An essential part of any flamenco repertoire, Sevillanas is closely associated with Seville's April Fair, Féria de Abríl en Sevilla. This light and lively song and social dance has roots that extend deeply into many parts of Spanish culture. The dance exudes romanticism, and has a joyous, flirtatious air.
Sevillanas first emerged as a distinct form in the late 18th Century as a variant of the Spanish song form seguidillas, appearing simultaneously with the Escuela Bolera, a formalized approach to studying and performing a variety of Spanish regional dances. By the 19th Century, Sevillanas were an important form in the Escuela Bolera.
The names of many of the steps in the Sevillanas (e.g., el paseo, la pasada, el zapateado, el careo, and las vueltas) are from Escuela Bolera practice. An important detail Sevillanas retains from the Escuela Bolera style is the pose the dancer takes at the end of each copla, known as bien parado, or "standing well."
Sevillanas was eventually folded into the flamenco repertoire, and in the process became aflamencada - "flamenco-ized."
Because it is a partner dance, Sevillanas is often the only Spanish dance non-dancers have learned, contributing to it's social role within Spanish-speaking and flamenco communities.
The Sevillanas is associated with El Rocio, an annual pilgrimage to a sacred shrine in the Coto Doñana. Many of the letras of the Sevillanas are associated with this and other religious subjects.
Although Sevillanas have passed through various periods in the evolution of Spanish culture, it's important to know that these facets of Spanish culture are still alive today, and that Sevillanas is very much a part of each of them.
The dance form Sevillanas consists of a series of coplas (verses), each of which share the same basic traditional structure:
1) Salida (entrance, generally a rhythmic pattern on the guitar)
2) Cante introduction (an important moment that flows into the dancer's opening cue)
3) Vuelta normale and/or opening pose
4) 1st dance variation (which includes pasos sevillanas and other steps)
5) Pasada (the partners switch places here through a series of short steps)
6) 2nd dance variation (steps and patterns vary)
7) Pasada (identical to the first pasada)
8) 3rd dance variation (steps and patterns vary)
9) Cierre (closing/ending, which can include a turn or bien parado)
This traditional structure remains the same for all four coplas. The music and cante can vary in each copla, and the choreography before, between and after each pasada differs in each copla. The pasada, a sequence of steps in which the dancers pass each other, occurs twice in each verse as noted above, and is identical in structure each time it occurs. This unique and clear structure allows dancers who have learned different variations and styles to perform the dance together.
Sevillanas is a driving 3/4 rhythm with an accent on count 1 and a through rhythm on beats 2 and 3. Choreographic sequences are built on series of 3 or 6 count phrases (1 set of 3 counts or 2 sets of 3 counts) throughout each copla, and pauses often occur on the 6th count (step on counts 1, 2, 3, 1, 2 pause 3).
There are no palmas patterns associated with Sevillanas. Instead, there is a standard rhythmic pattern performed on both the guitar and castanets that uses rasgueados (guitar) or rolls (castanets) to emphasize beats 2 and 3.
Castanets are often included in theatrical and folkloric versions of the dance, and the basic castanet pattern, a double triplet roll surrounded by a series of gólpes (single hits on the left or right hand, i.e.: hit left, roll right, hit left, roll right, hit left, hit right) is standard practice in this dance as illustrated in the above example. The above phrase is described by castanet players as: TA (left hand góple/hit) RIA (right hand roll followed by a left hand gólpe) RIA (same as previous example) TI (right hand gólpe/hit). Other patterns are often included in the dance, though the above example is the primary castanet phrase.
This partner dance is performed throughout the world at the annual Féria de Abril, as well as in flamenco and Spanish dance concerts, tablaos, films, and dance competitions in Spain and around the world.
Contemporary and modern Spanish and flamenco dancers often vary the choreography of Sevillanas, forever adding new poses and steps for heightened theatricality. However, the structure detailed below applies to almost all versions of the Sevillanas:
A rhythmic introduction on the guitar during which the dancers perform a quick series of passes, changing places with one another repeatedly. Dancer's may also simply stand in place waiting for a cue from the singer or guitarist.
Cante introduction, vuelta normale, and opening pose
The guitar introduction finishes with a cue signaling the singer to sing the opening phrase. The dancers perform a turn, usually a vuelta normale, during the last beats of the singer's opening phrase. The singer and dancers end the phrase together, with the dancer ending in a pose or with a stamp of the right foot. If the singer performs this opening phrase libre, or free of the compás, the dancer waits for the appropriate moment to begin either the turn, perform right gólpe, or take the first step of the paso sevillanas.
