Latin Dance History


Latin Dance is a gateway to experiencing the rich and diverse nature of the Hispanic people. From Flamenco to Salsa, Reggae to Tango, Latin Dance fuses the legacy of a shared history of poverty and oppression through the dance forms written on each of the individual dancers’ bodies . To participate in Latin Dance is to participate with indigenous ethnicities, generations and nations, becoming attuned to the intersection of politics, spirituality, and culture ultimately leaving one transformed.


Rumba is fiesta. Rumba is the combination of music, song, and dance that is the foundation for a party. Yvonne Daniel (1995) writes, “Rumba is a passionate dance, considered beautiful by many. Often the highlight of a community event or social gathering in Cuba, it embodies important elements of life: movement, spontaneity, sensuality, sexuality, love, tension, opposition, and both freedom and restraint. It requires play as well as deliberation. It involves the human body, the human voice, and tremendous rhythmic sense. And since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, rumba has become even more enigmatic, full of contrasts and contradictions, reflecting life and projecting national goals in contemporary Cuba.” 

The style emerged over the last century in the barrios on the outskirts of Havana and Matanzas, and in time spread throughout Cuba. This music was born from African and lower class Spanish descendants finding commonality in their experiences of oppression at the hands of the ruling classes. These white descendants of the Spanish, cut off from their origins, established new forms of social relations which brought them closer to the life of urban blacks. Ancestral gestures and movements that were characteristic of the black or mulatto population in Cuba were foundational in the development of rumba. The creation of rumba was not a direct borrowing from ritual indigenous dance forms (e.g. Chango, or a palos ritual dance). Neither was it a caricature or a transgressive debasement of the source components, but rather rumba emerged as a new expression of cultural characteristics that were latently present in the population that created it. This is clear in the vocals, percussion, and different styles found in rumba. 

At first, rumba was performed in the places where people in the neighborhood usually gathered. The meeting place could have been an empty plot, a cafe or a room. Everything with any potential for percussion was used to make music: the side of a cupboard, the drawer of a chest, any pair of sticks. Rumba started spontaneously, without need for a reason, just as did ragtime, condombe, marinera and other Afro-American styles created across the Americas. The original meaning of the word rumba is not known; however, it belongs to a class of Afro-American words such as tumba, macumba, tambo, and cumbe that were used to describe a party, both on the continent and on the islands.


Cuban Music finds its roots in Europe and Africa. The two most influential varieties of Cuban popular music can be roughly categorized into two basic groups: the Son (music) and the Danzón (danza). The most common types of African-Cuban music in Cuba are Yoruba, Abakua, and Palo. 

The Son Cubano is arguably the most influential musical style to come out of Cuba. Son originated in eastern Cuba, and laid the foundations of the international and newest genre “Salsa.” It is a music that incorporates Spanish and African influences. This can be seen in its instrumentation, rhyme scheme, and its call and response form. Early Son was a music via voice, accompanied by Tres, Guitar and Maracas. This was followed by a sextet instrumentation using tres, vocals, guitar, bass or marimbula, bongó, maracas, clave — providing the heartbeat of this syncopated music. By the 1920’s this instrumentation was augmented with the addition of a trumpet thus creating the standard septeto style. The Son Montuno further incorporated a 3 trumpet horn section, a piano, and a conga drum, or tumbadora, as it is called in Cuba. 

Origins of Danzón: 

In the late 1700’s, after the bloody Haitian revolution, many Haitians and French colonists fled to Cuba. With them came the Contradanza, their European-based popular dance music. Many warm Cuban nights later, Contradanza evolved into Danza, out of which the Danzón was created. Since the late nineteenth century, the Danzón has developed and changed in many respects; however, much of the original structure remains; it is this continuity that continues to define Danzón as a truly unique, living art form. 

Danzón is integral to the history of Cuban dance music, popular between 1880 and 1940. The first documented danzón occurred in 1879 in Matanzas, Cuba, by Miguel Failde (1852-1921). It consisted simply of the two parts of a contradanza habanera, an 18th century creolized French dance form that arrived in Cuba by way of Haitian Revolution refugees. The danzón developed within the urban popular Cuban tradition with increasingly obvious African influences. The genre remained in fashion for 60 years, lending its influence to composers of boleros, sones, cha cha cha, mambo and all African-Cuban music and dance. 
“In the early 1920s, the danzón was Cuba’s most popular form of national music. Danzón developed out of nineteenth-century ballroom repertoire, patterned after French and Spanish court music but infused with local rhythms. In the early twentieth century, the instrumentation of danzón groups consisted primarily of violins, flute, piano, acoustic bass, timbales, and the güiro, a gourd scraper. The groups were known as charangas or charangas francesas. Early-twentieth-century danzón music was instrumental, but beginning in the 1920s the danzón cantado, or sung danzón, gained popularity as well. This reflects the public’s growing interest in boleros, North American jazz ballads, Broadway show tunes, and Tin Pan Alley repertoire.


The Cuban bolero (having no connection with the Spanish form of the same name), evolved in the late 1800’s, from the traditional “trova poetica” of Santiago de Cuba. This beautiful style of music, with its sophisticated harmonies, came to incorporate popular poetry of the day in its songs. 

The rhythmic characteristics of the Cuban bolero has changed considerably since the later part of the 19th century, resulting in either 2/4 or 4/4 time. The modern Cuban bolero was heralded by José Pepe Sánchez in 1885 with Tristeza. The bolero developed alongside the Cuban son. The bolero would include lyrics by well-known poets. The trend towards “montuno,” or instrumental solos, grew during the first half of the 20th century, gave greater definition to the bolero as a style and later resulted in compounds forms such as the bolero-son and bolero-mambo.

Merengue dance and music, popular in all over the world, is the national dance of Dominican Republic. There are many versions and interpretations of the historical origin of the Merengue, but many coincide on the Merengue roots coming from the Tumba, a music/dance form created during the 1800’s by the African slaves. There is a belief that the tumbao, the two steps of the merengue, was caused by party-goers trying to dance like a man who danced to the music with an amputated leg, having lost it in battle. 

The name of Merengue is taken from the Spanish name of the meringue, a dessert made from whipped egg whites and sugar. Perhaps because the merengue lyrics, music, and dance encapsulates the sense of becoming a passionate Latin lover, merengue evokes the cry of “Azucar!” (sugar) which denotes charisma and sensuality in the Latin culture. Merengue is the reflection of the Dominican people who love to have a good time no matter of what! This style of music was created by Ñico Lora, a Dominican of Spanish descent, in the 1920s. In the Dominican Republic it was promoted by Rafael Trujillo, the dictator from the 1930 to 1961, and became the country’s national music and dance style, while in the United States it was popularized by Angel Viloria and his band Conjunto Típico Cibaeño. It was during the Trujillo era that the popular merengue song “Compadre Pedro Juan”, by Luis Alberti, became an international hit. Internationally known merengue singers and groups include Juan Luis Guerra, Sergio Vargas, Wilfrido Vargas and Johnny Ventura.


The tango has its origins in Argentina, as immigrants from Europe, Africa, and unknown ports streamed into the outskirts of Buenos Aires in the 1880s. It symbolizes the hopes, successes, and failures of the millions of immigrants living densely packed in the big cities. Many gravitated toward the port city’s houses of ill repute, where the Porteños (as the citizens of Buenos Aires are called) could forget their sadness and troubles with a few drinks and some companionship. They were looking desperately for a distraction to ease their sense of rootlessness, trying to forget that they were “strangers in a strange land.” From this multicultural brew emerged a new music and dance called tango. 

Musical historians argue on the historical origins of tango. Whereas some considered that there might be an influence from the African slaves’ beat on the drums, known as tan-go, others assumed that the popular music of the Pampas (flat lands), known as the Milonga, had influenced the tango. The Milonga is a mixed aspects of African-Argentinan, Uruguayan folk, and Indian rhythms with the music of early Spanish colonists. Moreover, it has been said that the word “tango” comes from the Latin word “tangere” (to touch). But as a dance, the tango is in part a local adaptation of the Andalucian tango, the Cuban danzon and Habanera, and to a lesser extent, the European polka. 

