If you’re just starting to get into flamenco, you’re likely amazed by the number of terms commonly used that you don’t understand or that have a completely different meaning in this world. Don’t worry, it’s normal; over time, you’ll become familiar with the most commonly used vocabulary. To help you, we’ve created this small flamenco dictionary.
They are known as the cantes or fandangos of Malaga, with a very marked and recognizable rhythm. It is believed that their origin is medieval, and they are related to jácaras, zarabandas, cachuchas, caleseras, and Moorish dances.
A set of strong and soft beats that give rhythm and color to flamenco singing and dancing, marking the music’s timing. Different dances have different accents.
Dance or singing that follows a specific rhythmic pattern, known as “compás.” There are also cantes and dances that do not have an exact compás, known as “cante libre.”
A palo seco:
Refers to cantes that are not accompanied by guitar music, where the singer’s voice, alone and unadorned, carries the weight of the song, marking the accent and rhythm of the dance.
Art or duende. It is used as a compliment to praise an artist’s way of dancing: a person who dances with “aje” is someone who does it well, who has duende and a lot of artistry.
The act of starting a flamenco dance, especially applied to female dancers (bailaoras). It is common to hear it in flamenco gatherings or gatherings as an invitation for a female dancer to start dancing: “Niña, arráncate!” (“Girl, start dancing!”)
An artist specialized in flamenco dance, whether male or female, especially if they pursue it professionally. While they can be considered dancers since they dedicate themselves to dance, they are never referred to as such. We could say that all “bailaores” are dancers, but not all dancers are “bailaores.”
A flamenco style, also known as “bambas,” popularized by La Niña de los Peines. It follows the same compás as the fandangos and consists of four verses:
- Each verse has eight syllables.
- The first and third verses have seven syllables, and the second and fourth have five syllables.
Notable artists such as Enrique Morente, Carmen Linares, and Rocío Jurado have recorded bamberas besides La Niña de los Peines.
A distinctive part of flamenco dance, braceo refers to the arm movements performed by a bailaor or bailaora during the dance. It involves making semicircular movements from top to bottom with the arms extended away from the body and from bottom to top with the arms close to the body. Braceo also includes hand and finger movements.
Braceo adds grace, strength, and motion to the dance, giving it a special significance depending on the artistry and duende of the dancer.
The original form of today’s flamenco tablaos: they originated in the late 19th century and offered flamenco shows. They experienced a brief resurgence in the mid-20th century but have fallen into disuse nowadays.
El cajón flamenco es un instrumento de reciente incorporación al mundo flamenco, de la mano de Paco de Lucía en 1970, que lo descubrió en uno de sus viajes a Perú, donde se ha utilizado de forma tradicional desde el siglo XIX. Se trata de un cajón de madera que el percusionista toca sentándose sobre él.
A flamenco singer, whether male or female. Singing flamenco requires very specific vocal conditions and a special artistry or duende that moves both the audience and other artists.
Notable cantaors have been Manolo Caracol, Enrique Morente, Camarón de la Isla, or José Mercé, among many others. As for female singers, Lola Flores, Carmen Linares, La Paquera de Jerez, or Estrella Morente stand out, although there are many other great cantaoras.
Also known as “cante de alante.” It refers to the performance where the cantaora sings without accompanying a dance, and the singing and music are the main focus of the performance.
Also known as “cante de atrás.” This is the singing performed to accompany a dance, and the cantaora must be attentive to the signals given by the bailaora to properly accompany her dance with the singing.
It refers to the final part of a song or a section of it, which the bailaor or bailaora accentuates with a more pronounced movement to indicate to the musicians that the dance has ended or to emphasize the end of the lyrics.
Código del flamenco
It refers to the set of signals and knowledge shared among flamenco artists. Since flamenco is essentially an improvised art, it is essential for the performers to understand this “code” that lets them know what can happen on stage at any moment: when the dance starts and ends, when the singing and music should begin and finish.
Within a tablao, there is a hierarchy: if there is dance, dance takes precedence; if there is no dance, singing takes precedence, and if there is neither dance nor singing, the guitar leads.
The compás is the rhythmic structure that underlies dance, singing, and music in flamenco. There are different types of compás:
- Binary: 2 beats of 2 times, as in the case of tangos.
- Ternary: 3 beats, as in sevillanas or fandango.
- Amalgamation: Composed of 2 beats of 3 times and 3 beats of 2, resulting in a 12-beat song. This is the case of soleá and cantiñas.
