A passion for Spain—and her national dance
by Alan E. Lewis
Entry: March 2011
On our many trips to southern Spain, the family always gets in a few hikes to get closer to the region’s scenic splendor.
A few weeks ago I was meeting with some associates—we were going over the final details of our re-launch of several Grand Circle trips. When talk got around to our Portugal to the Costa del Sol vacation, I couldn’t help smiling. I’m quite sure I had a twinkle in my eye, too, because just for an instant I was transported to Spain—or, more specifically, to a tiny flamenco club in Seville.
I’ve vacationed in southern Spain many times with Harriet over the years. I don’t know what it is that draws us back to this magical region of the world most—the elegant town squares with their Moorish architecture … the simple beauty of the landscapes punctuated with tiny whitewashed villages. Or perhaps it’s the Spanish people themselves. Their charm and passion for food, wine, and life itself is inexhaustible—and infectious.
As the title already hints at, Spaniards have a passion for something else, too—the flamenco. It stands to reason I suppose, because Andalusia is the birthplace of this intensely emotional dance form. Now normally, you couldn’t pay me enough to spend an evening watching a bunch of dancers. But that all changed for me in Spain. Let me tell you about a night when Harriet and I were first introduced to the flamenco.
Dining in southern Spain often includes a typical tapas assortment like this.
A few years ago we found ourselves in Seville—one of the true gems of southern Spain, by the way. We were there dining at a quiet tapas restaurant with one of our associates, a real gentleman named Eduardo Alberca Roquero. Eduardo is one of the Program Directors for Grand Circle’s Classic Costa del Sol vacations and wanted to introduce us to some of his regional cuisine. Oh, I can still taste some of the delicious tapas he ordered for us that night—spicy meat skewers called pinchos morunos, and bite-sized morsels of batter-fried cod and snails. As the courses kept coming, I recall enjoying more than one glass of tasty jerez—a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown in and around the nearby town of Jerez de la Frontera. Back in the states, we know this regional spirit better by its anglicized name of “sherry.” It was, as they say, a splendid repast.
It was getting late and we assumed that our evening was over. But Eduardo, who was born in the nearby city of Malaga, had a little more up his sleeve. “This is Seville,” he said, “the evening doesn’t begin until after 11.” Then he added, “And if there is one thing we are famous for more than our tapas, it is the flamenco.”
Before we could argue, Eduardo took us arm in arm and led us out into the street. We walked just a short distance from the tapas bar before he guided us through a set of thick wooden doors and into a large room. It was dark and crowded. We somehow managed to snag a small table near the stage, and as soon as we were seated, Eduardo leaned in closely. “This is the real thing,” he whispered, “it’s not a show put together just for tourists.”
A group of flamenco dancers in Seville.
Suddenly the room went totally black. There was a single loud clap and some lights came up, bathing the room in an orange glow. A stern looking middle-aged woman wearing a bright red dress walked onto the stage. She was followed closely by a balding man and two much younger men holding guitars. And then, it began. Various combinations of singers, dancers, and musicians took to the stage in an intoxicating mix of slow and fast songs, happy and sad dance moves, and alternating claps, finger snaps, and frenetic guitar chords. We didn’t really know what it was all about, but from beginning to end we were mesmerized. Eduardo, of course, knew a thing or two about this fascinating art. And he patiently took us through some of the basics.
“Flamenco,” he explained, “consists of three things: cante, the song; baile, the dance; and guitarra, guitar playing.” And then he laughed when I asked him if that was all we needed to know. “There are many different palos, or styles of flamenco," he told us. “The one we’re watching right now is the buleria, which is a very happy style—have fun, because you don’t have a care in the world. It is like my mother-in-law just called and will be unable to visit.” We all broke out in laughter.
During a particularly sad song, Eduardo whispered to us. “This is the seguiriya style,” he said, “It brings very tragic news. Things are hopeless—my mother-in-law will be moving in with me.” I saw him winking at me. “But then there is another sad style,” he added, during another emotional piece. “This is the soleá. It is also sad news but things are not quite as hopeless—my mother-in-law will be coming but she will leave at the end of the weekend.” The room was quiet so we had to stifle our laughter.
Harriet with Charlotte and Edward on one of our earlier visits to Spain.
I noticed that a lot of the dancers wore red dresses, some of them with big orange polka dots. I asked Eduardo if there was any significance to these colors. He told me that at one time all the walls in Sevilla were painted with the blood of bulls, and this orangey-red was how it looked. I still don’t know if he was kidding.
We had such a wonderful time that evening. But there was one point when I remember Eduardo dropping his smile. “Even in the happiest flamenco styles,” he said, “the performers take the music very serious. Flamenco artists do not like mistakes. Trust me,” he added; looking quite serious himself, “you do not want to be the one who claps on stage when everyone else has stopped.” I believed him.
Even without Eduardo along, we would have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the dance performance that night in Seville (believe me; those Dancing with the Stars couples have nothing on those flamenco performers). But his insights made our visit to Spain resonate so much more powerfully.
I better be careful at my next meeting. Because right now when I close my eyes and think of Spain, all I can imagine is the flourish of an arm accompanied by the crisp snap of fingers, the clack of a castanet, and a high-pitched cry of “Olé!”
Alan E. Lewis
You can visit southern Spain on two of our Grand Circle vacations: Spain & Portugal in Depth and our new Portugal to Costa del Sol trip.