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Barcelona: Flamencomania!

By Jason Hart


In Maria Papapaulov’s article, “The City as a Stage”, she discusses the art form of Flamenco dance as the birthright of two opposing ethnic groups. The first of these groups is the Gitanos, while the second is all non-Gitanos. Before traveling to Spain, I could not fully grasp the importance of Flamenco as a central aspect of Andalusian culture. Why would two groups be so engrossed in a seemingly hopeless struggle as to which one invented one specific type of dancing? Papapaulov explains that both Gitanos and Non Gitanos identify the invention of Flamenco, not only with the creation of the art, but with an ethnicity’s genetic disposition to its performance. For this reason alone the debate has come into being. I had no idea how pervading and powerful the dance style was until I saw it wih my own eyes.

            My friends and I got off an airplane at the Barcelona airport and took a cab to Las Ramblas, a district in the Catalunya section of Barcelona. As soon as we stepped out of the taxi we found a large group of people huddled beneath an awning on the city sidewalk. From within the crowd we could hear a low, steady beating of drums, and people shouting and cheering. We made our way into the crowd which surrounded several men seated atop boxes of some sort that were used as instruments. In the middle of them on a thin sheet of ply wood a single dancer stomped his feet in rhythm with the music. He wore tight jeans and what looked like cowboy boots beneath them. His lean body was drenched in sweat.

As the drumming progressed and intensified so did the speed of his feet. In the end he not only stomped but whirled his arms, and jumped in rhythm with the sound, over his own feet. I can’t really explain in words what I saw, but his dance was passionate and incredible. Finally the drumming came to an end when he hit the climax of speed and finesse, and the crowd erupted. People rushed the ply wood shook his hand and dumped cash into the bucket at his feet. He smiled and said nothing. He was too short of breath.

            Over the next few nights we noticed several of these flamenco crowds forming, with dancers just as passionate as this first performer. This vernacular art form seemed to spontaneously manifest itself within crowds all over Las Ramblas, between stores that sold transnational designer clothes, McDonalds, and Subways.

            It seemed to me that the Flamenco performers differed in their levels of intensity, passion, charisma, and rhythm. One could be instructed in the dance for decades and still not attain certain levels of precision and finesse if they lacked a natural inclination for the dance. It is for this reason that the Gitanos and Non Gitanos stand deadlocked in their debate, because each must claim ownership of that certain spark that ignites the infernal passion of the flamenco dance!

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