A group of performers consisting of a cantaor or cantaora, a guitarist, and a bailaora. Occasionally, palmeros and a cajón can be added to the cuadro, and in modern and experimental flamenco, any instrument that can follow the compás, such as violins, pianos, or basses, may be included.
Explaining what “duende” is in flamenco is as difficult as squaring the circle: it refers to the condition of the cantaor or bailaora who is in a state of grace, possessing a unique art and magic on stage, capable of emotionally moving the audience solely with their movements to the rhythm of the music or with their voice.
There are no clear definitions; either you have duende or you don’t, and it is possible to have it on some days and not on others.
This term refers to the intricate footwork or tapping performed by a bailaora, showcasing her precision, speed, endurance, and rhythm. The dance usually includes two parts: a shorter one at the beginning and a more elaborate one towards the end, building up in intensity and concluding in the most spectacular way possible.
Moreover, the escobilla can be used as a link between different palos, varying the rhythm throughout.
The intervals between the verses of the singing when only the guitar plays. If the singing is accompanied by dance, during the falsetas, the bailaor performs only soft movements and braceo.
The action of striking the foot against the floor to produce a sharp sound that accompanies the dance or marks its closure or conclusion. Depending on the timing, it can be of greater or lesser intensity.
Any expression used to encourage the artists during or at the end of the performance, as long as it is done with respect and without disrupting or disconnecting the bailaor.
- Within the same group, it is common for the cantaora to encourage the guitarist with a “¡Ole los que tocan bien!” (“Bravo to those who play well!”) after a falseta, or for the palmeros to say “¡Fuego!” (“Fire!”) to a bailaora in a state of grace.
- In a popular “corrillo” of bulerías or tangos, all attendees cheer the bailaor or bailaora throughout the dance with expressions like “toma que toma,” “arsa y toma,” or “sá sá,” among others.
This term refers to the purest form of flamenco, with themes revolving around death, frustrated love, or despair, expressing emotions in a tragic and dramatic way. It is structured by constant repetition of the same note, and the cantaor introduces “quejíos” spontaneously, adding to the emotional intensity.
A signal that the bailaora gives to the musicians or other bailaores to indicate that she is going to start her dance or a specific part of it. Typically, it is done through a zapateado (footwork).
Derived from the Arabic expression “allah,” which means “Oh, God,” it is the most common exclamation of jaleo. It has even transcended the boundaries of flamenco and made its way into everyday life, where its meaning remains the same: to express approval of someone who is doing something exceptionally well.
Each of the styles in flamenco, organized into families based on their compás or themes. While there are more than 100, the most common ones include soleá, alegrías, fandangos, tangos, tientos, seguiriyas, and bulerías.
A tap performed with the front part of the foot, making it softer. It is typically used during zapateo or throughout the dance. In some schools, the term “planta” refers to the tap, while “plata” is used for a softer tap.
Also known as “ayeo,” it is a part of the song where the cantaor spontaneously sings “ayyyyyyyyyy,” either at the beginning or end of the song, or even during it.
When the quejío is performed at the beginning of the song, it allows the bailaora to walk onto the stage and perform the llamada, signaling the start of the dance. If it is done at the end, it allows the bailaora to leave the stage during its execution. When the quejío is performed during the song, the appropriate dance style is similar to that during the falsetas.
An abbreviation of “salida,” it refers to the beginning of a cante or a dance.
Refers to the increase in rhythm and speed in a bailaor or bailaora’s footwork during an escobilla or zapateado. It occurs towards the end of the performance, just before the closure.
Derived from the café cantantes, the tablao is the wooden stage where the flamenco show takes place. The musicians sit at the back in a semi-circle, leaving the front space for the bailaores to showcase their skills. Depending on the performance, the cantaores and palmeros may stand or sit.
An expression that marks the beginning of the alegrías, although sometimes it is sung at the end. It is said to be an invention of the cantaor Ignacio Espeleta, who, while singing for the bailaoras La Macarrona and La Malena, forgot the lyrics due to excessive drinking. He improvised this cante, which has been used ever since as an introduction, ending, and tempo in this palo.
The action of playing the guitar in a flamenco performance. It can also refer to the personal style of each guitarist’s music interpretation on stage.
Zapateado is the action of repeatedly tapping the floor with the feet rhythmically, creating a footwork sequence known as escobilla. It serves to elevate the dramatic tension during the performance and to showcase the skill of the bailaor or bailaora.
Now that you are familiar with the main terms related to flamenco, there’s nothing better than enjoying an authentic show, like the one offered by Gran Gala Flamenco at the Palau de la Música Catalana and Teatro Poliorama. Reserve your tickets now!