El baile . . . (some suggestions for viewing)
El baile. Flamenco dance. Fiery, explosive, passionate, dramatic, . . . whirling skirts and beautiful hands, and lots of stomping . . .that's what most people think of when they hear the word "flamenco", right?
And they wouldn't be wrong. Not only about the stereotypical signifiers, but also the place of dance in flamenco. I would argue that it's the most accessible element of flamenco, requiring no translation and engaging even those audience members that, for whatever reason, aren't engaged with music.
But . . . I think that dance, in many ways, is the most deceptive element of flamenco. It's easy to be swayed by its superficial elements, even moved by them in some profound ways, without appreciating the artistry and mastery of skill that's involved. In the studio, in the middle of what seem like endless drills for zapateado (footwork) and the focus on each finger and joint as dancers work on floreo and braceo (the flower-like hand gestures and the placement of arms, respectively) we often joke "wow, flamenco is hard".
The bailor y bailora are athletes, painters, sculptors, and musicians, working against the limitations of the human body, finding its possibilities. And, as we also say in the studio, they're expected to get better with age, to have more to say even as the body pushes against time and gravity. Digame, "tell me something" we demand of the dancer.
The history of flamenco dance is long, complicated and obscured by the ages and human movement across the continents. Yes, it can be traced along the path of the gitano, the so-called "gypsy diaspora", from the northwestern regions of India to al-Adalus in southern Iberia.
(Here is a scene from Tony Gatlif's film Latcho Drom, his recreation in dance and music of that journey:
But, in flamenco dance as we know it today, there are also elements of Spanish folk and classical traditions, as well as Moorish, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dance . . . yes, it contains multitudes.
As with all things flamenco, I can offer some selections to illustrate the history and key figures, but I could never be comprehensive . . . especially since it is a still vital and evolving art form. You can see something new and thrilling every time you go to a tablao or a theater.
So, here are some tastes of flamenco baile. As always . . . enjoy!
The legendary Carmen Amaya. The genius "Queen of the Gypsies" from Barcelona who conquered the world in exile from Spain during Franco's dictatorship, she still stands as a titanic figure: a woman who crossed the traditional boundaries of flamenco dance, mastering both the elegance and the fiery footwork, dominating in skirts and in trousers. Though she died too young, she is, in her world, immortal.
José Greco, the Italian-born American flamenco dancer, who popularized flamenco dance for American audiences: