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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

Un poquito de flamencology 2 - Zapateado

For flamenco fans, the term Zapateado means percussive footwork by dancers. That’s correct, Zapateado is normally associated with feet. It’d be weird to declare that Zapateado can exist without footwork too… How is it possible?

Zapateado by feet

The usage of percussive stamping might not be Spanish origin. There is a theory mentioning the influence from Kathak, a type of Indian dance. It’s also said that such dancing actions were found in American continents when the Europeans arrived there. This implies that such musical use of footwork from other countries might have influenced Spanish dance culture, including flamenco.

Zapatear in Spanish means to stamp or to tap one’s feet. Zapato means a shoe (zapatoes = shoes). The term Zapateado is therefore usually associated with footwork, both in Spain and Latin America. In flamenco, Zapateado is a certain part of an entire palo of flamenco, demonstrating the dancer’s rhythmic skills with their feet. We don’t usually imagine the word Zapateado without such involvement of percussive sounds made by feet.

Zapateado by hands

On the other hand, Zapateado is also a music form in Spain too, usually as instrumental music without singing - that’s the Zapateado played by musicians’ hands.

Zapateado as a style of Andalusian folkloric music isn’t restricted to a certain percussive part of a flamenco dance. Rather, beyond flamenco, this type of Zapateado has been an inspiring motif for classical musicians and composers who were fascinated with adding Spanish-ness to their music. For example, ‘Zapateado’ composed by Pablo de Sarasate has little to do with flamenco, even though the composer might have been inspired by it.

('Zapateado' of Pablo de Sarasate, played by Ángel Jesús García - violin, accompanied by piano)

As you’d probably notice, ironically, footwork isn’t musically required in this type of Zapateado, despite the name. For instance, a classical guitarist José Luis Rodrigo had Lucero Tena, a famous castanets performer, to add the percussive sound to his interpretation of Zapateado. Here, percussive Zapateado was made possible with her hands playing the castanets, not a dancer’s footwork.

('Zapateado' of Federico Moreno Trobba, played by José Luis Rodrigo and Lucero Tena - guitar and castanets)

This music version of Zapateado can be composed and performed with a classical guitar, violin or piano, but also can be made and played by flamenco guitarists. The border here isn't strict, just like the genre of flamenco itself. Listening to those works by renowned flamenco guitarists such as Sabicas and Paco de Lucía, we’re almost convinced as if we wouldn’t need a dancer’s footwork in there either, as the pieces are already complete and beautiful as themselves.

('Zapateado en Re' by Sabicas - flamenco guitar solo)

('Zapateado' of Paco de Lucía - flamenco guitar solo)

Zapateado for dancers

Zapateado as an instrumental flamenco music form is said to have the polyrhythm of 3/4, 2/4, 6/8… This reminds us of another polyrhythmic flamenco style: Tanguillos, ‘little tangos’ from Cadiz. One of the old Zapateado music pieces was actually called Zapateado de Cadiz, which was danced by historic Spanish dancers such as Josefa Varga in 1840’s. In that era, however, the dance style must have been rather close to ballet. How should Zapateado be danced now?

Polyrhythm is a format of mixed rhythm, hence incites experiments with rhythms. Not having a singer, how can we make the instrumental music more interesting and decorative? By percussion. In this way, it was completely fine that Lucero Tena performed Zapateado with castanets. The important thing is, despite the name, the percussive sound is rather supplementary, not essential, for the music of Zapateado, because those music pieces are already beautiful without.

Ballet Nacional de España reproduced how Antonio Ruis Soler, aka Antonio el Bailarín, danced Zapateado de Sarasate to the music by violin and piano. Usually in flamenco, dancers tend to call attention through footwork. If we take this choreography by Antonio el Bailarín as an ideal model of how Zapateado should be danced, what we see here is that the footwork is complimenting the music.

Zapateado as footwork, Zapateado as instrumental music, both stamp a mark of our attitude and musicality on stage. What looks like a loud part of flamenco can be kind to our ears too.

ZAPATEADO DE SARASATE. Homenaje a Antonio Ruis Soler. Ballet Nacional de España.

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