Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kathak and Flamenco – A story of separated sisters

As a classical dancer I am always keen to read about different types of dances. Recently, I read about Flamenco and found many interesting facts about this dance form which I thought to share with you all. Flamenco is a highly expressive Spanish dance form.  It is associated with Andalusian Roma [gypsies]. These nomads are supposed to have travelled from Rajasthan (a State in India) through Romania, Hungary and Central Europe and finally landed in Andalusia. In Spain they encountered the rich cultures of the Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as Flamenco. Flamenco dance is made up of four elements. They are: ‘Cante’-voice, ‘Baile’-dance, ‘Toque’-guitar and ‘Jaleo’-which roughly translated means ‘hell-raising’ and involves the handclapping, foot stomping and shouts of encouragement.

Flamenco dancers, known as “Bailaores” [male] and “Bailaoras” [female], are passionate and serious. Typically in Flamenco dance, for the first few minutes of a song, a dancer will often stand motionless and free of expression. But as the dancer begins to feel the music, he or she might begin a steady beat of loud hand clapping and then as the emotion builds, the dancer will begin a passionate dance which often involves fierce stomping, sometimes made louder with percussion attachments on the shoes and the graceful arm movements. Sometimes castanets are held in the hands for clicking and sometimes for visual impact folding fans are used.

The fastest flamenco dancer ever recorded danced 1,274 taps in one minute but the art of Flamenco dance is often not easy to master. Besides learning intricate steps and movements, the dancer needs to learn how to nonverbally communicate with a musician or a singer. The dancer also learns how to display his or her innermost emotions and feelings to the audience.  The typical flamenco outfit is called the ‘Traje de Flamenca’. Dresses are said to have a guitar shaped body, to enhance a woman’s figure. Heels are an essential and range from 4-7 cm in height.          

As a kathak [Indian classical dance form] dancer, I found  that Flamenco and Kathak  have many remarkable similarities . While Kathak originated from the nomadic storytellers who used to perform in village courtyards and Hindu temples, Flamenco originated from gypsy culture of people and was often performed in gypsy family courtyards and bars. Later, Kathak moved to the courts of Mughal emperors and Nawabs and Flamenco moved to the cafes owned by non gypsies. Now both dances are internationally recognized and are national dances. The two common religion influences both dances share are Indian and Muslim. The base and fundamental element of both kathak and flamenco are footwork. The kathak dancer dances barefoot but has the ghunghroos [bells] that make the rhythmic sound, while the flamenco dancer wears heeled shoes that make the rhythmic sound . Kathak and Flamenco dancers both need excellent rhythm. Some techniques and body movements such as hands, arms, feet , whole body movements, turns and positions are similar in both the dances. Both dances are characterised quickly timed turns that stop dramatically and suddenly. Facial expression, the gaze of the dancer and emotional portrayal are highly important in both the dances. In both dance forms the dancer and the musicians have very strong and coordinated relationship. The dancer and the musicians always create a rhythm together-- there is a unity between music and dance.



So, we can conclude that although Kathak and Flamenco both originate from different countries –India and Spain, respectively, but some commonly shared features can be observed in both the dances.

Kathak and Flamenco are excellent examples of how dance can connect two different nations, cultures and people together.