Episode 54: Song Sampler #3 - Unique Dance Styles of Spanish Music

It's been a bit since our last song sampler (see Episodes #42 and 24 for Christmas Song Samplers, Episodes 33-35, regarding Nursery Rhymes, and Episodes 40 and 20 for general song samplers), so today's episode is going to focus on 4 unique styles of dance music that come to us from Spain and Puerto Rico! (With a heavy emphasis on the Dance!)

These first two dances come from Spain! They were an important part of my experience in Sevilla.

Flamenco

Flamenco is a traditional form of dance and music from Spain's Andalusia region. Believed to have begun with the gitanos, or gypsies, who migrated from India to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries, and then mixing with the Spanish Sephardic Jewish and Moorish cultures. Seville, Spain is famous as one of the epicenters of Flamenco culture (it is everywhere there! There are many places you can go to enjoy a Flamenco show, especially Café Cantantes - coffee houses that host flamenco shows).

There are 3 important elements to Flamenco: el cante (song), el baile (dance), and el toque (music). The cantaor (singer) provides the narrative, providing a story or legend for the dancer to connect to. The bailaor or bailaora (male/female dancers) interpret the emotions of the song and convey them to the audience. The entire body is used, from fancy footwork (similar to tap), elegant hand positions and arm movements, and even the use - sometimes - of castanets. Women often wear a very stylized dress with ruffles and a train, as well as large flowers on one side of the head. The tocoar (guitarit) maintains the rhythm for the dancer's movements and is known for extremely fast strumming and improvisation.


Now, flamenco has 3 types of musical styles known as palos:

  1. Cante Grande, meaning "big song, or important song", this style is very emotional, deep, and can focus on despair, death, or even religious doubt. Perhaps the oldest of the styles, it is also called cante jondo, which means "profound/deep song".

  2. Cante Intermedio, meaning "intermediate song", and lies somewhere in between the two other styles.

  3. Cante Chico: meaning "little song", this style involves lighthearted, folkish, even happy songs. It is less emotional, but still requires a lot of technical skill.

If you would like to learn more about this type of music, check out Britannica's indepth article, Rick Steves' short video on Sevilla, Spain, or Spain Traveller's complete introduction to Flamenco. Also, as a side note, Flamenco can be performed as a pair, with a man and woman performing together. But a lot of the videos I have below focus on just a female dancer (I love their outfits).


If you would like to see some examples of awesome Flamenco dancing, check out the following videos from YouTube! You'll note how the audience will join in with shouts and how important clapping is to the rhythm as well. (Also, did you know that there is a show called "Spain's Got Talent"? Check it out - what a great way to enjoy great music and other skills while practicing your Spanish listening skills!)

What I love about this first video is that you really get the sense of national pride the Spaniards have in this form of traditional music. Their love for it is really cool and very moving.


Here are a few videos of a dancer, Macarena Ramírez, and her performance on the show, "The Dancer". Another potential new TV show to enjoy while practicing your Spanish skills! ^_^ Your welcome.

Macarena is amazing. You can see how she affects the judges each time with her dancing. In this first video (her audition), she actually designed the dress herself and is able to gracefully perform the dance - despite how cumbersome the outfit must be. You can see how intense her core strength is just by how she bends and moves. While this is an audition, which might explain why she doesn't have the traditional singer and guitarist, she still epically performs her dance and conveys SO much emotion; she brings the audience - including the judges - to their feet!

I love this video, as not only is it a fascinating rendition of the story of Snow White, but you have all of the classical elements of Flamenco - singer, dancer, and guitarist, as well as the clapping, audience shouts, and castanets. This is her Semi-final performance. Her Grand Finale is this next video.

I really like this one because it shows all of the traditional elements as well, but she starts the dance with traditional Spanish fans, which are another cool aspect of Spanish culture (my professora at the Universidad de Sevilla always had a fan with her, and she would just nonchalantly pull it out and start fanning herself in the middle of class. (It gets really, really hot in Sevilla during the summer and early fall; it can get pretty miserable.)). You can also really feel the emotions of this song, especially with her facial expressions and shouting. You also really see the pride the Spanish have in this dance form at the end when the judges talk about it; they're really affected by her performance (I love it!).


Sevillanas

Before I went to Spain, I would not have enjoyed this music at all. But while there, I took a dance class on Sevillanas, and now it holds a special place in my heart. Sevillanas come from Castile, Spain from around the 15th century. While they may look similar, Sevillanas are not the same as Flamenco. True, they have three main elements - the dance, song, and music - just like in Flamenco, but Sevillanas are a choreographed, pre-established routine; Flamenco is more about pure emotion and improvisation.


