Art and Identity Through Flamenco

Flamenco dancing, along with other Spanish staples and norms like tapas, bullfights, and eating dinner at 10pm, is one of those things that you’re likely to hear about before you depart for Spain, but is difficult to truly grasp until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Being over halfway through my time in Seville, I still had yet to hear or see anything related to flamenco dancing until an ISA excursion on a recent weeknight.

Our group was taken to “Museo del Baile Flamenco,” a cozy venue tucked away mere steps from the Cathedral, right in the heart of the center of Seville. We sat down in a dimly lit, cave-like space, not much bigger than an average classroom. Once the emcee had introduced the show, it was the dancers’ and musicians’ time to shine.

A quintet of dancers and musicians took stage, the dancers locking eyes and seamlessly floating around each other while the singer and guitarist gave a show of there own in the background. The female dancers, dressed in traditional flamenco attire, which makes it all the more impressive when you consider how long the dresses are, couldn’t have made it look any easier. The intimate setting of the venue allowed for the audience to feel invited to be a part of the show, which was performed in “acts” of sorts, as dancers switched in and out and the music grew louder and more intense with each tap of the heel. Flamenco, like other fine arts, is a form of storytelling. These stories are not written down, or even spoken, but expressed through song and dance through expression of emotion by the musicians. The dancers often looked flirtatious as they exchanged glances and moved near each other, back and forth, closely following the tempo of the music while also leaving room for improvisation and adding their own fun.

The “Jaleo” element of flamenco dancing (which literally translates to “hell-raising”) is arguably the most fun, as it incorporates the clapping, stomping, and shouting that flamenco is famous for. This draws the audience further into their own participation as the musicians are noticeably enjoyed themselves just as much as I was.

Flamenco, as I later learned after being inspired by the evening’s performance, is much more than just a form of dance unique to Spain. It’s part of the rhythm of life for many Andalusians and Sevillians. Dating back to the 18th century, flamenco positioned itself as one of the most iconic symbols of Spanish culture during Francoism to promote unity when Spain needed it most, in contrast to what life was like during that time as anyone who can remember Francoism could tell you. This added context made me appreciate the performance even more, knowing these dancers and musicians continue to dazzle locals and tourists alike every night of the week at venues all over Spain.

The just over an hour runtime of the show flew by, and before I knew it, the magic of flamenco had concluded, or at least for the night. From the shining display of the dance itself to the rich history behind it, flamenco is not something to be overlooked on any visit to southern Spain.

Henry Hargrave a college student at the University of Denver. He is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Seville, Spain.

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