Flamenco is a dance form that arose in Spain, influenced by various populations
passing through or living in the southern region of Andalusia. Beginning
in the third century BC, Gypsies, Sephardic Jews, Christians, and Moors
all contributed to Andalusian culture. The Moorish civilization was founded
by Arabs and Berbers of North Africa, in the 8th century. Like the Indian
Mughals, the Moors cultivated and transformed the arts, by bringing them
into their lavish courts as entertainment. As a result, Andalusia flourished
and came to be regarded as a major cultural center from the 9th to the 15th
The Gypsies migrated from India to Spain in various waves, being influenced by the
customs of peoples whose land they passed through, and incorporating elements of these
customs into their own already unique customs, language and way of life. A nomadic
people, the Gypsies were most often met by extreme persecution and condemnation wherever
they went, and were often forced to survive under the most adverse conditions.
Beginning in the 15th century, Christian monarchs in the north of Spain demanded adherence to
Christianity, and during the Spanish inquisition, Muslims, Jews, and Gypsies were forced to convert
or leave Spain. Many people were tortured, persecuted and even killed if they refused to conform to
the accepted standard of Spanish society. Poverty and persecution were widespread and affected
Gypsies and non-Gypsies alike, and the once vigorous separation that existed between them faded
away as a result of their shared struggles.
Despite being persecuted by the Spanish Monarchy, the Gypsies continued to defend and assert
cultural identity and ethnic pride, and maintain their own customs. The interplay between the
Andalusian folk forms and Gypsy traditions forged the beginnings of flamenco dance and music.
The first contexts of flamenco performance appeared to have been private, deeply emotional events
that were kept hidden in close Gypsy familial gatherings. Early urban flamenco events took place
in secluded rooms in bars, or in the patios of Gypsy dwellings. The suppressed passions and long-felt
emotions of the Andalusian Gypsies were vocalized through flamenco in the cante (song), the primary
element of flamenco.
In the 19th century, flamenco shifted from an intimate, ritualistic art form
to a public entertainment form, developing the virtuosic footwork and an expansion
of styles within the form. Performed by non-Gypsy and Gypsies alike, flamenco
began to achieve legitimacy and public acclaim. The 20th century technological
growth and mass media further bolstered flamenco's popularity, as it came
to be recognized nationally and internationally and moved into theatrical
Although the Gypsies were not honored for their contribution to the art form until many years later, they have
always been considered among the best interpreters of the flamenco arts. In recent years flamenco has
continued to develop, incorporating sophisticated musical stylistic elements from other mediums,
however it still maintains a core of traditional styles and techniques.
Canto (song) is the core of flamenco, and like baile (dance),
it has three forms: grande or hondo (meaning grand
or deep), intense, profound songs, tragic in tone, and imbued with duende,
the transformation of the musician by the depth of the emotion; intermedio (intermediate),
moderately serious; and pequeño (small), light songs of exuberance,
love, and nature. Among these forms, several individual genres exist,
including the light bulerías, the more serious soleares and
its lighter descendant, the alegrías, among others.
Both text and melody of these songs, like the flamenco dance, are improvised within traditional
structures such as characteristic rhythms and chords. Zapateado, intricate toe- and heel-clicking
steps, characterizes the men's dance; the traditional women's dance is based more on grace of body
and hand movements. The baile grande, especially, is believed to retain elements of the dance of
North India, where the Gypsies originated. Castanets come from the influence of Andalusian dance.
Jaleo, rhythmic finger snapping, hand clapping, and shouting often accompanies the song and dance.
In the 19th century, guitar accompaniment became common for many genres, and guitar solos also
developed as a part of the song/dance cycle.
Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos performed in People Like Me 2004.