When I went to Madrid the one performance related thing I really wanted to do was see a Flamenco show. I knew it had something to do with dancing and music, but in what specific regard I wasn’t sure. When researching my trip I found a local company (OGO Tours) that does a Flamenco tour, and I knew it was something I had to do. Here’s my experience.
It is a hot and busy Saturday afternoon in Puerta del Sol as I wait for my Origins of Flamenco Tour to begin. My tour guide Tatiana, a lovely and joyful young woman, leads the tour. Tatiana is originally from Russia, and her husband Javier is from Spain, and they began OGO Tours two years ago. While their tours (that also include a free walking tour and a food tour) have grown in popularity, I luck out (like my previous tour in Madrid) and end up being the only one on the tour. Tatiana is bright and passionate and has an enthusiasm for Madrid that is infectious. This city has a great energy to it that I have come to love, and while we make our way to our first stop she tells me about different restaurants to check out, and foods to try, and about the upcoming holiday in the city. She tells me a little but about Flamenco but says she’s saving the history portion for when we have a drink at the bar.
Our first stop Guitarrería Mariano Conde to learn more about the guitars that are used in Flamenco. This is a family run shop where all the guitars are handcrafted and have been for a hundred years. We walk in and I am assuaged with a sweet, earthy scent that’s completely unfamiliar to me, but I love it.
Downstairs at the workshop there are tools on the wall, sawdust on the table, and guitars in various stages of production. That sweet smelling wood I learn is Cyprus wood, which is most often used to make Flamenco guitars. Spanish style guitars use Rosewood. There are a lot of factors that go into making the guitar, but one thing I was not aware of until this tour is that the wood used to make a guitar is dried beforehand and the drier the wood the better the guitar will be. If you were to buy a guitar from a mass-produced factory, the wood used for a guitar would be dried for a couple of years. This seems impressive until you find out the wood for the guitars at Guitarrería Mariano Conde are dried for about 30 years.
Guitars here are popular with some of the biggest Flamenco guitarists, and indeed even with contemporary musicians. Apparently Ed Sheeran had purchased a handcrafted guitar from Guitarrería Mariano Conde. If you have €3000, you can be the proud owner of one of these beautiful guitars.
Music is one component of Flamenco, but there is also the dress and the dance itself. To learn more about that we made our way to a Flamenco dress store, which has everything a Flamenco performer could want. Only one type of Flamenco dress has a tail. Some dancers will use a fan and other may use castanets, which are little handheld wooden percussion instruments. Women will often wear flowers in their hair. While the women have beautiful and elaborate dresses, the men usually wear a regular suit in a Flamenco dance. Occasionally for festivals men will wear a shorter suit.
An important part of the Flamenco dancer’s ensemble is the shoes. I am surprised to learn that the men’s and women’s shoes have a heel, but Tatiana says the reason for this will become apparent in the show. There are flat nails at the bottom of the shoes. In the Flamenco dance, there is a lot of stopping and percussion rhythm, which is propelled by these unique shoes.
Next over drinks and tapas at a bar Tatiana brings out her tablet that is filled with photos, movies, and songs of the history of Flamenco. This history is not easy to condense – it literally spans thousands of years. Flamenco owes its roots to many different cultures Byzantines, Moors, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Gypsies, Romans, Phoenicians, Greeks, etc. Each brought their own cultural influence to Flamenco. The gypsies were instrumental in shaping Flamenco to what it is today. The earliest gypsies came to Spain as far back as 600 AD because they had been persecuted in other regions. They brought a sorrowful singing to Flamenco, something you still hear today. This is because they were singing about their hardships and persecutions.
It becomes apparent that is not one specific moment in history where you say definitively that “this was when Flamenco started.” To further complicate things there isn’t an absolute definition of what Flamenco is. This style of music and dance has evolved over the years, and from place to place. The Flamenco show here in Madrid may be very different from one in another region of the country.
Flamenco is about music, dance, story, traditions, culture, and history. It is a combination of a lot of things, but before seeing the Flamenco show at Tablao Flamenco Villa Rosa Tatiana tells me that most importantly Flamenco is a feeling. My seat at Tablao Flamenco Villa Rosa is front and center, and I’m inches from the stage. I have a glass of wine and four performers come out, a female dancer, two male dancers, and male guitar player. Like most live performances photography and recording is not allowed during the show.
The show itself is fascinating. I am close enough to see the scuffs on the wood floor as the dancers move feverishly. As the female dancer twirls her skirt I can practically touch it. There is sound, fury, and a sea of red. The first ten minutes I can only focus on the dancers’ feet, how they twist and turn on a dime. The songs go from high energy to a passionate wailing. It’s loud, noisy and wonderful. The dancers respond in time, stomping their feet, writhing their bodies, twisting their hands, clapping. With my limited Spanish I don’t understand what they’re singing, but I am starting to understand that feeling of Flamenco Tatiana alluded to earlier, and I love it.
Ogo Tours was kind enough to give me a complimentary ticket to this tour, but all opinions within this post are my own. I loved this tour, and I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting Madrid.
While in Madrid I stayed at Huespedes Dolcevita Hostel in a single private room with a balcony. There was a shared bathroom, free breakfast, and free WiFi. The hostel was in the LGBT friendly Chueca neighbourhood and was a 5 minute walk to the Chueca Metro station. If you’re looking for a private room in Madrid at a decent price (I paid about $25 for my room/night when I stayed) I highly recommend this hostel. You can book a room here.
Have you seen a Flamenco show in Spain?