9 Things You Didn’t Know About Flamenco

Women in Flamenco dresses and men in traditional attire ride horseback in a square in Spain during a festival

Before I moved to Spain, I thought I knew what flamenco was—the traditional dance from Spain, right? But in the four and a half years I’ve lived in Spain (including 15 months where I moved to Seville specifically to deepen my knowledge of flamenco), I’ve learnt that this isn’t really the case. I could write a whole essay about what I’ve learnt so far, but here are the basic things you should know. 

Flamenco dancer performs in a square in Spain

1. It’s From Andalusia, Not Spain as a Whole

Although I don’t dance at a high level, I have been learning different dance styles since I could walk. I started with disco and ballroom as a toddler, moved to ballet and tap as a teenager, and then to English folk dancing at university. So the obvious thing for me to do when I moved to Spain was to sign up for flamenco dance classes. So as soon as I arrived in Castelló, in the Valencia region, that’s exactly what I did. To my surprise, this caused quite the confusion for my local friends. “Why are you learning flamenco here, in Castelló?!” they asked. “Well, because I’m in Spain, so obviously I want to learn the traditional dance,” I replied. “Yes, but flamenco isn’t from here, it’s from Andalusia.” You can, of course, learn flamenco anywhere. But the heart and birthplace of the art form is in Andalusia, a region in southern Spain. That is by far the best place to learn and immerse yourself in the culture. 

Flamenco dancers in a street festival in Spain

2. It’s Not Just One Style

I never even considered that flamenco could be more than one style. But it is so varied, with over 50 different palos (styles), although many are just sung, never danced to. These range from the common alegrías, tangos, or bulerías, to the less common garrotín, martinete, or farruca. There are many ways to categorise them. One way is by where they come from, as most originate from a different town or city in Andalusia, Spain. Some (the “ida y vuelta” styles) come from the mix of styles between Spain and Latin America that were then reintroduced into Spanish flamenco. Another way to classify them is based on their rhythm. Most palos are either 4-count or 12-count rhythms. But don’t start thinking it’s easy. Many 12-count palos have this strange accentuation that takes a while to get used to (stressed counts in bold): 1 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Two female Flamenco dangers perform on a stage holding fans

3. It’s Different Than Spanish Folk Dance

Flamenco is a traditional dance from Spain, but it is not the only one. Many regions of Spain have their own folk dances. Some, like the jota aragonesa, are even quite famous (at least within Spain). But flamenco dance is different, mainly because of the strong influence of the Roma people’s (gitanos) music and culture. It is also usually much more complicated. Folk dances tend to be simpler and more repetitive, so non-professional dancers can pick them up and dance together socially. Some flamenco palos are simpler and can be danced socially (like bulerías). But most of them involve much more complex footwork, and years of practising to get to a high level. Although Spanish folk dances and flamenco have influenced each other a lot, they are not the same thing. 

Colorful stalls and paper lanterns decorate a street festival in Spain

4. A Lot of Flamenco Is Improvised

If you’re watching a group flamenco performance in a theatre, it’s likely to be fully choreographed. However, if you’re watching a flamenco dance in a tablao, then this won’t quite be the case. Dancers will practise steps, and have an idea of the structure they want to dance, but they will have to adapt this on the spot to what the musicians play. They typically don’t rehearse together ahead of the performance! This results in a complex mix of improvisation, while also following a set of rules and conventions of what steps go where, and how to respect the musicians too. And if you’re lucky enough to see a group of people dancing bulerías at a bar or a wedding, that will usually be completely improvised. (Still following some conventions though!)

A woman dances Flamenco as a small live band plays in a square in Spain

5. Communication Between Artists Is Key

This is the most fascinating part of flamenco for me. Since the musicians don’t know what the dancer plans to do, there has to be communication. There is a whole code of steps and “intentions” which the dancer can use to indicate to the musician what they want them to play or sing. But this doesn’t usually dictate what length or style of lyrics the singer sings for example. And if the musicians aren’t as experienced, they may not pick up on the cues. The musicians can also choose to play different things which the dancer has to react to, like a guitarist choosing to play a falseta, a solo where they get to shine and the dancer chooses steps that aren’t overbearing. 

