By Cat Gaa
Punto, golpe tacón. The clack-clack of a dancer’s feet seem almost to stop as her skirt flows around her. She walks to the edge of the stage, but no one applauds. Her face is intense with pain, but she immediately snaps her neck to the right, listening as the guitarist pours out slow, strained chords. Her arms raise towards the ceiling, wrists making small circles as she moves.
Flamenco is practically an anthem in Seville, an art form synonymous with the city it calls home. A nocturnal walk around will yield shadows of young girls practicing the fast-moving taconeo, the sounds of a cantador singing from deep within his throat. The duende, a magical force that spreads like fire when a dancer begins to move, is present all around Seville. Here’s a field guide to enjoying one of UNESCO’s protected Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible heritage while in Andalusia’s capital.
What is Flamenco?
Defining flamenco is almost as difficult as defining duende: the early history of flamenco was not well-documented, instead being passed down through the generations. Further, the family tree of flamenco styles, called palos, is diverse and includes more than 50 styles, some of which are mainstream and others which are performed sporadically, though not often.
The genre consists of three major parts: cante (voice), baile (dance) and toque (guitar), and is believed to be derived from gypsy rhythms dating back to before the Reconquest of Spain.
While its study is extensive, one doesn’t have to be a flamenco expert to enjoy its performance. Balmy summer nights are riddled with festivals in Flamenco’s most important cities – Utrera, Granada, Madrid, and Sevilla.
For those who consider themselves enthusiasts, a must-stop is the Museo de Baile Flamenco, an interactive homage to the history and practice of flamenco, founded by famed dancer Cristina Hoyos (C/Manuel Rojas Marcos, 3. Open daily 9:30am – 7:00pm. 10€ adults, 8€ students , call for hours).
(Extra Scoop: If you’re interested in the big names and how they shaped Flamenco, pick up Tony Bryant’s Flamenco: An Englishman’s Passion)
Where to See Flamenco
Tablaos – Tablaos are dancing halls inhabited by professional dancers. Shows tend to be staged and are often paired with a drink and possibly dinner. Perfect for those looking for a comfortable seat and a meal to go along with the duende, most of the patrons are tourists.
Los Gallos – Housed in a beautiful manor house, the artists at El Gallo are reputable, but not great. The show does offer a student price for those under 26 with an appropriate ID card. Plaza de Santa Cruz, 11. Shows at 8p.m. And 10:30 p.m. at 35€ (32€ for students).
El Arenal – Run by a former dancer, this tablao is one of the more reputable and tasteful. It is pricey, though – expect to pay for a drink. Calle Rodo, 7. Shows at 9p.m. And 11 p.m., 40 – 70€.
Auditorio Álvarez Quintero – While relatively new, this converted space is specialized in workshops and doubles as an art gallery. Call ahead for tickets, as it’s an up-and-coming favorite amongst tourists and sevillanos alike. Calle Alvarez Quintero, 48. Shows nightly at 9p.m., shows 16 – 20€.
Peñas – these are cultural associations that host flamenco shows, often by neighborhood or in memory of a famous artist. Their shows tend to be smaller and more intimate.
Casa de la Memoria al Andalus – This peña‘s privileged locale is an old state house buried within Santa Cruz, and the shows are in the traditional patio. Tickets should be booked in advance by visiting the center itself. Calle Ximénez de Enciso 28. Schedule variable.
Lo Nuestro – Located on the notorious Calle Betis on the riverfront, Lo Nuestro rocks with live music most of the week. Most popular are its sevillanas and rumbas, and there isn’t a body NOT moving to the band. While not a peña, it’s one of the cities more popular flamenco bars. Just don’t go before midnight. Calle Betis, 31. Open daily from 9 p.m.
Peña Flamenco Niño de la Alfalfa – This relatively new space welcomes young talent who get a chance to show their stuff on a small, cramped stage. Charm exudes from the corner of a corral de vecinos that’s dedicated to workshops and art spaces. Young, international crowd and mostly weekend shows. Calle Castellar, 52. http://pfninodelaalfalfa.blogspot.com.es/
El Búcaro – A small bar conceals a back performance room lit with candles and decorated with torn posters of artists like Camarón de la Isla and Carmen Linares. While not much dancing takes place, the artists tend to be bursting with talent, and often encourage a late-night juerga, or spontaneous partying, lasting into all hours. Calle Alfonso XII, 30. Shows at 10p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Free Shows – Free and low-cost flamenco shows are popping up all around the city, especially after the surge of interest in the art form when UNESCO granted it World Heritage status. One can expect these performances to be done by students or bailaores of less caliber. Still, for the price of a drink, you can enjoy a little bit of arte.
La Carbonería – Perhaps the most famous show in Seville, this flamenco bar gets all of the glory in guidebooks. After passing through a cozy whitewashed room with a fireplace, the indoor patio reveals long wooden tables, overpriced drinking, and barely decent flamenco. Still, it’s an extremely popular place – and the outdoor patio is gorgeous. Calle Lévies, 18. Shows daily at 10pm.
T de Triana – Restaurant by day and flamenco hot spot by night, T de Triana features two weekly shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights around 10 p.m. The artists come from a nearby flamenco show and often have enough talent to send the crowd into a duende-inspired reverie. Among one of the top free shows in the city. Having a tapa before the show begins ensures you won’t be sitting on the floor or standing on your toes to watch. Calle Betis 20. Shows at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.
Bar Quitapesares – This bar was once owned by the famous singer Peregil, and often hosts spontaneous juerga sessions, but never before midnight. Be sure to try the orange wine called vino de naranja. Plaza Jerónimo de Córdoba, s/n. Shows are spontaneous.
Casa Anselma – Famous for its boisterous namesake, the peña located in Triana caters to a largely foreign crowd. And crowd means crowd – there’s never space to stand, let alone sit, and the drinks are overpriced. And if you don’t have a drink, Amselma will see to it you’ve paid for one. After all, the artists need to make a living, too. C/Pages del Coro, 49. shows at 11 p.m. nightly.
Where to Learn Flamenco
Flamenco schools dot the city, particularly in the Triana neighborhood (though there are more in the country of Japan than all of Spain!) Local lore says that the dance originated amongst the gypsy camps in this neighborhood, so flamenco strains and the clack of zapatos de clavo, the nail-ridden shoes the bailaores wear to produce the sound, is ever-present.
I myself have taken class at Látidos Escuela de Música, which offers classes in both dance and guitar. They provide student rates and small classes – even if just to laugh at yourself when your teacher tells you your face doesn’t look perturbed enough.
Taller Flamenco – Great school for beginners with economic rates, Taller Flamenco is popular with visitors and students. Calle Peral 49 http://www.tallerflamenco.com/
Cristina Heeren Flamenco Foundation – Well-known school with an excellent reputation for all disciplines within flamenco. Calle Fabiola, 1. http://www.flamencoheeren.com/
Expres@te – Relatively new flamenco studio connected with the aforementioned Peña Flamenco Niño de la Alfalfa, this course is run by bailaora La India and offers flexibility in hours. Calle Castellar, 52 http://ciudadsevilla.olx.es/flamenco-aprender-en-sevilla-iid-247971236
Upon receiving an offer to work at a radio news broadcast center in chicago, Cat Gaa turned it down and turned up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and a daily Cruzcampo beer later, she writes about life in Sevilla for a guiri at http://sunshineandsiestas.com/. While she can’t dance flamenco, the lighter form of sevillanas is her trademark (well, only) dance. Follow her on twitter at @sunshinesiestas.