Dancers may choose to forego the turn, and simply wait for the cue from the singer to begin the first dance steps, the pasos sevillanas.
1st Dance variation
This variation includes standardized steps and choreography, particularly pasos sevillanas. There are many different versions of this variation. The specifc steps one performs depend on who's teaching it and the traditions within which they teach, and whether what they teach includes original choreography.
This consists of a series of steps in which the dancers pass each other, front to front or back to back, switching places as they do so. In traditional versions of the dance, the pasada always ends with one paso sevillanas.
2nd Dance variation
This variation has different steps than the first variation, but lasts the same number of beats.
2nd Pasada - identical to the 1st pasada.
3rd Dance variation and Cierre
This variation differs from the first two variations and ends with the cierre, which can include a final turn or a closing dance gesture that is a highly stylized and personalized series of steps ending with the bien parado - a traditional pose.
Each copla is approximately 1 minute to 90 seconds long depending on the tempo, making the entire dance 4-6 minutes long.
Common Sevillanas Steps
The most common dance step performed in Sevillanas includes a front and backward stepping pattern:
Step forward with the left foot, then tap the right foot directly behind the left;
Step back with the right foot, tap the left foot in front of the right;
Perform a Rodozan (Rond de jambe), a rounding of the leg from front to back in which the left leg circles around front to back.
The same pattern can then be performed starting on the right foot. In the first copla, this pattern is performed five times at the beginning of the dance.
Passing steps. Partners switch places with each other twice in each verse.
A continuous series of Pasadas ending with a stamp, turn, or pose.
Regular turns - upright, pivot turns. To executive the turn:
1. The right foot crosses in front of the left.
2. The dancer swiftly turns to the left by pivoting on the balls of both feet in 3 counts.
3. A back turn is performed by crossing the left foot behind the right, then pivoting.
Vuelta/s de paso/s
Stepping turns, similar to a slow tour chaîné (chain turn) in ballet.
Pas de Basque
Basque step. A waltzing, 3-count step:
1. One foot steps in place
2. The opposite foot rocks front
3. The original foot steps in place a second time,
4. The dancer performs the above three sequences on the other side and vice versa.
5. If this pattern is performed in the 2nd copla, it occurs five times.
Double up. A sharp, rapid triplet followed by an accented beat
1. One foot performs a single gólpe,
2. The opposite foot performs a double gólpe (doble),
3. The original foot performs a single gólpe.
Redobles can also be performed with plantas (balls of the foot) and tacóns (heel drops). Redobles always retain a sharp triplet sound.
In playing Sevillanas, guitarists either accompany singers, strumming chords in a fixed rhythmic pattern, or play composed instrumental Sevillanas coplas that fit the form of the coplas as performed by dancers.
Contemporary soloists such as Paco De Lucía, Gerado Nuñez and Moraito Chico have created some beautiful concert solo versions of Sevillanas. In general, the guitarist's primary role in Sevillanas is to accompany singers and dancers.
There are three parts to a traditional instrumental Sevillanas: the rhythmic introduction, the salida, and the melody and cierre:
Melody and cierre
Below are all three parts put together:
Accompanying Sevillanas Cante
Accompanying singers por sevillanas is largely a matter of strumming the chords for the particular sevillanas being sung, using the rasgueado pattern described above.
The sample below demonstrates how this is done.
Here is a sample of a traditional Sevillanas copla.
We perform two coplas, and the chords shown below.
The lyrics included below have to do with the beauty of the Giralda tower, an ancient minaret attached to the Cathedral of Seville dating back to Moorish culture and the mosque that pre-dates the cathedral. Also mentioned is the golden tower, the Torre de Oro, which is where ships returning from the new world stopped to drop off their gold and riches. Also mentioned is the beauty of guitar music and singing in the city, alluding to all things wonderful and beautiful that exist in the music and dance culture of Seville.
To help guitarists understand how to accompany Sevillanas, we offer two versions.
For the first version, the guitar plays the first beat of each bar to hear how the chords line up with the words.
In the second version, the guitar plays the traditional Sevillanas rasgueado described above. Compare this to the rhythm of the Verdiales.