The necessity of this communication means that when you watch a high-level flamenco performance, all the artists are completely in tune with each other, and there is an intense focus that you can feel even from the audience. 

 A group of male and female dancers perform Flamenco on a colorful stage

6. The Musicians Sometimes Follow the Dancer

Due to the possibilities that this communication allows, flamenco is the only dance style I know where sometimes the musicians can follow the dancer in this way. This power is so exciting, but it’s difficult to learn how to use it correctly. If the musicians are following you but you’re not confident in this code of communication, things can completely fall apart. Many times when improvising in class, I didn’t quite understand where I was in the music and how or if I should be leading the musician, and my teacher had to help me get through the situation! It’s a steep learning curve, but an incredible feeling when it goes right. 

A man with long hair plays guitar on a dark stage

7. It’s Not Just a Dance Style

Most of the dance styles I learnt growing up, like ballet, tap, and modern, were just that—dance styles. But flamenco is so much more, especially when you study it in Andalusia. It is a way of life and a deep cultural phenomenon. Some palos, like bulerías, are very sociable, and it’s common to hear rhythmic clapping and jaleos (“Olé! Arsa! Guapa!”) accompanying the dancers at bars or from a group of friends in the street. Flamenco artistry runs in families for many generations, and it is a symbol of identity for many groups of people, especially the gitanos in Andalusia, Spain. 

Colorful Flamenco dresses hang on an outdoor balcony in Spain

8. The Palmeros Are Really Important

The palmeros are the people who stand and clap the rhythm, and shout things like “Olé!” at the right time. I used to think they weren’t as important as the dancer, and that they were extra accompaniment that could be done without. But now I’ve realised how important they are. Not just to mark the rhythm and keep the dancers and musicians together, especially in parts where they speed up or slow down or where there is syncopation (very often). But also the climax of the dance would be nothing without the intense clapping that accompanies it. The stronger, faster percussion is essential to build the intensity needed for the climax of a good flamenco performance. 

A Flamenco dancer in a blue dresses dances while musicians play on a colorful stage in Spain

9. The Climax of the Dance

And talking about that climax, there are many different parts to a flamenco performance. From the escobilla where the dancer shows off their complex footwork, to falsetas where the guitarist gets to shine, and strong verses (letras bravas) where the singer can really show off. The climax isn’t an official part of the performance, but it’s the name I give to the most intense moments in a dance (which can often be ~15 mins long). The fast footwork and impressive spins of the dancer match strong accompaniment from the musicians and fast clapping from the palmeros. The climax of a good flamenco performance is such a special experience, especially in Seville where the standard is so high. Your heart rate goes right up, and you are drawn in to that incredible intensity, skill, and passion. 

A woman dances Flamenco with her hands above her head on a stage in Spain


If this all sounds intriguing, I invite you to check out my article on How to Learn Flamenco in Spain. Or come and visit the beautiful city of Seville, the heart of flamenco, by using this suggested itinerary as a guide! You won’t regret it!

Four women in colorful Flamenco dresses dance on a stage in Spain

46 thoughts on “9 Things You Didn’t Know About Flamenco

  1. Beautiful imagery. Didn’t know about the musicians following the dancer. My cousin is in a Flamenco dancer in Queensland Australia. I love watching her perform.

  2. Wow, what an eye-opening read about Flamenco! Loved how you uncovered those lesser-known facts about this captivating art form. From its diverse origins to the intricate footwork, this article added a whole new layer of appreciation for Flamenco. Thanks for sharing these fascinating insights! 👏🎶

  3. Interesting! I can not say that I knew anything about Flamenco before reading this. I am intrigued! This was so interesting to learn about.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with your observation about the importance of palmeros in a flamenco performance! They truly add an essential layer to the rhythm and intensity of the dance, especially during the climax. I can only imagine the incredible experience of witnessing such a moment live in Seville, where the standard is so high. Your article on learning flamenco in Spain sounds fascinating, and I’m definitely intrigued to learn more about this captivating art form. Thank you for sharing your insights!