Just as the British came to North America looking for the “American dream,” Italians, French, Spanish, and Germans came to Argentina with the illusion of finding riches in therin. Instead of their dreams, they found the horror of hard work in the heat and the stench of spoiling meat in places like the Mataderos district of Buenos Aires and El Cerro in Montevideo. The immigrants returned at night to the “Conventillos,” where they lived five and six to a room. They became known as the “Atorrantes,” the Buenos Aires street dialect’s word to describe the homeless. Ironically, as these lonely immigrants were trying to escape from their feelings, they developed a music and dance that would unify them. Tango speaks of more than frustrated love. It speaks of fatal destinies engulfed in pain. It is the dance of sorrow. 

Originally only characters in the world of prostitutes participated in tango. It was prohibited for upper class women to take part. In the beginning, males would practice the dance secretly, behind closed doors. During this time, the melancholic music of the bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument imported from Germany in 1886) became a mainstay of tango music. In 1912 the advent of the universal suffrage law in Argentina helped to legitimize many of its cultural forms, including tango. As tango was accepted by into larger society, its original structure remained intact and soon it developed into a worldwide phenomenon. Even in North America tango became accepted as a sensual and passionate dance; however, women initially wore “bumpers” to keep their partners at a respectable distance. 

During the first two decades of the 20th century, tango took Paris by storm. Tango reigned supreme in the cabarets and theaters frequented by the rich and the status of the tango musician became elevated to that of a professional composer. The tango stars of this era were Oswaldo Fresedo and Julio de Caro. 

In 1918 a most handsome, charismatic performer became a national hero in Argentina, the tango singer and first “Latin lover,” Carlos Gardel. To this day, five decades after his death, his memory is still celebrated. In late 1930’s tango musicians like Pugliese, De Caro, and Anibal Troilo took the form into new directions. When Juan Peron rose to power in 1946 the tango reached the pinnacle of popularity in Argentina. The Tango again fell from the spotlight with Evita’s death in 1952. American rock and roll invaded the popular scene and the tango was forgotten. Today the tango is enjoying a renaissance of popularity, keeping its fire and passionate art form.


Jazz originates from the Mississippi Delta and finds primary influence in African-American rhythms. Jazz, along with Latin and African-Cuban musical styles, has a rich history of improvisation that adheres to the clave rhythm. During the 1940s and the 1950s Latin American musicians moved to the eastern USA, particularly New York, where Latin and Caribbean styles of music meshed with jazz. It acquired a big-band style, and “Latin Jazz” developed as a combination of jazz structures and Latin rhythms. 

New York City in the 1940s witnessed the evolution of Latin Jazz through the collaboration of musicians and composers Mario Bauza, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chano Pozo. Perez Prado and the great timbal player, Tito Puente, pioneered their own unique form of Latin Jazz known as Mambo. 

The Latin Jazz dance is well known as one of the aesthetic forms that synthesizes much from Latin American culture. Latin Jazz dance combines movements and rhythms of merengue, salsa, mambo, lambada or samba with European jazz dance techniques.


The word ‘mambo’ (of African derivation) refers to a Cuban genre of the mid 20th century. It is strongly influenced by Afro-Cuban forms of the late 19th century and the early 20th. Though not improvised, it draws on the technical resources of jazz, has rhythmic figures, similar to those of the danzón. Mambo music developed from Danzón and was heavily influenced by the jazz musicians who were brought to entertain the American customers of the Italian-American gangsters who controlled Havana’s casinos. 

Along with many other Latin Jazz compositions, Mambo was created by Israel “Cachao” Lopez in the 1930s in Havana, Cuba. Cachao influenced many Latin musicians who inspired their own creations on his music. In 1943, Mexican Perez Prado brought Mambo to the rest of the world, after introducing it at the Tropicana in Havana. His dance style for mambo was defined as “feeling the music at extreme” in which sound and movement were merged through the body. Mambo then swept through Mexico on its way to New York. Mambo reached its zenith at the famed Palladium Ballroom in the mid 1950s, and remained quite popular throughout the United States and Cuba until the 1960s. 

After Perez Prado, many other Latin American band’s leaders such as Tito Rodriquez, Pupi Campo, Tito Puente, Machito and Xavier Cugat have achieved styles of their own and furthered the Mambo craze. Mambo contributed to the creation of Cha cha Cha.


In the olden days, during the voyage from Africa, slaves were forced to dance on shipboard to keep themselves healthy. Before they reached America, however, many had absorbed something of the European dance forms. From 1800, dances for the courts and elegant salons of Europe, Spain, France and England became popular and were imitated by the slaves. “Every Island of the Caribbean” has some form of the quadrille, reel, jig or contradanza. 

