This flamenco glossary will help you understand one of the most beautiful arts performed in Spain. Flamenco dance was born in Andalucía, probably by the end of the 18th century and it has been part of our culture since then.
Fortunately, flamenco crossed our borders long ago and has become one of Spain’s best ambassadors.
Please note that this flamenco glossary is by no means exhaustive but it will give you a general understanding of some of the most common terms related to flamenco. Each word has either the translation or a short explanation.
A palo seco – Without guitar accompaniment.
Afición – A strong enthusiasm for something (in this case, for flamenco).
Aficionados – Enthusiasts.
Afillá – Refers to a type of singing voice.
Agitanao – Gypsified.
Aire – Air. Term describing the expressiveness or atmosphere of a flamenco performance.
Arpegio – A guitar playing technique.
Baile – Dance.
Bailaor – Flamenco dancer.
Bata – Dress. A bata de cola is a dress with a train or tail.
Braceo – Movement of the arms during the dance.
Brazos – Arms.
Cabales – A certain style of siguiriyas.
Café Cantante – Coffee house with flamenco shows (originally starting with flamenco cante but eventually covering all flamenco forms).
Caló – An impure form of Romaní, the gypsy language; a mixture of Romaní and Spanish.
Cambio – A change in a cante.
Cajón – Percussive instrument similar to an empty wooden box. The performer sits on it and beats on the front face.
Cantaor – Flamenco singer.
Cante – Song, flamenco singing.
Cante Chico – Literally, “little song”. It’s the 3rd of the flamenco songs general classification. This kind of song is lighthearted, festive, folkloric and even frivolous.
Cante Grande – Literally, “big/important song”. It’s the 1st of the flamenco songs general classification. This kind of song is usually deep and dark.
Cante Intermedio – Literally, “intermediate song”. It’s the 2nd of the flamenco songs general classification. A subjective middle between the previous two.
Cante Jondo – Deep song or singing style covering both the dark and the serious aspects of flamenco. Usually perceived as harsh and primitive by less experienced listeners, jondo style songs are passionate and profound. The performer conveys very powerful emotions.
Careo – A passing movement, usually made facing partner, such as the careos in sevillanas.
Castañuelas – Castanets. Small pair of wooden plates held together in one hand which is clicked to form the dance’s base rhythm. They aren’t used in pure flamenco.
Cejilla – The capo or instrument used on the guitar to change the tones and keys in which a singer sings, or sets the specific tone of a compás.
Cierre – A closing compás which ends a series of movements or a phrase or copla or sections of dance.
Compás – Rhythm; beat; also a unit of rhythm. Being in a compás is more than just staying on the beat. It’s the knowledge of the various accents of the particular compás and its interpretation.
Contratiempo – Counter rhythm.
Copla – A song’s verse. Also used to describe the sections of sevillanas.
Cuadro – Group of flamenco performers (dancers, singers and guitarists).
Desplante – Climactic point or break in the dance, consisting of two or more compases. The desplante is usually introduced by a llamada.
Duende – The soul force inspiring flamenco art.
Eco gitano – Literally “gypsy echo”. Another term for voz afillá.
Entrada – Beginning.
Escobilla – In flamenco dancing, a section of footwork.
Estampa – A strong flamenco presence, a personal mark.
Falda – Skirt.
Flamenco Puro – Synonym of “genuine” or “traditional” flamenco.
Floreo – Hand movements of dancers.
Gitano – Gypsy.
Gracia – The personality, charm, wit, flavor, nuance and dynamics of the dance and dancer, a joy and pride. Aire and gracia are used together to capture in words the “total feeling”.
Ida – A transitional step or movement, as between an alegrías and a bulerías.
Hondo – Literally, “deep”, “profound”.
Jaleo – Approval and encouragement shouts. It will help you recognize of the duende.
Jondo – Variation of the Spanish word hondo.
Juerga – Flamenco party.
Llamada – A signal used by dancers to communicate a forthcoming change in the dance. Llamadas are commonly used to signal a dancer’s entrada or salida, the closing of a section of dance (cierre), a major change of tempo or rhythm as in castellana or the change to bulerías in the alegrías, or the beginning of a desplante.
Llanto – Mourning, lament.
Letra – Lyrics.
Ligado – Slur or tied note. Notes that are played with the fretting hand alone, that is, without plucking the string with the right hand.
Mantón – Embroidered silk shawl with long fringing. This item was originally known as mantón de Manila (located in The Philippines, former Spanish colony until 1898). However, its origin is in China.
Mástil – Neck of the guitar, also called mango.
Matíz – Shading, example: soft to loud footwork, fast to slow, etc.
Media planta – Half-sole; the striking of the ball of the foot against the floor.
