I Have Seen the Senoritas Dance the Flamenco in Barcelona

 

It’s heavy on the percussion.

The thing you have to understand about Barcelona: the whole city is beautiful. They go on about the architect Gaudí and the Modernista style, but that’s hardly the start or the end of it. Near every apartment house has a stone facade with balconies and cornices and more stonework than you see on your average American bank. You can gain quite a bit of value just walking through the streets and looking at the buildings, nevermind the famous attractions.

I spent a week in the city; we had an AirBnB just off of Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a boulevard that extends from the statue of Christopher Columbus (pointing out to sea, but not towards the New World because Barcelona is on the wrong coast for that) north to the Plaza Catalunya and the middle of the city. To the east, you’ve got the old town, the Gothic quarter, full of narrow streets that people nevertheless drive down. It gets awkward.

To the west of Las Ramblas, you get into a poorer section. You’re bleeding off the touristic stuff into places where people actually live. The prices drop, you start to see grocery shops instead of tourist shops, and the restaurant menus are no longer also printed in English. You also see quite a bit more places claiming to be halal, with more Arabic script. We stayed within a short walk of four separate restaurants whose names were some variant on “Istanbul.”

Far as politics goes, you see quite a few Catalan flags and very few Spanish ones. You’ll find yellow ribbons hanging from balconies, tied around trees and lamp posts. Plenty of signs asking to free all political prisoners now. Once, walking through the municipal plaza, we passed a protestor, painted and gagged, not looking very happy. His message was printed in English, which ought to tell you who he was trying to convince. I ought to have stopped some of the ordinary folks and asked them what they thought about it all, but I’m not the sort of person who likes talking with people, and after all, I was on vacation.

I only saw the one flamenco presentation. I’m assuming it’s a dying art form because I saw no evidence of it being practiced outside of that one tourist show. Except one thing; every morning a crazy guy was screaming in our street. Never could tell why, until the flamenco singer started introducing their dancers. Sounded exactly like the crazy guy in the alley. Huh.

Those singers look like nothing so much as @randyweivoda. They’re bigger guys, maybe they danced in the past but for now they sit in the back, and bang on the floor with canes in time with the dancers. Insofar as Spain has included that in the art form they’ve done a service to civilization second only to their invention of the siesta.

There were three older guys, each one would sing for a while, evidently introducing a dancer (although I couldn’t make heads or tails of the words.) They’d sing out, then their dancer would come up and stomp around a while. Bang! Real loud on that wooden stage; if you’re a fan of the fireworks in a fourth of July celebration, the ones that do nothing more than be loud, then you’ll probably like the flamenco.

There were four total dancers. An older lady, who wasn’t exactly a cruiserweight, if you catch my drift. One wonders how her ankles could stand it. A young guy, with a hatchet face and hair tied back, and two younger ladies. The ladies wore long dresses, they’d hike up their skirts to keep their ankles clear as they danced, to show us the fancy footwork that accompanies the staccato machine-gun fire of the bangs, but mostly to show off their ankles to the males in the audience. It’s not unappreciated.

For the ladies, the dresses were magnificent. One of the younger ladies came out in a red dress that trailed on the floor behind her for 18 inches. She demonstrated more dexterity than an oafish clomper like myself could muster just by walking in that dress. And the dancing? She swirled it around, great sheets of scarlet cloth spinning as she stomped on that wooden stage. A marvelous show.

The older lady sings, and you can’t sing flamenco quietly. You can tell she’s overworked her voice over the years. She can still sing the parts but her voice isn’t that long for the world. Perhaps that was another sign that the artwork was still practiced; our landlady, an older dame, had a voice like she’d been grinding her gears for years. I’ll bet she was a beauty at that dance in her youth.

There were three guitaristas too. They played magnificently. Complex stuff, with finger picking. And the dancing itself? I can’t tell you much about it. All this whirling and banging and the fancy footwork. Well worth watching, but even this soon after, all I’ve got left are vague impressions. Still, I’ll always be able to say that I’ve seen the senoritas dance the flamenco in Barcelona.

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There are 16 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Nifty travelogue.

    • #1
  2. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Very nice!    

    • #2
  3. Major Major Major Major Member
    Major Major Major Major
    @OldDanRhody

    Hank Rhody, Loitering: I’ve seen the senoritas dance the flamenco in Barcelona.

    I’ve always wondered what their facial expressions mean.  It sort of reminds me of Lurch playing the harpsichord, so intense concentration?

    • #3
  4. Major Major Major Major Member
    Major Major Major Major
    @OldDanRhody

    Also, about Barcelona: they don’t seem to  mind spending extra on architectural embellishments.  Never saw anything gaudy, always seemed tasteful and interesting

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Flamenco is awesome, but from Andalusia – so it really is s tourist thing in Barça. Perish the thought that it’s a dying art form. 

    • #5
  6. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Hank, thank you for a wonderful post.  I, too, have seen the señoritas dance the flamenco, albeit in Madrid where I visited for 5 short days in 2005 to see an eclipse.  My trip had 5 goals: to see the eclipse,

    to view the Bosch Garden of Earthly Delights at El Prado,

    to see flamenco

    and a bullfight

    and to have real gazpacho.  Let it be known that all of my objectives were met.  I also made the time to visit the site of the 311 atrocity and pray for the dead there.

