Flamenco Dancing: Background information when reading The Flamenco Academy

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The Flamenco Academy

by Sarah Bird

The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird X
The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Oct 2007, 400 pages

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Flamenco Dancing

This article relates to The Flamenco Academy

Print Review

Flamenco, which can be divided into cante ('the song'), baile ('the dance') and guitarra ('guitar'), is the traditional song and dance of the Gypsies (flamencos) of Andalusia in southern Spain. It is believed to have developed over several centuries from Gypsy, Moorish, Andalusian, and other roots (probably including northern India, as the gypsies were nomads believed to have been from northern India).

The first documented arrival of the Roma people (often referred to as gypsies) in Spain was in 1447, at which time the Moors (a common Medieval term for Muslims living in Spain and North Africa) had been occupying Spain for 800 years. Shortly after, towards the end of the 15th century, the Moors were ousted by Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, sometimes known as the "Catholic Monarchs", whose reign ushered in a period of more than 200 years of persecution against non-Catholics.

In 1492, any remaining Jews in Spain were ordered to convert to Christianity or face expulsion; a similar law was passed against the Roma people. Apparently, persecution of the Roma included a law that forced all Roma men between the ages of 18 and 26 to serve in galleys (often equating to a death sentence), but many managed to hide and avoid arrest. Not long after, Muslims were ordered to convert or be expelled. Many Moors, who had had their land confiscated, took refuge among the Roma rather than leave the country altogether. For more than 300 years, gypsies were subject to a number of laws and policies designed to eliminate them from Spain. By the time the persecution officially ended, gypsies had been driven into a permanently submerged underclass, from which many would argue they have yet to escape.

The suffering and injustice of the time was expressed in song and dance. Cante jondo (meaning "profound" or "grand"), with its themes of death, anguish, despair and religion, dates from this period. Gradually flamenco developed into an easier kind of music (such as chico, "light", dealing with subjects such as love, the countryside and gaiety).

Possibly the greatest flamenco dancer of the 20th century was Carmen Amaya whose dancing is described in the excerpt from The Flamenco Academy that you can read at BookBrowse.

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Flamenco Academy. It originally ran in July 2006 and has been updated for the October 2007 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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