If there is one person on whom the magic and duende in a flamenco show rely, it is the bailaora, the woman responsible for bewitching the audience with her movements and spreading the feeling and passion of the music with her body. In today’s post, we will learn more about the most famous female flamenco dancers in history.
What Is a Flamenco Dancer?
As mentioned above, the bailaora is the star of the flamenco show, able to convey the passion and meaning of the music to the audience with her body. Although flamenco dancing, like any other art, can be learned, to be a top-notch bailaora it is necessary to have that special trait that everyone desires but no one knows how to define: the flamenco duende, the magic on stage.
Who Are the Most Famous Flamenco Dancers?
Throughout history, a handful of women have stood out from the rest on the flamenco stages: for their power, their grit, their passion, and their heart. These are the best-known and most recognized flamenco dancers.
La Niña de los Peines
Born as Pastora Pavón Cruz in Seville in 1890, La Niña de los Peines developed an extensive career as a cantaora and bailaora (flamenco singer and dancer) in which she played all kinds of styles, from the petenera or the bambera (of her own creation) to, of course, the bulería.
She performed for the first time when she was 8 years old at the Seville Fair, replacing one of her brothers, and never stopped until her last tour, «España y su cantaora», in 1949. She died in 1969 in Seville shortly after her husband, the singer Pepe Pinto, with whom she had shared a professional career since their wedding in the 1930s.
Encarnación López Júlvez, born in Buenos Aires in 1898, was the founder of the Compañía de Bailes Españoles, with which she created shows such as Las Calles de Cádiz as well as El amor brujo. As the muse of the Generation of ’27 and friend of artists of the likes of Federico Garcia Lorca, she had to go into exile to the United States when the Spanish Civil War began, where she kept on succeeding with her flamenco shows, delighting the American audience. She died in New York in 1945.
Juana la Macarrona
Born in Jerez de la Frontera in 1870, Juana Vargas de las Heras was a hit in the piano bars of the time, and toured throughout Spain and abroad, winning over diverse audiences, such as those from Berlin, Paris and Moscow. Even the Shah of Persia himself is said to have been seduced by her on-stage ethnic moves.
She participated in the Universal Exposition of Barcelona in 1929 as an outstanding artist and was part of the company of La Argentinita.
La Perla de Cadiz
Antonia Gilabert Vargas was born in Cadiz in 1924. After starting her career in her hometown, she soon traveled to Madrid. In the capital of Spain she performed her art in tablaos including El Guajiro, Los Gallos and Los Canasteros, excelling especially in the styles from Cadiz, such as alegrías, bulerías, tientos and soleares.
She was honored with many awards, was the author of several records, and the owner of a tablao in Valdelagrana before passing away in Cadiz in 1975, at the age of 51.
Ana Carrillo Mendoza, born in Cordoba in 1942, is believed to have been the only female dancer to be picked up by the Madrid music band when she arrived at the Atocha station. Her talent for dancing even led her to be compared to Lola Flores.
In 1964, after performing her art in tablaos all over Córdoba, she participated in the film Los duendes de Andalucía and moved to Madrid, where she performed in various tablaos. After becoming a widow, she retired from the stage and spent the last years of her life in solitude, until 2007, when she passed away in her birthplace, Córdoba.
Pastora Rojas Monje, born in Seville in 1885, is the author of the dance style known as Escuela Sevillana, which gives center stage to elements of great plasticity, such as the bata de cola or the manila shawl. Manuel de Falla created for her El amor brujo, released in 1915.
She toured her art throughout Europe and Latin America before returning to Madrid, where she spent her adulthood running several successful tablaos and where she died in 1979 at the age of 94.
Merced la Serneta
Known for her dancing as well as for her excellence in singing, Mercedes Fernández Vargas, born in Jerez de la Frontera in 1840, is the author of 7 different styles of soleá singing. She was a singing and guitar teacher in Madrid and triumphed in the singing cafés of the capital, as well as in Seville and her native Jerez. She died in Utrera in 1912.
Surely the most internationally known flamenco dancer is Carmen Amaya Amaya, born in Barcelona in 1918. She was known throughout the world for the grit, sensuality, and ethnic expression of her style, but also for being a pioneer in the idea of wearing pants on stage.
She enjoyed success in Paris in 1929, at the Universal Exposition in Barcelona in 1930, and in Madrid until the outbreak of the Civil War, which forced her to go into exile to the United States. This brought her to New York, where she performed in 1941 and became a star. She died in Bagur, Girona, in 1963.
The New York Times said about Maria Dolores Flores Ruiz, born in 1923 in Jerez de la Frontera: «she doesn’t sing, she doesn’t dance, don’t miss out the opportunity to see her». She was a complete artist: renowned bailadora, great singer, and prolific actress.
Throughout her career, she succeeded both within Spain’s borders and in America, especially in Mexico, and was well known for being an outspoken critic of topics that were still considered taboo in Spain at the time, such as gender violence, drugs, extramarital relationships, and prostitution.
What Is the Name of the Gown Worn by Flamenco Dancers?
The ultimate gown for flamenco dancers is the bata de cola, a tight-fitting dress ending in a ruffled train that the dancers use to give their movements a special grace and magic. Its origin dates back to the mid-eighteenth century. It is either made of poplin or organza, which can weigh up to 55 pounds, depending on the length of the train and the number of ruffles that embellish it.
Which Are the Characteristics of Flamenco Dancing?
Flamenco dancing is an expression of art known throughout the world because of the magic it radiates, the expressiveness of the artists and the feeling that the audience feels when admiring the state of grace of the singers and dancers who perform it. There are 3 characteristics essential to this art that must be in the performance:
- Intensity or, in other words, passion and grit, both in the movements of the dancers and in the voice of the singers, together with the music of the guitar and the clapping of the hands. Flamenco shows are events of great emotional tension, for the performers as well as for the audience that is lucky enough to watch them.
- Improvisation: Flamenco dance has its roots in the streets, in the parties among family and friends that ended with an improvised «jarana» to the sound of hand clapping. Experienced dancers are capable like no one else of combining the cadence of movements to the rhythm of the music with dry stops when the rhythm demands it.
- Expressiveness: the movements of the dance transmit emotions and feelings that are impossible to describe without having witnessed them. The marriage between music and dance is capable of expressing more than words, especially when musicians and dancers find the flamenco duende.
If you want to enjoy an authentic flamenco show, with some of the dancers with more duende and art of today, do not hesitate to book any of the passes that Gran Gala Flamenco offers in Barcelona every week at the Poliorama Theater and the Palau de la Música Catalana.