The A to Z’s of Flamenco Dance: E is for Escobilla
Escobilla (es-co-BEE-yuh) in Spanish means a small broom or brush. In Flamenco dance, an escobilla is where the dancer does an extended section of zapateado (footwork). Several Flamenco rhythms, such as Alegrias, Caracoles and Soleares, have sections of escobilla.
One of the most recognized escobilla rhythm patterns is the one used in the Alegrias. As you probably have figured out by now, if you've read any of my previous articles, the step itself does not matter; it is the rhythm that matters. So the footwork used in an escobilla is strictly up to the dancer to create. But regardless of what the steps are, in the escobilla section of the Alegrias the first step in the footwork pattern must start on the one count.
(The structure of the Alegrias sections in traditional order is: entrada, silenco, castellana, escobilla and bulerias. In each section, the dancer must start on either the 12 or 1 count depending on the section.)
This is why learning the rhythms are critical to be able to dance flamenco. You must know exactly where in the rhythm to start dancing. And, to make matters just a little more interesting even though the guitarist is following you, the dancer, in improvisational Flamenco (as opposed to choreography) the guitarist might start the escobilla on a different count (usually on the 4). So you need to know exactly where to start so the guitarist will be able to start his/her part at the proper time. But not to worry - I tell my students that if they can count to 12 they will be fine!
Here are some examples of escobillas:
This is the music that the guitarist will play for the escobilla. Once you learn how to "hear" and count this rhythm, it will be very clear to you where the one count is:
Often the escobilla starts out at a slow tempo and then increases to a fast tempo, which will lead the dancer into the next section bulerias. The escobilla here starts at 5:38 and ends at about 7:24.
If you count along, you will notice the escobilla footwork starts on 1 and the guitarist joins in on 4. This delay in the guitarist starting allows the dancer to communicate to the guitarist exactly when to start playing and the speed at which the dancer plans to start dancing the escobilla.
In this next Alegrias, the sections are in traditional order, but "twisted" a little to reverse the major and minor modes to add more depth to the traditional feeling of Alegrias. In the traditional Alegrias, the escobilla is usually played by the guitarist in a major key. You will notice that in this Alegrias the escobilla is in a minor key to give it more power and it begins with very exaggerated starts and starts to accentuate the rhythm. The escobilla here starts at 3:16 and ends at 4:41.
Escobillas are often the parts of rhythms that not only the audience, but also the dancer enjoys the most. Escobillas are, quite literally, "music to your ears"!