Cuban dances in general uses steps and figures from the Court of Versailles, combined with hip movements of the Congo, from Africa. Cuba’s cha cha cha combines African style steps with the pattern typical of Scottish dances. The mambo is identified with a Congo step from Africa and a Chango step from Trinidad. Mambo is a Congo word. Latin American dances such as the conga, samba, mambo, cha cha cha and son show the greatest African influence. 

African dance is frequently performed from a crouch, knees flexed and body bent at the waist. The custom of holding the body erect seems to be principally European (son, mambo and salsa). Latin American dances, as African dances, are centrifugal. The legs move from the hips instead of the knee. In fact, the movements of the shoulders and head result from the hip motion: “Starting with the hips and moving outward tends to make the dancing looser.” 

The future of this mix of cultural styles, of which dance and music are but parts, is the future of the Caribbean. It seems inevitable that the blending process, now molding a new race of people, will continue and produce a new form, not African, not European but fused from the meeting of two races in the world: “African-American culture”.


Salsa means sauce, gravy, and its ingredients are many, and depends upon where it’s made. But one thing is certain: it’s got plenty of spice. 
Like much of the greatest popular music, the creative fire was lit when Africa met the cultural cauldron of the New World. For salsa, it began in Cuba in the 1940s. One part Yoruba drumming, one part call and response vocals, it was diced with the music of local, indigenous people. Then, with heaping measures of musical Spain, France, and the country dances of England, the son was formed. And it was very tasty indeed. 
Yes, Cuba set modern Latin dance music in motion. But with the varied ingredients in place, a transformation took place not in the Caribbean, but on the streets of New York (and increasingly in Miami). It was in New York and Miami that Puerto Ricans and Cubans settled as a result of the joint upheavals of poverty in the former and isolation due to the revolution in the latter. The son turned ready to serve salsa when this sauce got stirred up by North American jazz. 

As long ago as the 1930s, Cuban bands were playing in Paris and New York. In the 1950s, Europe and North America were virtually colonized by the mambo and cha cha cha. At various other times in recent memory, Latin forms have gained huge popularity all over the world. However, Latin music came to stay in America, and suddenly there met two parallel traditions that had dipped into the same creative gumbo made of Africa and the New World. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, salsa resumed a more basic Cuban style, as performers blended conjunto and charanga instrumentation, replacing trumpets with trombones in conjuntos. Puerto Rican, and later South American elements, were also introduced. Salsa rhythms are based on African-Cuban dances such as the bolero, cha cha cha, guaguanco, guaracha, mambo and son montuno. Each piece of music has three sections: a head (melodic) section; a montuno in which the lead singer improvises against a repeated vocal refrain; and a mambo section of contrasting riffs. 

Salsa caliente is the faster and the fantastic Colombian salsa music. The greatest salsomanos meet every December for the international Salsa Festival in the Colombian city of Cali. Colombian bands as Grupo Niche, and Joe Arroyo are very popular around the world. Salsa romantica, which favors sentimental love lyrics, features artists like Eddie Santiago, Luis Enrique, and Lalo Rodriguez. Salsa pura is performed by the likes of Willie Colon, Oscar de Leon and Celia Cruz, “la reina de la salsa” (the queen of the salsa). 
The 1990s saw former hip-hop/house singers la India and Mark Anthony return to Latin music as part of the new wave of salsa stars, attracting new followers with their updated images. But with the romantic baladas and the popularity of singers like Ricky Martin, Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives, the Latin American music reached the top of popularity all around the world.


Five thousand years ago the Caribbean Islands were occupied by small groups of Indians known as Ciboneys. Three thousand years later, Arawak Indians from South America arrived and settled in the islands. The Arawaks were peaceful people. They grew maiz (corn), root vegetables (cassava and sweet potatoes). They made pottery and wove cloth, lay in hammocks and smoked tobacco, which Europeans had never seen before their arrival in the Americas. 

The much fiercer Carib Indians started to move from South America to the islands around the 14th century, attacking and killing male Arawaks, while keeping the women as their wives. They were hunters and fishermen. 