  5. Flamenco is also a dance here in the Philippines. I never knew about the unique connection between Flamenco and the Andalusian history.

    1. That’s interesting – I didn’t know it was also danced in the Philippines, although I guess it isn’t totally surprising what with the Spanish influences over there.

  6. I knew the dance but didn’t know all this details about flamenco. Glad to have learnt some new facts about the dance.

    1. Just like me – I knew of flamenco before I moved to Spain, and that’s why I wanted to learn it when I was out there. But I soon realised just how much I didn’t yet know!

  7. When we were on our honeymoon we went to a Flamenco show and it was amazing. We both loved the show and hearing the story of flamenco

  8. I didn’t know any of these! This is a really great and very informative post! Thanks for sharing this with us

  9. I had no idea bout any of these, actually. I always thought the flamenco was a specific dance that was from Spain as a whole. I really love that a lot of it is improvised, too.

  10. You nailed, it I didn’t know any of these 9 things! It’s so interesting the history behind this dance. I’d love to see it performed in person on day.

    1. Oh great, then hopefully you learned some interesting things from reading my article 🙂 I really hope you can see it live one day too, it is so special.

  11. It is nice to learn about the history of flamenco. I definitely did not know much about it at all! I feel like we have seen some flamenco inspired clothes and dance in Mexico, almost like a blend of cultures.

    1. That’s so interesting that there is some mixing between cultures over in Mexico, I didn’t know (but on a side note I LOVE Mexico, such a great country!) There has been flamenco taken over the sea and those foreign influences brought back to Spain, but that is mainly to Cuba, with styles such as the guajira.

  12. I saw my first flamenco show in Barcelona, Spain and fell in love with it ever since! I love the passion and culture these dancers show without having utter a word.

    1. If you love dance then you HAVE to check out flamenco in more detail! Such a fascinating dance style and culture.

  13. Latin dancing is certainly entrancing. I’ve always been so impressed by it and the energy…its so beautiful to see other cultures’ traditions.

    1. I wouldn’t normally class flamenco as a latin dance, but it is certainly entrancing. You’re right, it has such a special energy, especially when you are lucky enough to see it live.

  14. Your journey into the world of flamenco is truly captivating! 🇪🇸💃 It’s amazing how a move to Spain led you to explore the rich tapestry of this art form, from its origins to its soulful essence. From disco to English folk dancing, your dance journey is a fusion of cultures. And learning flamenco in its heartland, Andalusia, sounds like a dream. Keep sharing your flamenco adventures with us!

    1. I never would have imagined it when I moved over to Spain 5 years ago, that’s for sure! Thank you for your lovely comment. Andalusia is the best place for flamenco in the world, I am lucky to have been able to study it there and glad I made the leap to move there.

  15. It’s amazing how immersing oneself in a culture can unravel so many layers of a tradition we thought we knew.

  16. Wow, an amazing place like this is worth visiting. Haven’t been to something like this but your picture are so pretty. Thank you for sharing!

  17. These are great to know! I have no idea what Flamenco is but you open my eyes about it. Such a great culture, I’d love to go in Spain in the future.

    1. I would definitely recommend visiting Spain, and specifically Andalusia, if you can. Incredible culture and country. And have a look into flamenco, you’ll find lots more interesting things!

  18. I had no idea there was so much culture and so many styles of Flamenco dancing! What a beautiful thing to learn about.

  19. I didn’t know there were about 50 different styles of flamenco, but I have seen a live performance once when on Mallorca

    1. I had no idea either until I moved to Spain! Live flamenco performances are so special, I’m glad you’ve been able to see one.

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