Get to know some of the Spanish Dances and the culture of origins. Dance chats from Madrid!
What are some Spanish Dances, what are their styles, from where and how did their culture originate? We were in Madrid for our Culture Trip and reunited with Paloma Gómez, Spanish dancer and maestra. She chats to us and answers our questions over a glass of vermut.
From relaxing walking strolls showing us some of her favourite sights in her city - the gardens, the boulevards, the majestic architecture, she took us to a bar for aperitifs and then to a Don Quixote decorated restaurant for lunch.
I remembered that during these social times, there were rich nuggets of information about Spanish dance, and thought it would be useful to share it with you, so that you can have a context to what you are learning.
There is an extensive range of Spanish dances, including all the regional dances of Spain. For those of us who prefer not to delve into history books, here is a conversational nutshell insight, which gives you the gist!
It was a great privilege for us to have her sharing these insights into the Spanish dance styles of Flamenco, Escuela Bolera (the Spanish Bolero School) and Classical Spanish Dance - in such a personal, up-close setting.
Flamenco and Escuela Bolera (The Bolero School)
Most people don’t know that flamenco and escuela bolera were contemporaries. At that time, the name was not Escuela Bolera, it was Escuela Española (Spanish School) which was the beginnings of the balletic form of Escuela Bolera.
Classical Spanish Dance was born later
Paloma explains how Classical Spanish Dance came later when La Argentinita joined the Bolera school (danced in zapatillas shoes) and flamenco styles.
In this video, you see some images of La Argentinita I’ve extracted them from a book that Paloma mailed to me.
Classical Spanish Music composed for Dance
She created Classical Spanish dance with music composed for these choreographies by Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeñiz.
In this video, you will see an extract of the beautiful Córdoba composition, which Paloma dances with castanets.
Many of you may be familiar with the melodies of the music by these great Spanish composers. In my youth, I heard them played by orchestras in the concert halls and on TV. But since they were performed without the dance element, I didn’t actually know they were part of the great legacies of Spanish dance and music, where both genres were integral to the other.
These days, things get too ‘boxed’ up into their separate genres like music and dance, so it’s nice to remember that they were very much linked, borderless and existed, one for the other.
The Culture of the Dances
Paloma tells us that Classical Spanish Dance was born to be performed directly on the stage. But Bolero school and flamenco was born as an expression of the people, it was danced at parties and celebrations, and in common spaces of the neighbours. They were not dancing in the theatres, they danced in common neighbourhood places.
If you come on a Cultural Trip to Spain, I will try to show you some of these spaces, where the architecture and where the houses were constructed around a common ‘patio’, gatherings paces which then facilitated much natural interaction.
It also makes me reflect on how, in our built-up society or urban-scape, how construction and design play a part in creating, enabling social interactions and therefore the culture that organically arises.
What are some similar steps across the Spanish Dance genres?
Paloma shares that what exists in Flamenco is also in the Bolero School and gives an example of the Panadero. It is not just a step, it is also a choreography.
In this video, I’ve included extracts so you can see Paloma demonstrating:
A balletic Escuela Bolera version. (01:47)
The extension of her legs are amazing and beautiful!
The Classical Spanish style
Paloma takes students slowly through the Panadero. Watch how she demonstrates the arms. Students then do it to music and flow with it. This version is taught without castanets. You can dance it to castanets too, and we can include it in future courses online.
I’ve also seen her do a flamenco version of it, and it actually reminds me of the paso de Bulerias! The rhythm is the same, in 6 beats (or 12, depending how you count it)
Spanish Dance Shoe ‘Fashion’
Little curiosities for those who want to know about accessories (shoes):
- Zapatilla - ballet shoes in Spanish language
- Alpargata - in those times, people didn’t dance with ballet shoes, it was more like alpargatas (I’ve added a photo of an alpargata these days. I’ve yet to research the historical detail of what they actually looked like in those days. So this photo is just to give an idea. You can also see some similarities to the fashionable Spanish espadrille shoes!)
- Flamenco shoes - most of us would be familiar with these.
Resources and Inspiration
Listen also to Albeñiz Sevilla - which is the final class of the first online course, where we end with a little choreography extract.
Online Access to Learning
For those of you who are keen to learn more about Spanish Dance, you can check out our brand new online course, ‘Spanish Dance Début 1’. There are two options - one with castanets and one without castanets. The latter is suitable for ballet dancers too.
This month, we will be launching ‘Castanets Début 1’, which focuses on castanets alone. It comes with a series of comprehensive exercises, including additional ones to the dance versions. Stay tuned!