Women in Flamenco: Love and Anger

Marie Claire  London, 1993, 3,000 words; adapted extracts  

My first article on flamenco involved an epic trip south with photographer Cristina García Rodero.  We ran out of petrol, got a parking ticket in an empty parking lot and met some impressively strong women - singer María Soleá, dancer Manuela Carrasco, Dolores Agujetas and Tibu Lebart, who died tragically a few years ago.

"When my grandfather sang at night, my grandmother would open her arms and dance," recalls María Soleá, aged 63, from Cádiz. "How she danced with her arms! And if a stranger appeared in the door, my grandfather would say, 'Close the door, girl, for I don't want strangers watching my children and wife sing and dance.'"

While María's family all sang and danced at family fiestas, she was the first of their women to go out and sing for money. "Times were hard. At the best we'd have a flagon of cheap wine, a few salted sardines and bread to eat. The big country houses had a lot of fiestas, and my brother Fernando and I would be asked up to sing and dance for money. or we'd go out to bars and pass the cap round. I didn't have special dresses or anything like that, and I danced in my everyday rope-soled shoes."

Once María married, she stopped singing. ‘My husband didn’t allow me to perform. That was normal then.... I would have liked to go on singing.’

....

At that time, under Gypsy law, girls were forbidden to mix with men outside the family circle and a courtship began only when a boy had asked for a girl's hand in marriage and both fathers had given their consent. Once women were married, they rarely continued singing for money. María herself was married when she was sixteen.

"A Gypsy wedding took place in a bodega or courtyard. The girls to be married would put on frills and lots of flowers and lace. Half the choir would be unmarried girls, virgins, not like the ones today who take seven pills a week and are always virgins. In the old days, they were real virgins, all beautiful and in white dresses. On the other side stood the boys - who would invite the girls to dance."

BRAKED CAREERS

Once María married, she stopped singing. "My husband didn’t allow me to perform. That was normal then. I would have liked to go on singing, but apart form anything else I had six children to look after." 

A wife lived as the axis of home life and her reputation had to be seen to be untouchable. But things took an unexpected turn. Widowed at the age of 33, María began to sing again to keep her children. 

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