Sevillanas are performed in groups, generally in pairs of 2 (it can be male and female, but it can also be female and female. I don't know if men will dance with men), with the entire dance taking place in the area of a long, imaginary rectangle. The pair will constantly switch positions, and the movements of one's arms and hands are important, as well as the steps. There are generally four sections to each dance: la primera sevillana, la segunda, tercera, y cuarta, and the closing.


As far as I can tell, Sevillanas are similar in popularity among Spaniards in the way that the various line dances are in America. They are performed at weddings, group gatherings, etc., but especially during Feria. The traditional dresses for women are called traje gitanas, which are colorful, swirling dresses (often with polka-dot patterns) that add a wonderful flare to the dance. People will just break out into dances (you can dance them singly if you so desire, kind of like doing the Charleston at a Lindy Hop event when you don't have a partner. If those dances don't mean anything to you, I highly encourage a trip down YouTube to learn about them - they are SUPER fun! But not what this episode is about).


If you would like to learn more about them, you can check out these articles from Pura-aventura.com and Andalucia.com. In the meantime, here are some helpful videos if you would like to see examples of Sevillanas.

I love the dresses; they are BEAUTIFUL! In this video, you can see two women performing a Sevillana. Notice how they tend to stay within an imaginary rectangle. Also pay attention to how their hands are constantly moving in graceful circles, with the fingers sometimes being placed in particular formations as they move up and down.


Here is a male/female pair. As you can see, it is an intimate, somewhat sensual dance, but the two do not touch until the end of the song (which, based on what I read, is pretty traditional).


What do you think? Would you like to learn how to dance a Sevillana? If so, check out these tutorials on YouTube: This one highlights the four different parts of the dance, in this video, the lady does a good job of breaking down the steps for your footwork, and in this video- completely in Spanish - the lady does a good job of breaking down the steps and the arm placements (and you can watch her hands, as she goes slowly enough that you can watch and analyze her hand and finger movements).


That concludes our exciting trip into some of Spain's unique dances. Our next two dances come from Puerto Rico, because I have in-laws from there and I wanted to delve deeper into their culture. :)


Plena

This style of folk music has roots from both Africa and Spain, as well as some Bomba influence (that will be the next dance we talk about!). Plena uses hand drums called panderetas, as well as maracas, congas, trumpets, panderos (tambourines), accordions, a cuatro (a small Puerto Rican guitar), and gourds with indentations that you scrape called güiros. It can be danced as a couple as well.

(Now, I struggled to find examples of Plenas on YouTube, which is why there's not quite as much information for it as there are for the others. I was able to find a TON of Bomba material, though!)

Here is a very short video on a Puerto Rican Plena. As you can see, it is a lively and fun-looking dance!

This is a cute video that shows a Plena depicting a comical story of a wife and husband arguing. :D This is an adorable performance.


And of course, a video that explains how to do a Plena!

(Yes, it is completely in Spanish.) You can also view a longer video that shows how to do a Plena here.

Bomba

This dance comes from the African slaves who worked the Puerto Rican plantations. What's unique about Bomba is that the dancer sets the rhythm, rather than the drummers. So you have the buleador, or the drummer who keeps the beat, and then the seguidor or primo drummer follows the rhythm the dancer sets. (Drums are also called bombas). The singer usually will be the maraca player. While men used to dominate the dance (they use aggressive jerks, whereas women used more conservative, shy movements), it appears that women are now the stars of the show with their aggressive and proud skirt movements.


When a Bomba dance begins, generally the dancers create a circle (el batey) with the musicians and singers. A single voice will start by singing a phrase which the chorus responds). Then the dancer enters the circle, salutes the drummers to show them respect, and then begins improvised dancing (piquetes, or steps).


Let's see some videos!

This video is a good explanation and demonstration of what Bomba is. You can see the importance that the dance has in Puerto Rican culture.


This video also shows how important the dance is to the Puertan Rican culture. It's a beautifully done video, giving glimpses into everyday life for Puerto Ricans while also demonstrating the style, passion, and beauty of bomba!


They also did a great video that explains some basic steps of Bomba!

If you want to see more videos that explain how to do Bomba, you can also check out this video by another lady who does a good job of slowly walking you through a basic Bomba step.


You can learn more about Bomba and Plena, check out these articles at Discover Puerto Rico.com or Britannica.com.


Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!

Cultural Tip: None

We won't have one this week, as the entire episode is basically a cultural tip. ^_~

SHOW NOTES:

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Cultural Tip Transition Music edited from song by JuliusH from Pixabay


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