Discover the mesmerising drama of flamenco in Seville

flamenco in seville

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When you think of Spain and Spanish culture, flamenco immediately springs to mind.

Dramatic dancing, soulful tunes, colourful costumes and the rhythmic strumming of acoustic guitars are the iconic images and sounds of Spain.

We had a few wonderful encounters with flamenco in Seville, and they were some of the highlights of our trip.

So when you visit Andalucia, make sure you spend some time learning about this centuries old art form. It’s the heart beat of the city and completely exhilarating.

The origins and art of flamenco

houtsot ayotser -flamenco

Flamenco is not a single dance but a family of song, dance and performance that started in Andalucia.

Some say flamenco was born in the Triana neighbourhood of Seville although several other places in southern Spain also make this claim.

Regardless, its roots are in the folk dances brought to Andalucia in the 15th century by gypsies or gitanos.

These people travelled across Europe from as far away as India and Iran to escape persecution, picking up snippets of folk music and dance at the stops they made along the way.

When they reached Andalucia, their emerging culture fused with Moorish influences and evolved as a unique form of artistic expression. At its core are cries and chants backed by rhythm made with hands and feet.

It’s this outlet of raw emotion and passion that makes flamenco so special.

Elements of flamenco

Flamenco

Before travelling to Spain I thought flamenco referred only to the famous dramatic dance movements and guitar playing.

In fact there are four different elements to flamenco – each with its own nuances and techniques.

Cante refers to the voice or singing approach. The most important of these are Cante Grande – the most deep and profound songs about death and anguish. Cantadores or flamenco singers like Manolo Caracol are feted throughout Spain.

The many different steps involved in flamenco dancing are referred to as BaileLike the cante,  flamenco dance movements have different flavours. The raw expression of the gitano style is in contrast to the technical precision and years of training required to be a classical flamenco dancer.

The Palmas (hand claps) and zapateado (foot stomps) may look easy, but you need skill and practice to perfect the intricate rhythms. The dancers also have to manage props like castanets, fans and shawls.

Toque – refers to the flamenco guitar playing that requires a unique instrument and many special techniques to produce the traditional melodies and sounds.

One of the most critical (in my opinion) elements of flamenco is the Jaleo, which roughly translated means “hell raising”. This is the foot stomping,  rhythmic hand clapping, and spirited shouts of encouragement that makes flamenco so unique.

Lastly, the soul of flamenco is known as duende. It’s the intangible spirit that takes over a performance and something the Spanish believe can only be conveyed with the emotional maturity gained through life experience.

Flamenco styles

flamenco feria

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that the art form we know as flamenco was documented. Since then, over 50 flamenco palos or styles have emerged.

Different technique combinations are used depending on the style.  Some are simply sung unaccompanied, some use guitars and others are danced with or without music or a partner. Each has its own melody, lyrics, rhythm and beat.

CantiñasAlegrías and Bulérias are festive and joyful flamenco styles. While others, like Tangos and Tintos, are more emotional and sometimes tragic. They explore themes of unrequited love, betrayal and passion.

Some of the styles are specific to particular regions and events.  The Fandangos de Huelva (a city south of Seville) is performed during the annual pilgrimage to Rocio – the Romería del Rocio.

Seville’s annual spring festival – Féria de Abríl en Sevilla – inspired the lively Sevillanas partner dance, perfect for celebrations.

Where to find flamenco in Seville

Just follow your ears and wander the streets of Seville and you find flamenco.

The sound of rhythmic guitars, clapping hands, stomping feet and soulful voices follow you wherever you go.

But if you want to be a bit more systematic about your flamenco experience, here are some recommendations for discovering the flamenco tradition in Seville.

Flamenco Museum – Museo del Baile Flamenco

flamenco museum seville shoes

Established by famous flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos, the Museo del Baile Flamenco (Flamenco Museum) should be your first stop. Here you learn about flamenco styles and history of the art.

