“So, what’s flamenco, anyway?”

Some of you have asked, “So, what’s flamenco, anyway? What’s it like? Do you have a partner? Do you wear fruit on your head? (Seriously!) And what’s this bulerías you’re always complaining about?” All you know about it, thanks to me, is that it ain’t easy to learn. My bad. I should have at least provided some background and/or examples. There’s so much to this art that I haven’t even learned yet, so I’m not going to try to give a lesson with my limited knowledge. But I will share some tidbits now and then to give you a glimpse of what I’m trying to learn so that you can get an idea of what flamenco is all about.

Ok, so let’s discuss this bulerías business. Flamenco music in general can sound pretty foreign if you’re hearing it for the first time. Now imagine trying to learn to dance to it when you’re not even familiar with the rhythm. It’s hard. And even when you think you understand it, getting your body to move to it is a whole nother challenge. This has been my relationship with bulerías, which for me has been the most difficult rhythm to grasp. Here’s an example of bulerías. I tried to find something that showed the guitarist’s fingers up close; I find this stuff mesmerizing. By the way, the hand clapping or palmas is an integral part of flamenco:

The next element is the singing, or cante. Now, I totally get that flamenco singing is an acquired taste for some folks — some of you have told me you just flat out don’t like it. I understand. It’s jarring to hear high-pitched wailing when you’re not expecting it. I remember feeling the same way initially. Now I LOVE it. And the more dramatic/passionate/painful, the better. Here’s an example. I love the spirit of this little gathering. Watch at least a minute of it:

And then there’s the dance. The dancer, singer and guitarist work together; basically, each gives cues to the others. As a dancer, I need to learn how to follow cues from the singer and guitarist, and I need to understand that certain steps I do will cue them to play or sing a certain way. It’s improvisational, but there’s a structure to the madness. Here’s an example. Notice how they take turns dancing, party style. This is what we do in class:

Looks fun, no? Well, it is!

Oh, and NO, I do not wear fruit on my head.


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