Flamenco gaining ground in Boulder


The Spanish art form flamenco, known for its percussive footwork, sharp clapping, earthy dance movements and the rasgueos strumming technique, is taking root here in Boulder. There are a variety of classes that teach flamenco technique, the aesthetics of flamenco and even barefoot flamenco.

Shireen Malik, flamenco instructor at the University of Colorado and in the Boulder community, teaches flamenco classes, breaking down the complex beats to make the multifaceted dance tangible to newcomers. Flamenco has complex rhythms — palos — or song styles. The 12-count style, “the heart and soul of flamenco,” as Malik explains, is difficult to pick up, so instead she uses a basic fourfour tempo for her students.

“It’s coordinating arms and hands and body, then adding the footwork, which can be very challenging,” says Malik. “You are a percussionist as well as a dancer.”

Malik’s 38 students at CU-Boulder are dressed in school clothes or long, flowing skirts. She warms her students up by stretching using fluid movements, swaying to the strumming of guitar and harmonious singing.

The stretching morphs into dancing. The students start with simple, slow footwork and progress into more complex rhythms, adding arms and hands. The dancers’ footwork accelerates with the crescendo of the guitar music and the auditorium is filled with the quick clicking of heels and toes, giving the room a pulse.

The dance is just one aspect of the refined flamenco art form, which originates from Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost province. Flamenco as a whole is a combination of singing, clapping, guitar playing and dancing.

“The singer sets the tone, the guitar follows the singer and the dancer dances,” says Malik.

The singer begins chanting. The song — cante — is influenced by muezzins calling Muslims to prayer from atop mosque minarets during the period of Muslim occupation in Andalusia. Jewish chanting from synagogue services also influenced flamenco song during Roman rule in the area. The Jewish communities that flourished in Sepharad — the Hebrew name for Spain — played a large role in the music that developed into today’s flamenco. Paco Peña, world-renowned flamenco guitarist, composer and dramtist, credits Gypsy culture with combining elements of the diverse array of cultures in Andalusia throughout time to create the folkloric flamenco.

“They [the Gypsies] are a part — very important part — of the genesis of flamenco,” says Peña, who performed at the Boulder Theater Oct. 13. “Flamenco is the result of precarious conditions of life, turmoil, war, dispossession and discrimination. The Gypsies suffered together with other human groups at the time when flamenco was born, and it was born among these marginalized peoples.

“Over many centuries, the mixture of these cultures has crystallized into a unique form of expression, which is the art of flamenco music, the vehicle for the Andalucian people to tell their story and give vent to their emotions,” Peña says.

While the somber singing echoes, the clapping begins. Palmeros are people keeping counter-tempo through palmas — rhythmic hand clapping that accompanies the dancers, singers and guitarists. The palmeros’ clapping ranges from soft, cupped claps — sordas — to strong, striking claps — claras — depending upon the pace and volume of the music.

The guitar playing — toque — comes next. Rasgueos, a technique of finger-style guitar picking and rapid strumming patterns, is typically associated with flamenco.

The dancer then waits, listening to the mood of the music and conjuring feelings of either joy or grief from this deep, tonal singing and storm of strumming, and then begins on a whim, twirling and puncturing the deep song and guitar music with percussive footwork. The dancer’s movements are juicy and earthy, sensual hip swinging and arms outstretched, fingers and wrists moving through the air, dove-like.

The song, guitar, handclapping and dance unite during the performance, much like the cultural fusion that originally created flamenco.

“All artists in flamenco ‘speak’ the same musical language and all tell their communal history; it happens that some do it with their voice, with the guitar or with the movement of their body,” says Peña. “We all swing with the same rhythms and deal with common emotions that we all understand.”

Flamenco classes in Boulder

Art of Flamenco Dance Class, Flamenco Technique Class: 2824 Ninth St., (720) 277-1566

Flamenco Boulder: 2115 Pearl St., Kakes Studio B, (303) 786-7050, www.flamenco-boulder.com

Rene Heredia Mosaic Movement Arts: 1840 55th St., (303) 722-0054, www.reneheredia.com

Shireen Malik Private and semi-private flamenco classes, barefoot flamenco classes, www.shireenmalik.com