Written by Jane Hebert
We know enthusiastic fans watching a bullfight somewhere in Spain might call out ¡Ole!, but did you know that fans encourage Flamenco dancers with the same word?
Flamenco is a dance of passion. It is a genre of music and dance that originated in Andalusia, Spain, in the 18th century, influenced by Gypsy traditions going back to Rajasthan India. The development of flamenco can be traced back to the Middle Ages and the meeting and mixing of several musical traditions in Andalucía where African and Arabic music developed along with the Spanish guitar and its rhythms. During the Spanish Inquisition, groups of persecuted peoples — Romani, Greeks, Visigoths, Moors and Jews — married their songs and dances of exile, despair, suffering, and also hope and celebration, with the ecstatic religious sounds of Andalucian music to produce Flamenco, whose essence is duende. Duende’s deep emotion is the ineffable mystery of life in art, song, music and dance. In November 2010, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deemed Flamenco a cultural treasure on its Intangible Heritage List.
As Coloradoans, we are fortunate to have several Flamenco groups performing in Front Range area theaters as well as in more intimate venues such as restaurants and lounges. The colorfully and elegantly costumed dancers are typically accompanied by singers, guitarists, percussionists and “palmas” – individuals who add a specific rhythmic enhancement to the performance by clapping their hands. Flamenco rhythms are unique, thus the audience is encouraged to shout words of encouragement – ¡OLE! instead of clapping along. The guitarist plays traditional Spanish Flamenco melodies, following the dancers as they vary the speed of their movements which can be slow and flowing or intensely fast. The dancers’ shoes might contact the dance floor with a strong downward motion that creates a loud stomping sound, occurring because the shoes have many small nails on the heels and toes of the soles. In other moments, you might not hear the shoes at all. The vocalists sing the story of each particular dance, usually in Spanish, with heartfelt emotion of love, happiness or despair. Together they create a memorable performance you will want to see again and again.
If you are feeling the desire to shout ¡OLE! as you watch this art form or even to learn to dance Flamenco, search the internet for Flamenco Dance in Denver or wherever you live or visit. You will find a wealth of information – history, significance and opportunities for participation – regarding this cultural artform.