When the general public watches Flamenco, they see a dancer just stomping away on stage with an impassioned look on her face. Little do they know that there is a structure to the dance, a beginning, middle and end. Each person on the stage- the singer, guitarist, dancer, palmista- has a specific role to play during a dancer’s performance. There is a STRUCTURE to flamenco and with this structure, there is room for great improvisation, just as in a jazz performance. Rules with no rules.
Why is learning the structure of flamenco important? Well, if you’re dancing, you need to know what you’re actually dancing!!! 😆
WHAT DOES THE STRUCTURE OF FLAMENCO EVEN MEAN?
It’s all the parts, sections or components of a dance. I’ve had countless dancers come to my classes (live or online) and lament that they took years of flamenco and STILL didn’t understand it. They learned plenty of choreographies but still couldn’t dance freely with the knowledge that they actually knew what they were doing!
It’s understanding the language of flamenco.
- To watch it
- To learn it
- Ultimately to improvise
This structure applies to all the palos that are performed as a solo: Alegrías, Solea por Bulerías, Solea, Seguirillas, Tientos, Tarantos, Guajiras, Farruca, etc. So this wouldn’t be applied to the dances that are por fiesta like Sevillanas, Fandangos de Huelva, Tangos por fiesta or Bulerias por fiesta.
PROFESSIONAL STRUCTURE OF A DANCE
When you’re dancing in a tablao, everything can be done without rehearsal because of the implied structure of the dance. The musicians just need to know which palo you’re dancing and the singer may ask how many letras you want. The guitarist may ask if you want a falseta or not as well.
Everything else is implied and understood that the dancer/singer/guitarist can lead (“mandar”) and follow.
SUPER SIMPLE STRUCTURE OF A DANCE
A dance gets broken down to its essence of:
- Letra(s) (verses)
- Escobilla (footwork section)
- Bulerías/Tangos/Macho (fast verse)
These are ALWAYS a part of a dance. Everything else is negotiable.
COMPLETE STRUCTURE OF A DANCE
Of course, there a lot of variables, but this would be a detailed outline.
- Falseta – Guitar melodic solo that always starts the number.
- Entrada – The entrance of the singer that generally begins with the “quejío” (ay, ay, ay!)
- Entrada & Llamada – The entrance and opening break of the dancer. She may enter during or after the singer’s entrada. Her llamada will be a percussive and dramatic move that spans a few compases and ‘calls’ the singer to begin singing the first letra.
- Letra – The first verse of song where the dancer follows the singer’s lead.
- Llamada – Another percussive and dramatic move by the dancer to call for the second letra.
- Letra – Second verse of song.
- Falseta – The dancer allows the guitarist to shine here.
- Escobilla – Long footwork section. There can be multiple rounds of escobillas.
- Subida – At the end of the escobilla, generally, the dancer will increase the tempo and then end with a cierre (a closing, just like llamada, but at the end) to call for the Bulerías, etc.
- Bulerías/Tangos/Macho – Fast verse of song with high energy.
- Estribillo – The singer sings the ending chorus while the dancer leaves the stage.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CHOREOGRAPHY?
Of course, if you’re dancing a choreography, you’ll want to feel confident and know it inside and out. However, there are some elements to always remember.
What palo is it and what is its “aire”? You want to embody it wholeheartedly.
How many letras are you dancing? Can you actually HEAR when the letra begins or do you start dancing your choreography right away without paying attention to if the singer actually started singing?
Don’t expect the musicians to remember ANYTHING about your solo other than the palo!! Really! It’s up to YOU to be able to LEAD, MANDAR.
So, when you finish a llamada, you need to do it with strength and clarity and conviction so that the musicians UNDERSTAND what you want. If not, then you can bet on disaster!
And finally, you are in control of your solo. You don’t have to rush through llamada/letra/escobilla, etc. You can take a breath for a compás or two and then move on to the next part. Those breaths in flamenco are so powerful!
**I hope you find this helpful and not overwhelming!! In my baby flamenca days dancing tablao, I didn’t always grasp these concepts and I made plenty of mistakes. It’s my hope that you can learn from my own mistakes and save yourself some angst along the way.