I’m getting ready to teach a new choreography- Caracoles with a manton (Spanish shawl). I love, love, love dancing with a manton. It’s challenging but so exhilarating. (Update– check out what we did in class for the choreography!)
The interesting thing about mantones, which are really called Manton de Manila, is that when we want a true Spanish shawl, it’s really not Spanish at all. Mantones de Manila are named after the capital of the former Spanish colony in the Philippines. But the shawls, made of silk and hand embroidered, were made in China, imported to the Philippines, then shipped off to Mexico and Spain.
We still buy them from Spain, but they’re still made in China. And they’re getting harder to get because they are so labor intensive and the manufacturers can make more money producing iPhones! So, when they’re harder to get, some become of poorer quality and the nice ones cost through the roof.
If you’re looking for a shawl just to add to your collection, get whatever makes you happy. But if you’re buying one to dance with, then here are some guidelines you should stick with.
Size of Manton
They should be square-shaped, at least 140cm x 140cm (55″x55″), not including fringe. There are some that are somewhat smaller, but they’re just too small to dance with. Of course, there are much larger ones, especially vintage ones. But again, it depends on your height and strength. They may be called piano shawls to distinguish them from the smaller shawls used for fashion.
Quality of Fringe (Flecos)
The thicker and more intricate the knots (or macrame) are, the better. That’s where it starts getting expensive. But then you don’t want it so thick that it’s too heavy for you to dance with. You want the kind of fringe that is knotted macrame, not polyester fringe that is sewn on.
Quality of Embroidery
Better shawls will have the embroidery showing evenly on both sides. The poorly made one will have the pretty design on one side and all the ugly knots showing on the other. Generally, the tighter the embroidery, the more beautiful the design is. Again, this makes it heavier to handle.
Quality of Silk
Don’t ever get anything other than silk. Ever. A nicer quality silk will be thicker, whereas a poorer quality silk will be see-through. There are some sites that sell triangle shawls made of polyester. They’re cheap and ugly and you can’t dance in them properly. Some of those triangle shawls do look nice, but they won’t be danceable.
A beginner manton might be about $175. A really nice one would be $300-400. A gorgeous one that you cuddle with will be $800 and beyond.
Start off with eBay and see what you can find. But look at the pictures carefully. Otherwise, check out these sites.