Thinking about costuming for dance, especially flamenco, isn’t so easy! There are as many thoughts and feelings about costumes as there are patterns of materials and fabrics out of which they are made!
The flamenco look was originally born of the traditional clothing of the gypsies. For women, the long brightly colored skirts with tiers and ruffles and scarves and shawls were “borrowed” when flamenco began being performed by professionals. It is said that the popular use of polka dots on fabric or “lunares” as they are called in Spanish, represented the “little moons” of glass that gypsies would sew onto their clothing to ward off the evil eye! The gypsies every day wear was all they needed to express themselves.
Flamenco, as it was danced fifty or more years ago, before the current emphasis on fast heelwork, focused on the arms, hands, torso and the “spirit” or “aire” of the upper body especially for women. Sleeves and fancy ruffles at the cuffs or shoulders were not just to cover the body but to highlight the movements that emanated from there. The materials used for costuming were much heavier than current materials as well. Dancers moved more slowly but did so in a very measured way. It may have been less spectacular than much of the dance we see performed today, but there was a certain drama that could be built to an intense yet calm finish. Footwork was minimal for early female dancers and if they did lift their skirt or dress hem, or wore the “bata de cola,” the long dress with a train, to show their feet, they did so subtly and with style. The dancer, who wore the bata, represented an artist who was committed to total artistic expression, using legs and hips to demonstrate the movement in rhythm, making the costume and the dancer appear as one. Dancing well with a bata de cola remains a challenge for most dancers but when it is done well, it is a sight to see!
Men’s costuming has remained virtually unchanged over the years. There remains the basic look of trousers and shirt or shirt and vest. Early male flamenco dancers adopted the look of the bull fighter with spectacularly decorated jackets which were very ornate but may have detracted from the dance. They also were made of heavy velvets and brocades and could not possibly have felt cool and comfortable! The high waisted pant showed off a long, lean and elegant line. Current male dancers have certainly dressed down to more comfortable fabrics and fewer pieces because there is so much more athleticism in the dance and the focus is on what the dancer is doing and less on what they’re wearing.
As flamenco dance technique has evolved over the years, with faster and more rhythmically intricate footwork and women totally keeping pace with men regarding their own “chops,” costuming, although still attractive, now has to serve the dance in an economical way. With a dress made of light blends of fabric, rather than a bata, female dancers can make many turns and generally just move more quickly across the floor. There is still use of accessories such as shawls, which may be worn as part of the costume, but are more often used as part of the choreography and usually wind up being used briefly then put to the side.
For most dancers, it is a matter of personal style but all costumes for flamenco work to represent the total body in movement, to be a companion in the dancer’s expression, not just a beautiful body cover. Flamenco costuming is very sensual with a mystery to the lines that are created and ever changing by virtue of how the fabric clings and then moves on, again and again.