Flamenco dancing, and the accompanying flamenco music, combines to form the uniquely Spanish art form, flamenco. Flamenco's origins, as well as today's best flamenco dancers, are located in southern Spain's Andalucian region. A trip to Seville, Cadiz, or Granada offers a chance to see, hear, and even participate in this most traditional of Spanish art forms.
A synthesis of dancing, singing and instrumental accompaniment, the flamenco dance appeared in recognizable form in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. What became the dance of the gitanos (gypsies) of the Guadalquidvir Valley, may have originated in the music of Moslem Andulucia during the Medieval period, or even as far back as Byzantine chants used in Visigothic churches.
A male flamenco singer is known as a cantaor, a female singer is referred to as a cantaora. Flamenco dancers are bailaor/a. Most songs and dances are played with a thumping guitar rhythm, and percussion provided by tapping feet, clapping hands or the brassy clink of castanets. The traditional flamenco costume for women is a shawl, a long frilly bata de cola dress and a fan. Men are adorned in flat Cordoban hats and tight black pants.
The first flamenco cante jondo (deep song) was a tortured howl of passion from poorer, often marginalized, Andalucians. This passion is still at the heart of modern flamenco. The ability to convey passion and tap into deeper human emotions is the essence of flamenco music and flamenco dancing.
Though flamenco history has been debated, and its popularity has come and gone throughout the years, one thing is certain—flamenco is today experiencing a golden age. New generations of flamenco dancers, and continually evolving forms of flamenco music, have broadened flamenco audiences in Spain and around the world. Instead of shunning modern music and dance forms, flamenco continues to incorporate these, while at the same time remaining unique and vital.
Flamenco can be seen and heard in all of Spain's regions (especially the larger cities), but it remains an Andalucian specialty and it is here during the summer festival season that tourists can see it performed in all its forms. During the rest of the year, your best bet for authentic flamenco, is to find penas (flamenco clubs) where live performances are staged in intimate settings. Seville, Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz and Granada are all flamenco hotbeds and offer the best chance to catch the purest, and often the most passionate, flamenco dance in the entire world.