Flamenco and Tango: Understanding the differences between the two styles

by Vladislav Luchianov
Special thanks: Carmen Romero, Flora Krasnoshtein

I think the issue of differences Flamenco and Tango will be quite interesting not only to a wider audience but also to the professionals. Both of these styles are commonly used in ice skating, particularly ice dancing, but sometimes these styles seem to get confused with one another. Let’s try to sort out details in this thread. I am very grateful to the experts who agreed to help with their explanations on this topic. In the last article we gave a detailed account of the tango. Now it is the turn for flamenco, and what differentiates it from the tango.

Carmen Romero – the artistic director of Compañía Carmen Romero and The School of Flamenco Dance Arts based in Toronto, Canada.
Carmen has been involved in the art of flamenco since the age of eight. She has trained both in Canada and Spain, and performed and toured in three continents during her career.Recently Carmen worked with Colombian singer Shakira, assisting her with flamenco movement to help portray a gypsy in Shakira’s international World “Sun Comes Out” world tour that opened in Montreal on September 15, 2010. Carmen: “I continue to train, research, perform and teach. It is a way of life for me and it is how I understand the world around me.”:

“Flamenco is an art form that originated in Southern Spain as early as the 18th century, as a result of the migration of the multi-ethnic mix of gypsies from the Northern and Southern borders of Spain. These gypsies shared their cultures with one another and from this the art of Flamenco came to be in the form or song, dance and music. Now in the 21st Century, Flamenco has just been added to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of ‘Intangible’ elements of Cultural Heritage. This prestigious inclusion recognizes elements of living heritage in order to protect and encourage cultural diversity.
Flamenco is more than song, dance and music. It is a way of life. The lyrics of the songs are rich in life’s philosophy; the music is infused with oriental and Mediterranean tones, supported by complex polyrhythmic meters. The dance is a blend of many percussive forms of cultural dance forms. I believe for this reason there is often confusion of what Flamenco is. One must also understand that Flamenco is one of over three hundred National Dances in Spain. People are impressed by the dramatic expression of emotion, that dances like Argentine Tango, Latin –Salsa and Merengue, to name a few, also express.

The Use of Flamenco outside it’s domain:
When flamenco is used as a theme in other genres, I am thrilled, as it shows me how people are excited by it and are inspired to use it as a source of “Creative Energy”. Ultimately it comes down to doing your research on a topic and knowing as much as you can if you are going to employ a distinct genre as a theme or content, or if one is going to comment publicly on a culturally specific genre. Even as I relay my 34 years of “knowledge” on flamenco I have done a bit of research to make sure I don’t say something incorrectly.”

Flamenco vs. Tango in Ice Skating
Flora Krasnoshtein – figure skating judge in Singles and Ice Dance with Skate Canada, Central Ontario Section, and a student of flamenco and Classical Spanish dance:

“Understanding the nature of the rhythm and its origins, performing suitable movements’ characteristic of a chosen rhythm, and choosing appropriate costumes, are important for effective interpretation and presentation in a skating routine.

This applies to every skating discipline, not just Ice Dance. In my experience, it is common to see some misrepresentation of tango and flamenco rhythms as a result of misunderstanding and confusion between these two genres. Misinterpretation of tango and flamenco occur where skaters interpret tango with rhythmic hand clapping, blade stomping on the ice to denote percussive footwork, and body movements all characteristic of flamenco rather than tango.

The costume choices are often ambivalent where ladies interpret tango wearing ruffled skirts characteristic of flamenco, and men usually dressed in a matador attire characteristic of a bullfight, and hence a Paso Doble, which is while Spanish in origin, is a Spanish March, and falls into a category of Classico Español (or Classical Spanish) rather than flamenco.

The Tango in its present form originated in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina in the late 1800s, while flamenco has its roots in the gypsy culture of Andalucia in the South of Spain in 1700s. Like flamenco, tango was a fusion of different cultures, including Spanish and African, derived from the fusion of various forms of music. In 2009 the tango was declared as part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO. A year later, in 2010, flamenco was added to that prestigious list.

There are 2 types of tango, Argentine (strong, dominant, male), and Continental/International (softer and more subtle i.e. Habañera/Cuban) with the time signature of 4/4 or 4 beats per measure or 2/4 time of 2 beats per measure often found in “cut time” (2/2). Both tangos have a “1 2 3 4” count, the rhythm varies because the “and” accent is different in each type. Rhythm pattern and beat count for type 1 is 1 2 3 4 “and” / 1; and for type 2 is 1 2 “and” 3 4. Argentine tango is characterized by intertwining of the dancers legs known as leg hooks or ganchos.

In contrast, there are many different flamenco rhythms or palos characterized by a time signature or compàs of 8-beat or 2/4 time (e.g. tangos, tientos, farucca), or 12-beat or 3/4 time (e.g. solea, alegrias, bulerias, fandango, siguiriya). Flamenco is made up of 3 basic components: cante (song), baile (dance) and guitar. The song is divided into cante jondo or deep song (e.g. caña, solea, siguiriya), which is the essence of the art of flamenco coveying dramatic intensity and tragic beauty; cante intermedeo or usual song (e.g. tientos, taranto, malagueñas), originates from cante jondo but lacks its seriousness; and cante chico or light song (e.g. alegrias, bulerias, boleras, sevillanas), is more melodic, colourful and cheerful. In addition to song, dance with percussive footwork and guitar, there are other important components in flamenco: rhythmic hand claping (palmas), finger snapping (pitas), encouraging shouts (jaleos), and castanets, although the latter mostly falls into the Classical Spanish genre.

Whether one chooses to skate to tango or flamenco, understanding the genre by doing appropriate research is essential in order to interpret the rhythm as close as possible to its original form. Better yet, consulting an expert who has solid knowledge of the genre would give skating programs the authenticity and relevance they need. Sources: 1. Ice Dance Music Rhythms. 1995. ISU. 2. Flamenco (ed. by Claus Schreiner 1990).”

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