Christopher Columbus led the first European expedition to the Caribbean. The first island that he reached in 1492 was Guanani in the Bahamas, which he renamed San Salvador. 
Following the 18th Century European colonization, almost all the Indians died out as the result of Europe’s conquests and diseases. The Europeans called the Caribbean Islands the West Indies because they mistakenly believed that they had arrived in India. The term Caribbean was later coined after the Carib Indians. Grenada Island has a French name because the island was French before it became British in 1783. The name means “jumpers” because Carib Indians chose to jump to their deaths from cliffs rather than surrender to the French. 

Caribbean Culture has its roots in Africa, Europe and South America, but the mixture has a character of its own.


Trinidad & Tobago is the land where the steel band, the Calypso and the limbo were born. Drums and percussion instruments have been added, and women, who were excluded ten years ago, now play as well. 

Trinidad & Tobago are separated from Venezuela by only seven miles of sea, and have the same flora and fauna and an identical climate, but the islands have their own distinct folklore. Trinidad’s population is a mix of Spanish, French, Dutch, English, and African. Tobago’s population is essentially of African descent. 

In their lyrics Calypso singers, or Calypsonians, criticize government and satirize serious situations. Their themes can be intellectual and constructive, or abusive and critical. 
The first steel band was founded by Alexander Ragtime in 1937 in Port Spain. The tops of empty oil drums are carefully beaten with hammers into segments, so that each area will produce a different sound. 

The annual Caribbean Carnival begins in Trinidad two days before Ash Wednesday at 5 a.m.


Reggae is hypnotic, trance music. It is the anger and the protest of lyrics. Zero degree music. It is the language of Jamaica’s folklore culture. Reggae means: coming from the people. Reggae musicians became Jamaica’s prophets, social commentators and shamans. 
The roots of the reggae music are fixed in slavery. In the early fifties Jamaican music consisted only in “mento” (adaptation from the calypso of Trinidad). In the sixties anything British, American or Canadian was vastly superior to anything home grown, dubbed “Rock Steady.”The dance that replaced Rock Steady around 1968 was called REGGAE. 

Jamaica’s History: Jamaica was discovered in 1494 by Christopher Columbus. The first Africans were brought to Jamaica by Spanish in 1517, but Jamaica had no gold and the Spanish gradually lost their interest preferring to concentrate their colonial effort on Cuba and Española. 

Jamaica was invaded by England in 1655. From this point forward, Jamaica was used as a supply of raw goods for the British planters, who reaped astronomical fortunes from sugar plantations. These plantations were worked by slaves imported from the western Coast of Africa. During the two hundred and fifty year period some thirty million Africans were brought to the New World, the largest forced migration in human history). 

Jamaica’s aboriginal “Arawaks” were decimated by Spaniards or had died from their diseases, leaving any mark upon their land but their name for it “Xaymaca” (*Land of Springs”). Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962 after 250 years of slavery. 
Rastafari is not only a millenarian sect wanting to return to Africa, but an alternative spiritual movement that deploys a mass cultural identity for thousands of young Jamaicans. Most reggae musicians call themselves “Rastas.” They are vegetarians, artists and craftsmen. If weren’t for reggae, few people would have heard of Rastas. 

Everyone in Jamaica has an opinion of the Rastafari. The middle and upper classes think of Rastas as violent hippies. The government tolerates and tries to use them to its political advantage. But the Rastas and the reggae have contributed more to Jamaica that any other group. Rastas started with Marcus Garvey with BACK TO AFRICA MOVEMENT in 1907. Rastas believe in the redemption for the black man can come only through repatriation to Africa.


Cumbia has its origin in San Basilio, a little town on the Atlantic coast of Colombia, South America. It was danced and created by the slaves to temporarily leave their cares behind, to feel brief happiness and to forget the heavy work and hard life. It was danced at night in the Palenque de San Basilio behind the ocean walls, the place where the slaves used to hire from the Spanish. 

The cumbia is danced with wide, long white skirts, with tropical flowers on the dancer’s hair and a candle as a ritual to illuminate the darkness. Men wear white pants folded up, without shirt, with machete to the side and waving his hat, the sombrero hipihapa. Later they added a red panuelo (scarf) around the neck to add color. The cumbia is danced barefoot as the dance is performed on the sand, so close to the ocean that the water reaches to touch their feet. Dancers perform around the drummers and the fogata. 

