Wed 01.12.2021 Staatsballett Berlin

Dance in Spain

What's the difference between »bailar« and »danzar«? And how do classical ballet and flamenco fit together? Learn more about the different dance styles in Víctor Ullate's DON QUIXOTE with our guide.

Young Víctor Ullate in front of an audience, photo: Víctor Ullate archive Young Víctor Ullate in front of an audience, photo: Víctor Ullate archive

The Spanish language knows two words for dance
»In Spain, an old polemic about the meaning of the two verbs ›bailar‹ and ›danzar‹ (Spanish for ›to dance‹) goes beyond an etymological approach. »For [...] some, the verb ›danza‹ refers to virtuosity, complexity, culture, tenderness, wealth; for [...] others, it is the opposing ›el baile‹, and not ›la danza‹ which belongs to the fine arts. It is also common to dissolve this contradiction by stating that ›bailar‹ has always correlated with ›danzar‹. In my opinion, there's something more profound behind this polemic. It is about the controversy concerned with the priority of instinct over intellect.«

Vicente Marrero Suarez, »El acierto de la danza española«, Madrid 1952.

Andalusia was considered a place of longing during the Romantic Age. Old lithographs, typical for the ballet genre, often depicted Andalusian cities such as Sevilla, Cádiz, Córdoba and Granada with their influences of Moorish architecture. The area »al-Andalus«, which covered up to three quarters of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule between the 7th and 15th century, was a "cultural region Mediterranean in character"* which – from today's point of view – laid the path for our modern world through religious and cultural coexistence of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Human interaction between ethnic groups, amongst scholars, artists and scientists, was a natural process that has left its mark on the region until today; maybe even in an enigmatic ambiguity which is closely connected to our idea of what is »Spanish«.

*Brian Catlos, »al-Andalus. Geschichte des islamischen Spanien«, München 2019.

Knowledge of dance
Spain's knowledge of its own dance history is dominated by a focus on the dances themselves. Detailed studies on the many implementations of folkloric dance styles – their respective, often complex musical and terpsichorean structure, their regional idiosyncrasies and transformations throughout the centuries ­– mostly play a pivotal role when it comes to reflecting on dance. At the same time, knowledge about Spanish dances is common knowledge amongst large parts of the Spanish population. In other words, everyone knows, of course, what a Seguidilla, a Fandango or a Jota is and which rhythms and, as the case may be, which songs are associated with them.

Escuela Bolera
At the beginning of the 19th century, when Spain had won back its freedom after the Peninsular War against Napoleon's occupying forces, Spanish dancers conquered the stages of the then ballet strongholds, Paris and London, inspiring the development of classical Romantic ballets, starring María Mercandotti, Petra Cámara, Manuela Perea, Pepita Oliva, Dolores Serral, Mariano Camprubí, Manuela Dubiñon, Fanny Elssler, Marie Taglioni, Marie Guy-Stéphan and Lise Noblet. For them, ballets and divertissements such as LA GITANA, LES OLÉS and L’ETOILE DE GRENADE were created.

Simultaneously, the term »escuela bolera« was coined to describe the fusion of classical and Spanish dance. During the first quarter of the 19th century, however, the bolero, which originated in the South of Spain and Castile, was regarded as the national dance, made popular by so-called ›maja‹ and ›majo‹, a younger generation of Spanish people which ostentatiously rejected everything French, frivolously and provocatively celebrating their Spanish identity.

Flamenco emerged as an independent art form. It is researched like no other cultural phenomenon in Spain, yet its origins are still uncertain. One of the central fields of research tries to understand both the »›gitanos‹ complex role in the origins of flamenco and how Roma in Spain perceived flamenco from a historical point of view.« Miguel Ángel Vargas In all Spanish provinces, »gitanos« exerted their profession of making a living with dance and music. They performed at Christian and social festivities, in the streets, in taverns and later also on their own stages. Traditional events exempted, contemporary iterations of flamenco are staged in diverse performances on a variety of theatre stages which are hardly decipherable without a basic understanding of the art form. Its popularity becomes also apparent in Spanish TV shows in which the underlying principal of agreed upon improvisation (guitar, rhythmic clapping, singing and dancing included) is celebrated as an entertaining competition by representatives of all genres, from stand-up comedian to opera singer.