If a flamenco dancer performs with recorded music, is she really dancing flamenco? Do you think this is a question like a tree falling in the forest making a sound? Could be.
From my training, I’ve learned that “real” flamenco is essentially performed as the trio of dancer, guitarist and singer. Plus, if you really want to get technical, flamenco is originally all about the singer. Purists would even reject the cajón, never mind about all the other added instruments and fusion styles!
I was taught that at least all three needed to be present for a “real” experience. I was very surprised when I moved to Los Angeles from Madrid almost *cough* 15 years ago that there were gigs around town that only featured a guitarist and a dancer. That, to me, didn’t feel “authentic,” especially coming from Madrid where my every day flamenco dance class had at least 2 guitarists and 1 singer (ah, bliss). These new kinds of shows I watched felt empty because of my past experience and training. But I’ve since learned that sometimes a gig is just a gig, so we make due with the parts that are available to us.
OK, So, let’s get real. Is recorded music ever acceptable for a live “formal” performance? I mean, it’s pretty standard everywhere else in the dance world. Many other cultural dances aren’t held by the same standard of always needing live music. So, what’s a flamenco dancer to do?
Personally, the only time I’ve seen big name flamenco shows use recorded music is if they’re either dancing flamenco to pop music (I saw Maria Pages’ company perform a piece to Tom Wait’s music- the best!), Spanish classical music, or if they’re highlighting pieces of vintage flamenco music from a particular singer from the past. I remember in my flamenco youth days dancing to a recorded Dorantes (a flamenco pianist) piece in the company show I was in. So, obviously recorded music has a place on the big flamenco stage.
Now, in my experience since moving to L.A., I’ve done gigs with just a guitarist. I’ve even done one or two with recorded music because it was a benefit or out of town without any musicians available.
So, essentially I learned that hey, if there’s no singer available or no budget, and you’re a working flamenco artist, then you do what you gotta do. That could mean a dancer and guitarist or even a dancer with recorded music. However, if I’m creating a show, there is always at least one singer and guitarist and usually a cajón player.
But, it’s a whole different story in my classes. I live in the Los Angeles area, so I’m blessed that we have many amazing flamenco musicians that *could* come to my classes, but the main barrier is distance that’s exasperated by our legendary, soul-sucking traffic. So, I use a lot of recorded Solo Compás in my classes. Sometimes I sing (poorly) a letra of whatever palo if I know it or at least hum the melody. Every dancer should be able to sing or hum at least a few palos– however poorly! #flamencogoals
I may use recorded music to choreograph a piece for my live group classes as well because the piece is inspiring or something that there’s no way I could sing on my own. However, if we’re getting ready for a show, then I rely mostly on Solo Compás and me singing since we’d be using live music for the actual performance. But it’s fun to choreograph something to a recorded music because it’s something definite and the dancers can practice consistently with it.
Also, I use recorded music in my Online Flamenco Studio because it’s convenient to have a complete choreography that’s super accessible to people all over the world. You can see some of the samples on my YouTube channel here.
So, in the end, a true stage performance is going to need live music IF it’s going to have the energy and vibe that’s true to the flamenco experience. This is unless the music is intentionally not standard singer/guitarist flamenco music. But, if it’s a gig without a budget, a dance recital or if you really don’t have any one to play with, then recorded music will have to do. A flamenco dancer shouldn’t be expected to give up her love of the art because of a lack of live music.
Also, if you’re just learning flamenco, then recorded music is ideal for having something always at your disposal for use. You can practice anytime, anywhere, at your own pace and you can always rely on the music being the same way so you can focus on technique. And, if you don’t have any musicians near you, recorded music will always be something exceptional and inspiring.
What do YOU think? Do you think recorded music in flamenco is blasphemous or do you think it has its place? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading.