History of Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco dancing evokes the passion and poetry of Spanish romanticism, developing over hundreds of years to become the country’s national dance.

Flamenco dancing history dates back earlier than the 14th century. The Gitanos—gypsies—of southern Spain had picked up a number of cultural influences during their western migration. Traveling across India, the Middle East, and North Africa, the Gitanos adopted folk songs, dances, and instruments along the way. They brought these forms into the Iberian Peninsula, where they evolved even further with the influence of the Moors and Sephardic Jews.

Ultimately, the fusion of folk styles gave birth to the form we know as flamenco. The Romantic era coincided with the golden age of flamenco—from the late-1700s to the mid-1800s. During this era, singing was the primary element, with music and dance playing a supporting role. But things changed in the 1840s when Silverio Franconetti opened the first café cantante. Here, dancers were put in the spotlight and singers played the supporting role. A number of other café cantantes soon opened in Spain’s major cities, including Seville, Granada, and Córdoba.

The cáfe cantantes opened the door for ópera flamenca, where the opera and ballet incorporated elements of flamenco music and dancing. What had been a gypsy music form was now being enjoyed by Spanish aristocrats and had transformed into a serious commercial force.

The commercialization of flamenco allowed performers to earn a living, but some purists worried that the form was losing touch with its roots. In order to protect its authenticity, Spanish artists and intellectuals began to hold flamenco competitions in the 1920s. These competitions popularized flamenco on the global stage and led dictator Francisco Franco to name flamenco as the national dance of Spain. The dance form has maintained its prominent place in Spanish culture ever since. 

There are three categories of flamenco songs: cante jondo, cante intermedio, and cante chico—profound, intermediate, and light songs, respectively. Cante jondo songs usually deal with heavy emotional themes—death, sadness, religion. The cante chico has a lighter, happier tone—love, celebration, etc.—and simpler rhythms. Cante intermedio songs fall in between the two; even when dealing with serious issues, they have a less tragic feeling.

In flamenco performances, the female dancer typically wears an elaborate, red or black ruffled dress, which accentuates her movements. Male dancers wear tight black pants and a white, long-sleeve shirt with a jacket or vest. The male focuses on complex footwork and the female dancer emphasizes the movements of the hands and torso, while the guitarist keeps time. The result is a beautiful synergy of sound and movement, a passionate, romantic art form that any visitor to Spain should see for themselves!

See a Fiery Flamenco Show