Flamenco dancing is one of the three integral parts of the art of flamenco. It came from Andalusia in what is now Spain, influenced heavily by the local gypsy population, the Gitanos. Large amounts of the musical stylings and dance movements come from the Jewish tradition, as well as from Moorish culture.
The three main forms which make up flamenco are the guitarra or guitar playing, cante or song, and baile or dancing. It is difficult to separate the cante from the baile, as the two draw upon similar traditions and work off of one another. Flamenco dancing appears to have its origins in the latter half of the eighteenth century. A number of flamenco schools sprang up around 1800 in Seville, each with its own distinctive take on the art.
Originally the dancing was set to no music, only singing and toque de palmas, the clapping of hands. Some contemporary flamenco dancing still follows this tradition, though the use of the guitar and other instruments has been introduced. A musical style known as palos encompasses a wide range of cultural and social contexts, as well as simple rhythmic and stylized differences. The actual dancing may be of different styles depending on the intention of the dance — whether it is to entertain, to pursue a lover or to comfort those in need.
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Flamenco dancing is an incredibly emotive dance style, with the dancer always striving to express his or her emotions through movement. Sharp movements and facial expressions play a greater role in this style of dance than in many others, reflecting this desire to convey the deepest feelings one is experiencing. The dancer may clap their hands, kick their feet, snap castanets (small handheld percussive instruments), or jerk their body abruptly to demonstrate the desired emotion. At the same time, losing control is never an option, and this passionate display is always tempered by sustaining the highest levels of grace and precision in movements.
The most successful flamenco dancers exhibit what is called duende, meaning literally a fairy or goblin, which indicates an amazing grasp of the emotive flow of this art. Dancing at this level of mastery is a visceral experience, pulling the audience in as though they were participants.