African-Americans descendents of cumbia, who speak African and Spanish language, can still be found at Palenque. They continue with their traditions and customs. Whether it is like “crying the babies” when children are born and doing a rumba (party) when they die, sending letters to their dead relatives, imitating the occupation of the person that just died, traditions remain intact. They celebrate big parrandas and rumbas (big parties) to the son of cumbias with fogatas and traditional orchestras, remembering their heritage and slavery, being now completely free.


The African Powers are some of the best known ‘Orishas’ of the thousands of deities that Africans brought with them to the New World through the Slave Trade. Based on Yoruba legends and ancestor worship, and often associated with Catholic saints, the Orishas and their songs and dances were predominant influences on what we enjoy as Latin Music today. 

The Seven Powers of Africa were also the most important celestial deities of the indigenous empires that resembled those of the Mayans and Aztecs from Mexico, the Incas from Peru and Muiscas from Colombia. These beliefs and rituals eventually blended together with those of the natives and were celebrated in secret. The Spaniards tried desperately to eliminate them unsuccessfully, and decided to also combine the Catholic saints with the seven powers of life.


Discover the origins of FLAMENCO, a passionate, sophisticated and highly expressive Spanish dance form, with roots in Indian, Arabic and Spanish cultures. Flamenco is an integral part of Andalusian culture (Southern Spain), characterized by hand clapping, percussive footwork, as well as, elegant and precise hand and body movements.


A historic confluence mixed migration began in 1000 BCE that gave rise to Flamenco. Between 1000-800 BCE, Celts and Indo-Europeans moved westward across Europe and by 500 BCE they arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, mixed with the local population. Meanwhile, beginning in 1100 BCE, Phoenicians crossed the Mediterranean Sea and set on Cadiz, on the Atlantic coast of Spain, and brought with them musical instruments from Tyros and Sidon. Temples and theaters were built. Jews migrated westward along the same time. 

Later, Rome took over the role of the Greeks as rulers of the sea and in addition the Roman Empire spread quickly over Europe and North Africa. As the Roman Empire began to lose power in the 5th century CE, the Iberian peninsula saw numerous invasions, first by the Visigoths and later the Arabian-Moorish invasion of 711-716 CE. Arabia thus spanned from the coast of North Africa through the Iberian peninsula After the 13th century, the Christian persecution of Jews began. The Catholic Kings “Fernando and Isabel”, ordered all non-Christians to leave the country or be baptized. According to Cervantes: “they danced with honey in their hips and were called delicias Andaluces” (the Andalusian delights). The Spanish inquisition started in 1391. 

Musicians and dancers were imported from Baghdad. Jews, Arabs and Moors with melodies from India, Persia, Iraq and North Africa, beside native songs and music. Castanets came from Greece, Egypt, and Crete would be the most typical accompaniment to the dance. One can trace the roots and influence of Spanish dance from the confluence of ethnic traditions. The spiral movements and head turning to the side are characteristic movement in both, Greek and Spanish dances. 

Flamenco is the most characteristic element of Spanish culture, especially throughout the southern region of Andalucía. Flamenco dance has an extensive historical background that parallels the cultural development of Spain itself. 

Hailing from southern Spain’s outcast populations, Spanish dance and music drew early influences from Greek and Roman and later from Indian, Moorish, and Jewish cultures. With the arrival of the Moorish, Gypsies and Jewish populations to the Iberian Peninsula centuries ago, Andalusia’s already thriving music and dance inadvertently began extracting characteristics from the newly-arrived populations. The flamenco dance and music that we see today are the dazzling results of centuries of absorbing and flawlessly sewing together elements of this myriad of diverse cultures. Flamenco began as a form of personal expression by gypsies and other oppressed ethnicities, during the Spanish inquisition and the kingdom of the Catholic Kings. 

The first form of Flamenco that existed was called “Cante Hondo” (Deep song). The dance form was born in caves and ghettoes, where gypsies hid from their rulers. Gypsies forms of Flamenco were later influenced in reverse from many Andalusian folkloric dance and music forms. In the 1800, during the times of Latin American colonization, Flamenco artists became inspired from songs, instruments and music from Latino America and the Caribbean and that further enriched many of the native Andalusian flamenco forms.