Mutis – Exit (hacer mutis = to make an exit). In flamenco, the ending of a dance off stage.
¡Olé! – Exclamation of approval or encouragement.
Palillos – Castanets or castañuelas.
Palmas – Rhythmic hand clapping used to accompany flamenco song and dance. It seems very simple but after several years trying it, I’m totally unable to do so (fail!).
Palmas abiertas – Loud , sharp hand claps made by the fingers of one hand hitting the palm of the other, also called fuertes or secas.
Palmas redoblás – Counter time palmas; also called palmas econtrás.
Palmas sordas – Muted or soft palmas done by hitting the cupped palms together.
Palmeros – People of the cuadro clapping while the musicians play. They can be men and women.
Palo – A flamenco rhythm or style of singing.
Pasada – Act of passing a partner during the course of a dance. De pecho is a pass chest-to-chest, whereas de espalda is back-to-back.
Paseo – Refers to parts of the dance where emphasis is on graceful.
Paso – Step, as in taking a step, or a particular step in a dance.
Payo – A non-gypsy.
Pellizco – A colorful, unique or personal movement that reflects the personality of the dancer and adds life to the dance.
Peña – A club made up of aficionados of flamenco.
Pitos – Finger snaps.
Planta – The sole of the foot. The movement of striking the flat of the foot against the floor, also called golpe or plano.
Punta – The striking of the tip or toe of the shoe against the floor.
Quejío – Deformation of the word quejído (lament or cry).
Rasgueo – Any of the right hand techniques for brushing across the strings to play chords.
Redoble – Used to label a number of different footwork combinations that normally take up two beats and produce a closing sound. It’s used to conclude a rhythmic phrase.
Remate – Closing of a cante by switching to a different, but related cante, such as closing a soleá with a change to the tones of alegrías or to a bulería.
Salero – Wit, charm, full of life.
Salida – Dancer’s or singer’s entrance or tune up also called temple from the verb templar.
Sentao – Bending the knees and releasing the hips, lifting the upper body. This position is used to achieve smooth footwork without a bounce.
Silencio – Part of the alegrías where graceful arm and body movements are emphasized, with almost a complete absence of footwork. It’s not sung and is commonly played in the minor mode on the guitar.
Sevillanas – Popular festive, folkloric Andalusian dance. It has a structured format consisting of a group of four short dances. Within each one, a melodic theme is played three times and ends with a sudden stop. Right then the dancers strike a pose. Sevillanas are the usually danced during the Feria de Abril.
Son – Literally sound or tone. It’s used in flamenco to mean basic rhythm or beat, as when a singer says to the guitarist, “házme son” (give me some rhythm), so she can sing.
Sordina – Anything placed under the strings to muffle the sound during practice.
Tablao – Low stage. It’s also a nightclub or cafe where flamenco shows are performed.
Tacón – Foot heel.
Taconeo – Flamenco footwork, where the heel hits the floor in rhythmic patterns. Pay attention carefully because this is the most difficult part of the dance.
Temple – The dancer or singer’s salida or warm-up.
Tocaor – Flamenco guitarist.
Trémolo – A treble melody sustained with the fingers while the thumb plays a bass melody; the most common sequence of plucking in flamenco is thumb, index, ring, middle, index (repeat).
Verso – A literary term referring to a single line of poetry.
Volantes – The ruffles on the traje flamenco. Sometimes the term frunces is also used.
Voz – Voice. There are certain terms commonly used in describing voice quality:
- Voz rajá is the very hoarse and rough voice common to gypsy cantaores and considered ideal for the cante jondo.
- Voz afillá is similar to rajá.
- Voz natural and voz redonda are more natural and clear singing voices and more suited to singing the non-gypsy cantes,.
- Voz bonita is a negative term among flamencos and refers to the very sweet, operatic type voices, more common among the popular pseudo-flamenco singers in Spain.
Vuelta – Turn. There are many different types of turns used in flamenco dance. Some basic turns in flamenco are vuelta por delante (front turn), vuelta por detrás (back turn), vuelta de pecho (upper arched chest turn) and vuelta quebrada (back bend turn).
Zapateado – Footwork. More specifically, the striking of the different surfaces of the foot against the floor.
Zapatos – Shoes.
This article is part of a complete tutorial about flamenco in Spain where you can read all the information you need to enjoy this typical Andalusian folklore.
Here is a complete summary of all the guide:
1. What is flamenco?
2. Where to see flamenco in Spain?
3. The best flamenco show in Spain
4. How to enjoy flamenco dancing in Spain
5. Where to take flamenco dance classes in Spain
6. Flamenco history and origins
7. Understanding flamenco singing (cante)
8. Understanding flamenco dance (baile)
9. Understanding flamenco guitar (toque)
10. The different flamenco styles
11. A flamenco glossary