In Search of Duende

Daniel Ward believes that flamenco is key to understanding the passion of Spanish

Merriam-Webster defines duende as “the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm,” but to flamenco aficionados it means so much more.

Duende or tener duende (“having duende”) can be loosely translated as having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression, and heart. The artistic and especially musical term was derived from the duende, a fairy or goblin-like creature in Spanish and Latin American mythology. El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside as a physical/emotional response to music. It is what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Folk music in general, especially flamenco, tends to embody an authenticity that comes from a people whose culture is enriched by diaspora and hardship, the human condition of joys and sorrows.

The Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca, who was executed by Nationalist forces during the country’s bitter civil war, offers this romantic definition: “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.” He suggests, “Everything that has black sounds in it has duende [i.e., emotional ‘darkness’] [...] This ‘mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched the heart of Nietzsche, who searched in vain for its external forms on the Rialto Bridge and in the music of Bizet, without knowing that the duende he was pursuing had leaped straight from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cádiz or the beheaded, Dionysian scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.” [...] “The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.” [...] “All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present.”

Spanish Language Schools Offering Flamenco Classes

Music, culture, and language are inexorably intertwined, and nowhere is this more apparent than with flamenco — an art form that is filled with passion, radiance, and impulsiveness. Flamenco mingles acoustic guitar playing, singing, chanting, dancing, and handclapping. The flamenco dancer performs with fervor and even tortured expressions, but always strives for grace and dignity.

Flamenco is a genuine Spanish art form, or, to be more exact, a genuine southern Spanish art. It exists in three forms: el cante, the song, el baile, the dance, and la guitarra, the guitar playing. The exact origins of flamenco are not clear; however, it is assumed that it developed from the unique interaction of native Andalucían, Islamic Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in southern Spain as a result of the Muslim Moors’ control of the area for some 800 years. The term Moors refers to a mix of North African peoples including Berbers, Arabs, and other groups who settled the area in a gradual western migration from the Middle East.

Flamenco is said to have its roots in Andalucía, specifically in Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, and the Triana neighborhood of Seville.

Flamenco then grew as a separate subculture, first displayed in the provinces of Seville, Cádiz, and part of Málaga but soon broadening to the whole of Andalucía, mixing and altering local folk music forms. Flamenco popularized and spread to other regions in Spain, notably Madrid, which is now regarded as one of its centers.

Fans of flamenco often credit the music with an ability to transmit emotion and feelings in a unique way. The music can change over the course of a performance or song. These variants are called palos. Through its use of palos, flamenco is said to express the passion and culture of an entire people.

Spanish flamenco is typically performed in a special venue called a tablao. Many tablaos are decorated with typical Spanish items to give them a welcoming and cozy atmosphere. Some tablaos offer just a bar menu and tapas, while others serve full dinners. Enjoying the flavors of Spanish cuisine with the soundtrack of flamenco is one of the most sought-after tourist experiences in Spain.

There are now flamenco shows throughout the world. It is performed in clubs and bars and even can be seen in spontaneous street performances. In Latin America, it may not be as emblematic as in Spain, but flamenco and its influence can be felt in many countries, which is hardly surprising considering that so many of the colonial settlers were Andalucíans seeking a better life. Buenos Aires is considered to be South America’s flamenco capital, but there are certain styles of song and dance that fall outside of the flamenco boundaries, styles that have connections to the art of flamenco but whose origins lie in Spanish or even South American folk music. There is also a group of flamenco styles known as Ida y Vuelta, which basically means “there and back,” and these styles come from outside of Spain, mostly from Latin America.

Flamenco is not just the music of the past; it has modernized itself, transforming into today’s sounds. Spanish musicians today mix flamenco with such genres as chill-out, hip-hop, and dance music.

Through this understanding of flamenco, we can begin to understand and make connections with the society of Andalucía itself. The community gathered around flamenco can be seen socializing in the many plazas of Andalucía and attending the many celebrations that go on throughout the year.

It is argued by some that to grasp the country and to understand the culture, language is the essential tool. However, by discovering flamenco, you may just discover the secrets of Spanish diversity and passion.

Now, it’s possible to combine Spanish-language learning with the passion of flamenco through the following programs:

Enforex
Starting every Monday, Enforex offers the opportunity to learn Spanish and share the stage with professional dancers and learn the technical and cultural aspects of this incredible art form in Granada, Madrid, Marbella, or Seville. The flamenco course consists of eight flamenco/salsa dance lessons per week.

Spanish classes are held in the morning and flamenco classes are held in the afternoon at the Enforex school or at a nearby dance school, depending on the city.

All of the dance teachers are highly trained professionals with years of experience teaching foreigners how to dance and understand flamenco.

Universidad Nebrija in Madrid
Throughout this comprehensive intensive program, students get in contact with various aspects of flamenco and Spanish folklore while improving their knowledge of Spanish language and culture.

Course content includes language and conversation courses where students learn new grammatical structures and vocabulary that will enable them to communicate more effectively and correctly in Spanish and also covers various topics related to Spanish culture, art, and folklore, with special emphasis on flamenco. Flamenco courses include workshops for other traditional Spanish dances and comprise five Spanish flamenco workshops, two hours each, in which students approach the world of Spanish music and dance and develop the skills necessary to perform well-known Spanish dances.

Cervantes International (Málaga)
Students learn and perfect the language in Spanish classes during the morning, and have the opportunity to learn and develop the techniques of flamenco dance with a teacher who specializes in these famous dances from the south of Spain.
Open to all levels, the program consists of 20 hours of Spanish and six hours of flamenco per week, with a maximum of eleven students per class.

Taller Flamenco (Seville)
Taller Flamenco is a flamenco school that recognizes the importance of Spanish language to the art form. The classes can be designed to fit the needs of each student.

It offers different courses depending on the needs of each student, with a maximum number of seven students per class. Levels offered are beginners, beginners with knowledge, low intermediate, and upper intermediate.

Also on offer are semi-intensive courses, which are ideal for students who wish to participate in other courses such as Flamenco Dance or Flamenco Guitar at the same time.