Disciplines of flamenco

A flamenco show is so exhilarating to watch and there is an intricate interaction between the different disciplines of flamenco.

Quite possibly the most spectacular discipline and so associated with flamenco is baile (dance). There are wonderful dresses and shawls for women and smart suits for the men. The dances are emotional, expressive, full of attitude and passion and with elaborate (and often loud) footwork and flowing, twisting movements of the arms, hands and waist. Many different forms of dance have developed in different regions where flamenco is at home. Different dances can be sad, joyful, soul-searching or just a display of amazing strength, grace and dedication to this art.

The second main discipline of flamenco is cante (singing). There is cante jondo which is soul-searing, deep, intense and emotional. Cante jondo includes seguiriya and soleá. And there are lighter more joyful, forms, such as flamenco tango, the fast bulerías and alegrías (joy in Spanish). These will often form the backbone of many flamenco performances.

Backing the dancers and singers and as an instrument in its own right there is toque (guitar). You can hear complex rhythm patterns in double, triple and four beat time patterns. Percussive rasgueado (strumming patterns with the fingers,) beautiful melodic linking, apoyando (rest strokes) and tirando (free strokes) with fingers and thumbs. The guitarist will often do a solo piece in the interlude, when the dancers and singers are off stage preparing for the second half of the show.

Dancers, singers, and guitarists work together with an incredible awareness and feel for what the others are doing supported by códigos (signals) between the artists. It is not at all unusual that the artists have not worked together before a particular show. But we, the audience, are treated to a slick and coordinated performance by the artists. As if they had been working together for years.

If these are the three main disciplines of flamenco they will always be supported by palmas (hand clapping), which is beautiful and uplifting, and something the audience can join in with. There are also jaleos (shouts) of encouragement, often for the dancers, but also for the other artists, such as the well know “olé!”

Finally there are percussive instruments that make common appearances in flamenco shows. Most notably the cajón, which is a drum in the shape of a wooden box that the drummer sits on. And last, but absolutely not least, the castanets, so Spanish sounding and so cool, particularly when played by the dancer.