Close to the Cathedral and Real Alcazar in Seville’s old town, the museum is small but has many interactive displays.  They showcase the many different forms and styles of flamenco.

I particularly loved the life sized videos of performances and the wonderful costumes.


Did you know that the famous colourful and dotted flamenco costumes were adapted from those worn in Seville during their famous Spring festival – Feria de Abril en Sevilla?


The museum is open daily from 10:00am to 19:00pm including holidays.

Cost €10 for adults with reduced prices for students and children

>More information

Live performances

Modern Flamenco: Carmel Natan Sheli.
The flamenco museum hosts live performances daily in their beautiful courtyard theatre. Lasting around an hour, the shows are soulful and dramatic.

A male and two female dancers are accompanied by two male singers and a guitarist so you experience a broad range of styles – from a heartbreaking Tiento to the jubilant and fun Alegría.

Even people who think they are not very interested in dance (perhaps some men..) would enjoy this show. It’s fast paced and energetic enough to transfix our fidgety four year olds.

We walked out of the theatre on a high, so glad that we had reserved tickets the day before. In fact, we were lucky it was not peak tourist season. Be prepared to book in advance for the best flamenco shows in Seville.

Make sure to get there early to secure a coveted front row seat where you can watch the amazing foot movement. Also worth noting, cameras and video recording is not allowed so you must submit yourself to the moment.

>Buy tickets in advance


Family travel tip – check the schedule at the Flamenco Museum as they often have performances starting at 5pm. Perfect for little people


Tablaos

Flamenco en el Palacio Andaluz, Sevilla, España, 2015-12-06, DD 23

You can see flamenco performances at several other venues in Seville. Known as tablaos, these theatres have nightly performances where you can enjoy a drink and sometimes dinner with your show. The cost is around €50 per person depending on the venue.

These tablaos were recommended to us by our AirBnB host:

Tablao Flamenco El Arenal – a large 100 seat venue where you can have dinner while watching a show – >more information

El Palacio Andaluz – set in a 19th century mansion this theatre is popular for featuring award winning artists – >buy tickets in advance

Patio Sevillano –  the show at this historic venue features several flamenco styles – >pre book tickets

Street performance

flamenco street performance seville

As I mentioned, you literally stumble upon flamenco in Seville. On street corners and in shady plazas, guitarists and dancers put on small shows for visitors and locals alike.

I have no way to judge the technical standard of the dancing we saw on the streets of Seville but the atmosphere was joyous and friendly. Crowds gathered around and shouted many encouraging olé‘s.

By this stage of the trip, our daughter was becoming little obsessed with foot stomping, clapping and the wonderful swooshy dresses that she demanded to have her photo taken with the very obliging dancer.


Tip – stopping to watch a street performance of flamenco is the perfect way to take a break as you hop the tapas bars of the city


Peñas

If we had been travelling without kids I would have tried to find a peña. 

These are the small Seville flamenco bars where it is said you witness the most raw and pure flamenco. Often in tiny venues, audiences cram in like sardines to watch the art form at its passionate best.

There is no schedule of performances, you just have to be lucky to spot an advertisement on a lamp post or hear some music floating down a street. Now that’s my kind of adventure.

My highlight of Seville

In a city so rich with beautiful sights, food traditions and culture, it is hard to pick an ultimate highlight.

But as I reflect on our trip, my favourite experience was discovering the rich and mysterious art form that is flamenco.

Even now I can hear feet stomping, hands clapping and colourful skirts swishing dramatically past our faces. Olé!


What’s your favourite memory from Seville?