There are several theories as to where the Gypsies originated. One theory holds that the Gypsies’ country of origin was India and that their home region was located in the river valley around the Indus river and they belonged to the lowest caste, comparable to “Pariahs.” The Aryans (the most influential class in India) persecuted them, and that was the cause of their nomadic existence. Recent scholarship has disputed that.

For several centuries they led a nomadic life in Asia, Europe and North Africa. An estimated 180,000 gypsies crossed Europe, arriving in Andalucia, Spain. Gypsies who came to Spain from Gibraltar in the south came from Egypt where they previously mixed with the Egyptian people. 

The arrival of the gypsies in Spain was first recorded at the time of the unification of Spain, under Isabel and Fernando, “the Catholic Kings.” The first recording occurred in 1370 in Corfu, and again in 1422 in Bale, Switzerland, where the Gypsies were noted as arriving with a cadre of one hundred horses. In 1427 they arrived in Paris, crossed the Pyrenees and then arrived in 1477 in Barcelona. The arrival in Barcelona coincided with the persecution of the Jews in Spain. 

They claimed to be pilgrims from a mystical place called, Little Egypt. Other claimed to come from India. Pilgrimages to Rome and Santiago de Compostela were welcomed and generously assisted. All these groups were led by chieftains, who rode on horseback and possessed hunting dogs, clear attributes of indisputable nobility. They were said to carry letters of protection from the Roman Emperor Sigismund and from Alfonso the 5th of Aragon. 

The reasons the Gypsies gave for their migration varied widely: some claimed their Egyptian ancestors had failed to succor Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus when they fled Herod’s vengeance. Others claimed their ancestors had forged the nails which were used in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Others cited Ezekiel (29-12): “I will scatter the Egyptians among all nations and will disperse them.” Other gypsy’ groups claimed apostasy under the duress of Muslim rules. All of them agreed on the period of enforced wandering and penance, which was supposed to be seven years, but that seemingly went on forever. 

During the earlier migratory period the gypsies were received with tolerance and generosity. However, because of their real or alleged pilfering, fortune telling, practice of magic, and lascivious dances, ostracism befell them. But in 1499 under the Edict of Medina del Campo, the Catholic kings of Spain proclaimed that “to contain the gypsy curse, they were caused to be destroyed”. They were given sixty days to leave the kingdom. 
In 1539, Charles V condemned the remaining Gypsies to six years of forced labor. Those that they were allowed to remain, under special license, were forbidden to wander, to speak their languages, to wear their distinctive costumes, to trade in horses, to work as blacksmiths, to tell fortunes or to congregate. They were forced to live in special ghettoes (gitanerias), like “El Sacromonte” in Granada.

Spaniards were anxious to maintain “limpieza de sangre” (mythical purity of blood), untainted by Moorish, Jewish or Gypsy’s blood. Pure Gypsies call themselves CALE, a non-Gypsy is called PAYO. 

Gypsies suffering from the hate and injustice by the ruling class, began giving form and content to their pain behind closed doors. This suffering and resulted in songs of lamentation, the origin of all Flamenco. It is in flamenco that the Gypsies find an outlet for their rebellious instincts and expression in their singularity.


Originally, Flamenco and many Andalusian dances were performed as solos. Today, traditional steps and techniques are choreographed for large corps of ballet, which accent organization and discipline. As tradition for good luck, a flamenco dancer performs a solo in the presence of an anxious torero (bullfighter), before a corrida. Until relatively recently a true flamenco dancer never used castanets. 

The first well-known flamenco singers date from 1800 until 1860. Their names are “El Planeta” from Cadiz and “El Tilo” (his student). 

The “Cafe Cantantes” (colorful establishments) began around 1842 and lasted almost a century. They were the important link in transposing flamenco from the caves and barrios to the stage. 

The flamenco Andaluz started to spread during the middle of different folkloric and musical song styles. The Spanish inspired songs from South America and the Caribbean are also an enrichment of Andalusian flamenco. 

Flamenco is alive and well. In 2010 UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, added Flamenco to its list of ‘Intangible’ elements of Cultural Heritage. The purpose of the list is to recognize elements of living heritage in order to protect and encourage cultural diversity.