    Spain, or rather Madrid, was a wonderful destination for a recently widowed gentleman with wanderlust, the people were welcoming, my high school Spanish and a sincere smile opened every door.  I would love to go back to Spain with my new wife.  Yes, we will visit Barcelona.

    • #6
  7. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I loved this!  I saw Flamenco there too. The songs bear the stamp of the Moorish occupation. They sound very Islamic.

    • #7
  8. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    LOVE Barcelona. It’s been years now; this makes me want to go back now. This morning.

    I’ve only seen Flamenco once; I thought it was the hottest, most steamy dancing I’d ever seen.  Nothing so obvious and uncomfortable to watch as twerking and all this stuff the kids are doing today.  This was all seduction, and physical mastery, and beauty.  Literally left me breathless.  Yum.

    • #8
  9. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    We were in Spain a few years ago and saw many  performances. Most notably on New Year’s Eve, Noche Vieja, at a small venue where an  entire family was dancing, and where they passed out the 12 peeled grapes we were all required to swallow on the stroke of midnight. And the grandpa brought an anvil out on the tiny stage right before midnight, to hammer out the 12 strokes of the hour! Flashin’ on Il Trovatore…

    Dying art form?  I do not think so.  We saw it wherever we went in Spain. 

    The singing!  It’s more like a wail, it’s harsh and grating, it’s…raw.  You hear this in Portugal where they do it solo, minus the dancing: the fado.  

     I doubt the lady’s voice was at fault: this broken, rasping delivery is the music.  

    The stern, unsmiling expression the dancers maintain: they are like statues come to life and compelled to act out their story in motion, at the cost of great pain. 

    Anybody who has not seen the flamenco, the fado:  rent  the movie of Blood Wedding while you still can. 

    • #9
  10. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I’ve never been to Barcelona, but  chased a Señorita in Málaga for a few years.  Spain is beautiful, the food is amazing, and the women so feminine.  And the accent is so different from Mexico, more soft.  I never learned the language.  Pity.

    • #10
  11. Nanda Pajama-Tantrum Member
    Nanda Pajama-Tantrum
    @

    Thanks so much for the come-with, @hankrhody!  Amazingly beautiful!

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I’ve never been to Barcelona, but chased a Señorita in Málaga for a few years. Spain is beautiful, the food is amazing, and the women so feminine. And the accent is so different from Mexico, more soft. I never learned the language. Pity.

    You don’t say?

    • #12
  13. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Ok. Three dog night, Never been to Spain, eat your heart out!

    • #13
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Rhody, don’t rest on your laurels. This is the next level stuff:

    • #14
  15. Mole-eye Inactive
    Mole-eye
    @Moleeye

    Flamenco is an art form of the gypsies, “gitanos” in Spanish.   Their culture prizes “duende”, which is roughly translated as “soul”, but it’s a state of mind where appreciation for life, passion, and the imminence of death are intertwined in terrific intensity.  Hence the expression on the face of the dancer above. 

    The wailing songs, similar to Portuguese Fado, are called Saetas, (Sigh-ay-tahss)  and are expressions of duende, the sadness of life, and how much the performers intensely connect to all of it.  The Saetas and more traditional songs are very poetic, and most of the best-loved poetry from Spain is gitano.  The harsh voice is part of the expression, the cry of the soul.

    Flamenco dance celebrates passion for life, including sexual passion, and the dancer’s ability to share and inspire that passion with and in the audience.  The dancers  are keenly aware of the power and allure that this gives them and proud of it.  There is an explosive combination of emotions all wrapped together: pride, gender expression, sexual enticement, personal power, fierce joy, anger, sadness, indomitability, and danger.  The heel tapping is both percussion for the music and a display of the dancer’s virtuosity, while the female dancer’s ability to swirl and kick the heavy train of her dress in artistic patterns is another display of her skill.

    • #15
  16. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Mole-eye (View Comment):

    Flamenco is an art form of the gypsies, “gitanos” in Spanish. Their culture prizes “duende”, which is roughly translated as “soul”, but it’s a state of mind where appreciation for life, passion, and the imminence of death are intertwined in terrific intensity. Hence the expression on the face of the dancer above.

    The wailing songs, similar to Portuguese Fado, are called Saetas, (Sigh-ay-tahss) and are expressions of duende, the sadness of life, and how much the performers intensely connect to all of it. The Saetas and more traditional songs are very poetic, and most of the best-loved poetry from Spain is gitano. The harsh voice is part of the expression, the cry of the soul.

    Flamenco dance celebrates passion for life, including sexual passion, and the dancer’s ability to share and inspire that passion with and in the audience. The dancers are keenly aware of the power and allure that this gives them and proud of it. There is an explosive combination of emotions all wrapped together: pride, gender expression, sexual enticement, personal power, fierce joy, anger, sadness, indomitability, and danger. The heel tapping is both percussion for the music and a display of the dancer’s virtuosity, while the female dancer’s ability to swirl and kick the heavy train of her dress in artistic patterns is another display of her skill.

    Yup. That about sums it up.

    I could use a little “pride, gender expression, sexual enticement, personal power, fierce joy, anger, sadness, indomitability, and danger” right about now.

    • #16
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