 

64 thoughts on “Discover the mesmerising drama of flamenco in Seville

  1. Connie says:

    This was one of my highlights to Seville too – loved the intensity and passion from the performers, it was truly mesmerising! #farawayfiles

  2. Esther says:

    Ah yes, flamenco is so much more than just a dance. If you ever saw a ‘spontaneous’ Flamenco (or Fado in Portugal for that matter) instead of a show, you are so lucky. I happened to be in Sevilla for a festival of some sort and everyone was dressed up beautifully and there was flamenco everywhere, so impressive.
    #FarawayFiles

  3. California Globetrotter says:

    Before I discovered how beautiful Seville was and how badly I wanted to visit, I had heard of the flamenco and saw the dresses! I didn’t care what else was there (until later), I knew I wanted to see the dance! It reminds me of seeing the Tango and the Samba in Argentina and Brazil as a teen. I also read a great travel-chick novel called Living La Vida Loca by Belinda Jones of a girl who gets the chance to visit Seville, Rio and Buenes Aires to learn about all three dances! I bet you’d love that book! #FarawayFiles

  4. Keri | Ladies What Travel says:

    I enjoyed a live Flamenco performance in Seville a few years back, it’s something really special isn’t it. Shame I didn’t know about that museum though. We talk about returning to Seville – if we do I’ll def go check it out… #FarawayFiles

  5. tracy says:

    I haven’t been to Seville but would love to see the flamenco performance. My husband loves these dances and I am sure st some point when we are back in Europe we will get to Seville. I really haven’t seen as much of spain as I would like.And aren’t those dresses so beautiful! #FarawayFiles

  6. Shelley Jarvis says:

    I love that flamenco incorporates duende. As a woman of a certain age I completely appreciate when cultures embrace “emotional maturity gained through life experience.” So refreshing.

    I am with you on the Jaleo. The hell raising is what draws me in. So much passion. Thanks for sharing and educating me on this style and culture. #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      Thanks so much Shelley, I completely agree about duende – it’s that intensity of spirit that can best be conveyed having experienced decades of highs and lows. Here’s to jaleo too!

    • Katy says:

      It’s hard not be impressed by the athleticism of the dancers and their amazing costumes. Plus the performances are usually quite short!

  7. Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) says:

    We loved the flamenco performance we watched at the Flamenco Museum. The boys learned some flamenco dance moves in a special workshop at the museum before the show which was just wonderful. I loved seeing people wandering the streets of Seville wearing their flamenco dresses too. #FarawayFiles

  8. Amanda says:

    I loved the flamenco performance we saw in Seville- the dancing was so intense and mesmerising. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip! #FarawayFiles

  9. Lyn @ A Hole in my Shoe says:

    I don’t think I’ll ever forget the flamenco performance we saw in Barcelona 5 years ago, it is a very dramatic and emotional style of dance. But this article entices me to want to experience it all over again in Seville.

  10. Liana Moore says:

    I haven’t seen Flamenco since I was a child. We actually had a Flamenco dancer costume. I wonder if that is still around? What an experience! #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Ooh I know a little girl who would absolutely love a flamenco costume. That must have been fun to dress up and swish the skirts around

  11. Hilary says:

    We loved Seville, but sadly didn’t have enough time in this magical city… I hope to get back someday, and when I do I’ll be referring back to your posts! #farawayfiles

  12. Katherine says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me 🙂 My physical therapist has suggested that I take up dancing since it’s apparently good for your hip joints… except I have two left feet and zero rhythm. I loved reading about flamenco though, and I need to get back to Spain one day! #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Sorry to hear you’re injured Kat but I reckon flamenco is probably the most fierce dance you could do and after all it’s all about the duende or spirit!

  13. Corey | fifi + hop says:

    You captured the passion of Flamenco so well, Katy. It’s funny – the way you describe wandering the streets and coming across the dancers and music everywhere reminds me a bit of New Orleans. Different music (Jazz), but the same idea. People passionate about their music and making it a part of their city’s street life. I need to get back to Seville. #farawayfiles

  14. Wilbur says:

    Seville is my 1st or 2nd favourite Spanish city for good reason (I keep chopping & changing with Barcelona!). Great blog bringing back some brill memories. We also visited the flamenco museum and thought it was totally brilliant with the show too. Wonderful tapas bars alongside so much else make it a hard to beat destination not just in Spain but the whole of Europe!