‘Flamenco is an artistic expression fusing song (cante), dance (baile) and musicianship (toque). Andalusia in southern Spain is the heartland of Flamenco, although it also has roots in regions such as Murcia and Extremadura. Cante is the vocal expression of flamenco, sung by men and women, preferably seated, with no backing singers. The gamut of feelings and states of mind – grief, joy, tragedy, rejoicing and fear – can be expressed through sincere, expressive lyrics characterized by brevity and simplicity. Flamenco baile is a dance of passion, courtship, expressing a wide range of situations ranging from sadness to joy. The technique is complex, differing depending on whether the performer is male (heavier use of the feet) or female (gentler, more sensual movements). Toque, or the art of guitar playing has long surpassed its original role as accompaniment. Other instruments, including castanets, hand-clapping and foot-stamping are also employed. Flamenco is performed during religious festivals, rituals, church ceremonies and at private celebrations. It is the badge of identity of numerous communities and groups, in particular the Gitano (Roma) ethnic community, which has played an essential role in its development. Transmission occurs through dynasties, families, social groups and Flamenco clubs, all of which play a key role in its preservation and dissemination.’ – UNESCO


  • JONDO: (hondo) Song of lamentation, the birth of Flamenco’s primitive basic songs. 
  • TONAAS: are sung “a palo seco” songs from the forced labor, or imprisonment. (no music, no palms or zapateados)). 
  • SAETA: (solo voice) It is sung at Easter during the religious’ processions. 
  • SEGUIRIYA: The most popular of Cante Hondo, created by the gypsies at the 18th century. The basic rhythms alternates 3/4 and 6/8; which it is very difficult to hear where starts and ends. 
  • SOLEA: (soledad-solitud) It expresses melancholy and pain over loneliness ( in the mine or in prison). It requires dancers of high artistic integrity. 
  • CANTES FLAMENCOS: The lighter songs. 
  • CANTES AFLAMENCADOS: Andalusian folk songs and alien songs. 
  • FARRUCA and GARROTIN: from Galicia in Northern Spain. 
  • RUMBA FLAMENCA of African-Cuban rhythms influence. 
  • GUAJIRA of Cuban and Colombian rhythms influence. 
  • MILONGA of Argentina’s music influence. 
  • BULERIAS: the music is rapid and rhythmic in 3/8, time with palmas, jaleo and festival songs and can be buffoonery and burlesque. 
  • ALEGRIAS: (joy) Melodies from Cadiz. Expression of the optimism. Invitation to smile and live. One of the most difficult to perform. 
  • TANGOS FLAMENCOS: The oldest form and expression of the genuine “Gypsy Myrth”. danced in two steps. 
  • TANGUILLOS: Lighter form like Rumba Flamenca or Rumba Gitana. 
  • TIENTOS: Slow tango. some times call “Tango Sentimental” 
  • FANDANGOS: Dance of Arabic origin, to which the song was added later. There is a Fandango in practically every region in Spain. 
  • FANDANGUILLO: Like Fandango de Huelva and Lucena. 
  • SEVILLANAS: Pure Andalusian traditional song and dance. It is very popular in Seville on April (Easter week), where they celebrate “El Festival de Sevilla”.


The most revered of the century were Jose Otero and Manuel Otero (his nephew). 
Vicente Escudero (1885-1980) who paid no attention to strict rules regarding tempo and rhythm for the flamenco dances. He wanted to dance freely and naturally, exactly as he felt at the moment. 

  • Antonia Merce “La Argentina” (1886-1936). 
  • Encarnacion Lopez “La Argentinita” (1900-1945). 
  • Pilar Lopez (1906) La Argentinita’s sister. 
  • Francisca Gonzalez “La Quica” (1905-1967). 
  • Carmen Amaya (1913-1963) Who dressed in traje corto and men clothes. 
  • Antonio Ruiz and Rosario: (1914-1921). 
  • Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos Famous for the Carlos Saura’s movies (Carmen, Bodas de Sangre y Amor Brujo) 
  • Antonio Canales from Sevilla (1962). 
  • Manolete from Granada (1945). 
  • Manolo Marin. 
  • Maria Pajes 


  • Daniel, Yvonne. (1995) Rhumba: Dance and Social Change in Contemporary Cuba. Bloomington, Indiana: University Press. 
  • Moore, Robin. (2006) Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba. Berkley, California: University of California Press. 
  • Morales, Ed. (2003) The Latin Beat: The rhythms and roots of Latin music from bossa nova to salsa and beyond. Cambridge, MA.: Da Capo Press.