SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- For centuries, the rhythmic beats of the FLAMENCO music had marked the hearts' beatings of the Andalusian gypsies. The same rhytm started marking the hearts' beatings of the people in the Bay Area since the nineteen sixties. when THEATRE FLAMENCO of SAN FRANCISCO, the second oldest dance company continually running FLAMENCO dancing outside of Seville, Spain, was opened in the city.
Now under the direction of dancer CAROLA ZERTUCHE, THEATRE FLAMENCO of San Francisco, was founded in l966 by ADELA CLARA, a world-famous dancer who had studied FLAMENCO DANCING with the greatest masters of the art form in New York City, Madrid and Seville. Since then, the organization had supported the cultural enrichment of San Francisco Bay Area, through a dancing school and its theatrical performances of FLAMENCO, the dance which had its roots in Spain.
While some scholars trace the origen of FLAMENCO dance all the way back to to the Byzantine and Indian religious chants, BRITANNICA traces the roots of FLAMENCO music to Arabic and possible Spanish/Jewish folk songs. So, although many of the development of FLAMENCO is lost, the only theory that is certain is the one that claims that FLAMENCO originated in Andalusia, Spain, but that during the VIII and XV centuries, when Spain was under Arab domination, some of FLAMENCO's original musical instruments were altered, and it absorved, in its music, the sounds of Christian an Jewish music, along with some of the steps of their dances. So, today's FLAMENCO is no longer pure gypsy, but an amalgamation of music and dances.
The typical instruments in FLAMENCO are the Guitar, the Castanets, the clapping of hands and the snapping of fingers. With the exception of the guitar, which plays the melodies, the other instruments are used to mark (put emphasis) on the strong music beats.
THE SPANISH GUITARS
The SPANISH GUITARS are called CLASSICAL or SIX- STRING GUITARS and they are different from the Acoustic Guitars in their strings. When the Acoustic guitars are strung with metal strings, the Spanish guitars are strung with Nylon strings. Because of it, when played, the neck of the guitar, which is constructed from a solid piece of wood, is put under less tension. But for the guitar's player, the big difference is in their sound. While the metal strings produced a harsh sound when strung, the Nylon strings produce a mellow, mournful sound which is more fitting to the outcry of lyrics in the FLAMENCO's songs.
CASTANETS, is the plural name given to four small concave pieces of wood, ivory, or thick plastic which are joined in pairs by a thick cord and played by clicking them, with the fingers, while hanging from the player's fingers, or against each other, to mark the strong beats in the FLAMENCO's music.
WEBSTER dictionary associates the name CASTANETS to CASTAÑA (The Spanish chestnut they resemble). While the two pairs of CASTANETS look alike, their players know that the sound of each pair is slightly different. THE HEMBRAS (The female) pair which is worn on the right hand, has a mellower sound when clicked, than THE MACHOS (the male) as the pair which is worn in the left hand is called, which has a darker fuller sound.
MARKING ITS BEATS
The strong accents in the FLAMENCO's music, are always emphasized by the dancers in different ways: By clicking the two pairs of Castanets against each other. By clapping with both their hands and by snapping their thumb and middle finger, which is more ofen used by the women dancers.
The male dancers usually mark the beats with her feet, in what they call "The Taconeo." which is the name they call the sounds made with their fast moving feet, one at a time, creating different rhyths by using variations of the PUNTA (The front part of the shoe) and the TACÓN (the shoe's heel) which is usually short and thick in the boots worn by the male dancers. Another way the male and female dancers mark the beats is jumping on both feet.
Most FLAMENCO's music is interpreted in guitar and danced and sang by either the guitar player or the dancers. The gypsies call their songs CANTES (instead of CANTOS which is the Spanish word for songs) and they have many styles. Each style uses different patterns for its Lyrics, for its rythims, and for its structures: Some of the styles are: The Alegrías, The Bulerias, the Malagueñas, the Fandangos, The Saetas, and The Peteneras. All the types, however, may be classified in three categories:
1) The CANTE JONDO a song that is based on something painful (something that hurts them deeply. Hondo, (with and H instead of a J) is the word for deep in Spanish. Songs belonging to this genre are about : death, despair, separation anguish to name a few. Musically, it has a 12-beat rhythm in its structure and as a song and dance, it demands a lot of feeling when performed.
FLAMENCO AS A DANCE
To dance Flamenco requires technique. Everybody can learn the movements of the arms and the steps of the feet, but because FlAMENCO the dance, is usually accompanied by a story told in song, a good FLAMENCO's dancer must be capable to express in his or her movements the essence of the story being told in the lyrics of the song. In other words, move in rhythm with the music and in his/her movements, 'interpret' the lyrics of the song.
One of those "extraordinary" dancers in San Francisco was MIGUEL SANTOS (now 95 years old) who critics agree, was the best male FLAMENCO dancer in the city. After auditioning to ADELA CLARA, he was invited to join THEATRE FLAMENCO as a principal dancer in l966, and later served as Principal choreographer, and Artistic Director for many years, at the end even rescuing the organization, when it was about to be closed.
In "My Life in Dance" the short YouTube short movie below, MIGUEL relates his own story in his own words.
Joining the homage given in San Francisco to dancer MIGUEL SANTOS by THEATRE FLAMENCO, to celebrate his 95th Birthday (May l8), CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL dedicates to him this article about FLAMENCO, the dance he masterfully performed for many years.