it
(by Linda Machado)
It is said attitude is everything. Well it’s true, especially in Flamenco. The right (or wrong) attitude can get you anywhere (or nowhere). Let’s discuss attitude ABOUT Flamenco dance and attitude IN Flamenco dance.
Having the right attitude ABOUT Flamenco dance is really an underrated skill. Dancers that approach Flamenco dance from a position of “I am going to be the best Flamenco dancer in [insert city, state or country],” or “I am going to make career out of Flamenco dance,” are starting out on the wrong foot (pun intended). Flamenco is ABOUT the journey, it is not something tangible that you can “collect” or a “skill” that you can master and then go on to master other skills. Remember, Flamenco is not a dance; it is a cultural art form of which dance is only one part. So developing an attitude of becoming a “dancer” can be limiting. It’s not about the dance; it’s about the art of the dance. Work on the dance but embrace the art. Practice your technique but dance from your heart.
To read the full article go to DanceUS.org
(by Linda Machado)
It’s true – no pink birds here, so don’t say Flamingo (fluh-MING-o), say Flamenco (fluh-MEN.co). In fact, Flamenco is not a dance. “What??? But, I saw some amazing dancers in some gorgeous costumes doing some real fast footwork to incredible music – what do you mean it’s not a dance??” Stay calm – an explanation is in order.
Flamenco is actually the cultural art form of the Andalusian Gypsy. In Flamenco there IS dance; but there is also singing, guitar playing and percussion. Flamenco is not any one of these things by itself – it is the interaction of all these things with each other that give us Flamenco. As a dancer, I am heavily invested in the dance portion, but I know that without most of the other parts, I will not be able to dance Flamenco – well, at least the kind of Flamenco I enjoy the most – improvisational Flamenco. There are different types of Flamenco, such as improvisational and theatrical (sometimes referred to as ballet Flamenco).
To read the complete article go to DanceUS.org
IT’S A SMALL WORLD … AFTER ALL
Ricardo de Cristobal is a Master Flamenco Guitarist and Flamenco Historian with over 50 years experience in the art form.