  15. Sol Solntze says:

    How very interesting. I knew nothing about flamenco before reading this, but now I would love to go and experience it all for myself. Love that woman’s red swirly dress – well all the dresses really, but how fun to come across it casually on the street. Mind you’it’s the museum I’m really aiming for – and I like the idea of having a performance there that deliberately showcases the phenomenon.

  16. Sally says:

    I love the interconnectedness of all these things – flamenco being linked to the gypsies / gitanos and their travels through Europe and the Moors, and the influence on the Ahlambra that you wrote about in a previous post. Great post. #farawayfiles. PS I’m with Katherine above, would be fun to give it a go.

    • Katy says:

      The diaspora is strong in southern Spain. The mix of cultures is so fascinating and what makes this part of the world so special I think

  17. Bryna | Dotted Line Travels says:

    I’ve always loved watching people dance the flamenco – it’s just a dance with so much spirit…which I now know is called duende! I didn’t know that there were 4 separate elements to it, so it was very cool to learn that from this post. I’d love to head to Seville to see the street performers dancing the flamenco, and for tapas of course!

  18. Ruth says:

    I learned so much reading your article. When we are referring to other country’s traditions, sometimes we forget how deep and meaningful those traditions are. I am glad you were willing to go deep into the soul of flamenco. I have not witness a performance yet but it is something I want to do. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Ah Ruth, I think you could explore that soul of Spanish culture for a lifetime and only scratch the surface. I am so glad these traditions continue despite the world becoming more homogenous every day. It makes life and travels so much more exciting

  19. Shelley says:

    I love flamenco! I visited Sevilla years ago and think I saw a flamenco show at El Palacio Andaluz (from your description of the theatre). It was sooooo incredible…thanks for this informative post about it. #farawayfiles

  20. Vicky says:

    This is the one thing we missed whilst in Seville and I definitely regret that! I would have loved to have seen flamenco live! Though I absolutely loved the city so I will definitely return and it will be the top thing on my list! #farawayfiles

  21. Kat says:

    I LOVE flamenco! When I was living in Adelaide in the mid 1990s (many, many moons ago haha), I had learnt flamenco for a month during the summer 🙂 Of course, I can’t remember much from the classes but there are one or two basics that I can still remember now. The last time I saw a flamenco performance was in Penang last year during the Georgetown Festival – the last dance was so moving that I almost teared up. Watching a flamenco in Seville is one of my dreams, so that will definitely be in my bucket list for Spain! #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Maybe I should check out if there are some flamenco shows on when I’m in Adelaide for Easter. Not quite Seville but as you say, they are such intense performances it is hard not to feel emotional

  22. Caity Pfohl says:

    I would love to see a flamenco performance and visit that museum! I haven’t been to Seville yet but I’ve heard so many great things, it’s definitely on my list. 🙂

  23. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    Ah you’re taking me right back to early holidays in the late 1960s and 70s when we visited Spain as a family and I was obsessed with flamenco dresses and castanets!
    It took until late 2016 before we eventually got round to visiting Seville and I just loved the city. We didn’t go to see a Flamenco show – and now I wish I had.
    #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      You’ll just have to go back again Trish! Luckily there is so much to do in that region. I felt like we barely scratched the surface even though we stayed a week 🙂

  24. Cathy S. says:

    It is such a great experience to enjoy the culture of the country you are visiting. We will be in Spain in September. We will visit Barcelona. I am hoping that we will be able to see the locals dancing their traditional sardana!

  25. Leyla Giray Alyanak says:

    So thrilled to read this post! I was brought up in Spain and no amount of talk and demonstration could convince friends that this was a magnificent art form. I kept thinking maybe you had to be brought up with flamenco to love it, so I’m delighted that’s not the case! Thank you for that 🙂 I’m off to share this on my Facebook page…

    • Katy says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words Leyla. Flamenco gets under your skin. I’d love to return to Seville during Feria for a full flamenco immersion. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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