Even if you don't have Spanish blood in your veins, the chances are that your heart beats to the rhythm of flamenco. The best way to find out? A holiday in Andalusia, Spain’s capital of music, singing and dancing! What’s more, the region also boasts the finest tapas, wines and, of course, year-round sunny weather. To experience the energy of flamenco, head straight to the south of Spain!

The home of flamenco

Although flamenco has gained international fame, its original home is Andalusia. During the 15th century, the Roma people were not made welcome by the indigenous population. Singing allowed them to express their emotions, and their former nomadic lifestyle led them to combine elements of Arab and Jewish culture into their art.

So, what exactly is flamenco? Most people will associate it with a fiery dance that reflects the exuberant temperament of the Spanish. But flamenco is much more than that, encompassing singing and music in an art form that is a way of life for the Spanish. It is part of the Spanish culture and tradition, but also part of everyday life. Late into the evening, local residents fill the small bars hidden in the region’s narrow streets. Small stages are taken over by artists whose singing and guitar sounds echo through the city’s alleyways.

What does flamenco express?

Flamenco’s simple lyrics are a type of oral history – not always with a cheerful message. Flamenco tells of pain, suffering, longing, but also of forgiveness, love and joy. To truly experience flamenco is to forget the reality that surrounds you for just a little while.

Flamenco is also about expression. The singer’s emotions can be seen in their face as well as in the way they emphasise each word. The emotional charge is further enhanced by the dance. It is the dancer’s task to convey the singer’s experience as closely as possible. The smallest gesture counts, but emotions can be seen even in the rustle of a dress or the snap of an opening fan, while themusic also adds drama to the performance.

Rhythm is extremely important in flamenco. It is shared by the singer, the dancer and the musicians. It is not only allowed but expected that the audience will tap their heels and clap along as the performers hit special drums, known as cajón and play the castanets. There is a classical guitar in the foreground, characterised by a shape typical of flamenco. The cypress wood instrument has a flatter, narrower body and the strings are hung lower than a typical guitar.

How do you dance flamenco?

Flamenco dance is mainly improvised, although it is based on elements of choreography handed down from generation to generation. However, the spectacle of the dancers comes not only from the dance, but also from the costumes. Flamenco is traditionally associated with blood-red dresses worn by the dancers, but if you go to a flamenco show in Andalusia, you will find that the dancers wear a much wider range of colours.

Flamenco show © iStock

The female performers attract attention with ruffled dresses that emphasise their every move. Even when the music stops, the rustle of frills or a train still conveys emotion. The same goes for a fringed scarf or accessories, such as flowers in the hair or the aforementioned fan. Flamenco dancers express emotions with the smallest of gestures and the movement of the hands and fingers is important. There are also sensual turns and swaying of the hips. Male flamenco dancers, on the other hand, are more economical in their movements, but they beat the rhythm harder. Men’s flamenco attire includes matching trousers, shirt and waistcoat, as well as a scarf, hat and high-heeled shoes.

Where can you feel the spirit of flamenco in Andalusia?

There is no better place to experience flamenco than in its original home. If you book flights to Andalusia, make sure you set aside the time to visit one of the tablaos – live flamenco bars. Be prepared to pay an admission fee, that usually includes a meal or snack and drinks. In many places you will need to book tickets in advance.

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The most popular tablaos in Andalusia

  1. Los Gallos
    One of the oldest and most popular tablaos in Seville. The original restaurant has been restored, but has retained its atmosphere and the flamenco show takes place without sound. There is not much room here and you can expect long queues to get in so buy a ticket in advance.
    Address: Plaza Santa Cruz, 11.
  2. La Couva de la Rocío
    Granada is an important flamenco centre and the Sacromonte neighbourhood is its hub. Here you’ll find famous caves on the hill where flamenco shows take place, including La Couva de la Rocio. This family-run restaurant has 150 seats, and you also get a great view of the Alhambra for free.
    Address: Cam. del Sacromonte, 70.
  3. La Carboneria
    Back in Seville and the Tablaos are always popular with tourists and locals alike, although the latter complain that there are too many of the former! Nevertheless, the place has its own unique atmosphere and the flamenco show is free.
    Address: C. Céspedes, 21.
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Intimate flamenco shows in Andalusia

In any corner of Andalusia you’ll find a bar serving tapas and a flamenco stage. However, if you are looking for more intimate venues and a less touristy experience, look for places marked with the word “peña”.

These are associations that oversee the flamenco tradition and organise workshops, conferences and small shows. Most of them allow people from outside the association to sit in the audience and you can obtain tickets for a nominal fee. You won’t necessarily get a meal or a drink here, but you can count on the best and most authentic flamenco shows with none of the artificial drama that sometimes creeps into tourist-focused performances.

© iStock

Where to see flamenco?

  • Peña Cultural Flamenca Torres Macarena
    Starting with Seville and this association dates back to 1974. Flamenco shows take place in an intimate atmosphere, without sound systems. Buy your tickets in advance and make sure there are no special seats for tourists in the audience.
    Address: C. Torrijiano, 29.

  • Peña flamenca la Platería
    An association founded in Granada in 1949, they organise regular shows and workshops. Check the schedule in advance to secure your ticket – you won’t regret it!
    Address: Plaza de Toqueros, Albaycín, 7.

  • Casa de la Guitarra
    One of the best places in Seville to see a spectacular show. Although the audience is small, this makes it easier to concentrate on the spectacle.
    Address: C. Mesón del Moro, 12.

Flamenco Festivals in Andalusia

Flamenco festivals are another great opportunity to learn about the history of flamenco, attend shows, take dance classes, sample the local cuisine and meet the people of Andalusia. Spaniards know how to have fun and have many reasons to celebrate. The most popular flamenco festival is held in Seville, but this is just one of the options.

© iStock
  • Biennale Flamenco – Sewilla
    Organised every two years, the next festival will take place in 2024. For a whole month, locals and tourists can enjoy themselves to the rhythm of flamenco!
    The city also organises Septiembre es Flamenco – a two-week festival – on alternate years.
  • Feria de Abril – Sevilla
    Two weeks after Easter, Seville begins its celebration of flamenco, horse parades and good food, with couples dancing in the city’s streets.
  • El Potaje Gitano Festival w Utrera
    The last Saturday in June is a great opportunity to learn the secrets of flamenco in Utrera. The festival takes place every year and its tradition dates back to 1957!
  • La Noche Blanca del Flamenco de Córdoba – Cordoba
    The White Night of Flamenco, this annual event lasts until sunrise. This year’s event takes place on the night of 17th/18th June.
  • Festival de la Guitarra de Córdoba – Cordoba
    The International Guitar Festival features a number of different musical genres, including jazz and, of course, flamenco! It is a popular and noteworthy event, with guitar virtuosos performing on stage. The festival is held in the first half of July.
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