Living the Flamenco Life in Seville, Spain

UNESCO hails flamenco as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, but in Seville, there's nothing intangible about it. The city steps along to the rhythms of flamenco, and even its flamboyant fashion nods to flamenco style. The art form has 3 expressions: cante, or “song”; baile, or “dance”; and toque, which translates to “touch” but means the combination of flamenco guitar, cajón drum, and castanets or clapping. Here are some places to hear, see and be touched by this most Andalusian of arts. The rhythms will haunt you ever after.

Museo del Baile Flamenco
Museo del Baile Flamenco, Seville, Spain
Museo del Baile Flamenco

Buried in the heart of the medieval Jewish quarter, the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the Museum of Flamenco Dance was founded by Cristina Hoyos, one of the greatest dancers of the late 20th century. Film clips and videos capture the intricacies of movement and demonstrate the depth of expression, from abject sorrow to unbounded joy. There are 7 styles, or palos, of flamenco, and the video examples of each will illuminate what you see at a live performance. Plan to return for nightly performances, typically by small troupes of a few musicians and 1 or 2 dancers.

  • Calle de Manuel Rojas Marcos 3
  • Seville, 41004 Spain
Casa de la Memoria
Casa de la Memoria, Seville, Spain
Casa de la Memoria

The early 20th century was a heady era for the Seville flamenco demimonde, akin to the Depression-era jazz scene in New York. Exhibits in the second-floor museum of this institution hark back to that period, which came to a sudden end in 1939, when dictator Francisco Franco seized power and tried to suppress Gypsy-style flamenco as “decadent.” Rare cuts from the early years of recording help flesh out the vivid photographs and artwork. Evening performances in the 16th-century, ground-level courtyard draw on the city's rich community of flamenco artists but usually give the spotlight to the singer. 

  • Calle Cuna 6
  • Seville, 41004 Spain
Casa de la Guitarra
Casa De La Guitarra, Seville, Spain
Casa De La Guitarra

The slack tuning, low bridge and shallower body make a flamenco guitar distinctly different from its classical cousin. This museum and performance center displays 60 instruments from the past 3 centuries, which chronicle the evolution of the flamenco guitar and the toque style. The oldest are works by 18th-century Gypsy luthiers from Cadiz, Spain, while the jewel of the collection was made by Seville's Stradivarius of guitar makers, Antonio de Torres Jurado, who also built classical guitars for the great Andres Segovia. The museum sells CDs, as well as classical and flamenco guitars crafted by founder and guitarist Jose Luis Postigo. Evening performances tend to be spare but authentic, often featuring a guitarist, a singer and a single dancer.

  • Calle Mesón del Moro 12
  • Seville, 41004 Spain
Tablao El Arenal
Tablao El Arenal, flamenco, Seville, Spain
Andrea Pistolesi/Stone/Getty Images

Curro Vélez, who danced in the companies of such flamenco superstars as Carmen Amaya and Jose Greco, returned to his native Seville in 1975 to open this flamenco nightclub, or tablao, practically in the shadow of the bullring. Like most tablaos, it has a resident troupe of about a dozen dancers and musicians and offers 2 performances per night, preceded by an optional dinner. Tapas and drink service are also offered during the shows, and the price of admission includes the first drink. Many enthusiasts dismiss tablaos as staid and choreographed, but it's where most of them got their first experience of flamenco. Moreover, because they offer steady employment, the tablaos tend to attract the top talent. Skip the dinner — you can eat cheaper and better elsewhere.

  • Calle Rodo 7
  • Seville, 41001 Spain
Triana
Triana, neighborhood, Seville, Spain
Geography Photos/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Flamenco retains some of its rough edges and primal energy in the little bars and clubs of Triana, which was once Seville's Roma (Gypsy) neighborhood. Daytime visitors will see plenty of plaques honoring the birthplaces of bullfighters, tiled bars where hams dangle like stalactites from the ceiling, and many shops that still produce the colorful ceramics for which the neighborhood is famous. Come late in the evening, and it's a different world. Wander along quayside Calle Betis and keep your ears open for the sounds of flamenco guitar and rhythmic clapping spilling from the entrances of bars that don't even have signs on their doors. Make it your introduction to the madrugada, that very Spanish idea that the real party takes place between midnight and dawn.

  • Seville, 41010 Spain
Flamenco y Mas
Flamenco y Mas, Seville, Spain
Chico Sanchez/Aurora/Getty Images

Dancers, guitarists and flamenco fans flock to this store next to the old Macarena city gate to buy shoes, dresses, castanets, CDs and even guitars. Chances are you'll be happy with a stack of CDs and maybe a souvenir T-shirt, but no one will stop you from trying on the colorful but sturdy flamenco shoes with a Cuban heel. A girl can always dream.

  • Calle San Luis 116B
  • Seville, 41003 Spain

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