Dancing Sevillanas Face-to-Face: The Southern Sound

Dance, a wise man once said, is a terribly inefficient way of getting from A to B. Around and about we go, not aiming for any particular point in the room we sway; in dance, we play. Once this is properly appreciated, you will more fully enjoy the dance, and life, itself. In Spain’s south, they have a wonderfully inefficient way of striding around in circles, a dance they call the sevillanas.

The sevillana is a dance composed of four sub-dances which follow four verses of guitar-strumming and castanet-clacking. It is a structurally rigid dance in which you cannot stray far from the basic structure, but this means that the art comes from the individual dancer’s own style, that is, his or her own self.



Observe any dancer of the sevillanas and none will wear the same expression on their face, none will hold themselves in the same way, and none will move to and fro in the same manner. The big men may merely adjust their positions, torero like, to allow their woman to safely float by. The younger ones might nearly jump between steps, and some ladies might wave their fans like gigantic bashing eyelids signalling indecipherable signs of seduction, and others might release a cascade of castanet clacking to dazzle their partner.

It must be understood, though, that however dangerous this dance may be for mutually assured seduction, it is not just a courtship display, but more fundamentally a dance danced, like all dances, for fun, and it is in fact more often than not danced between two women rather than between the sexes.


Te brillan los ojos como la candela / Your eyes shine like a candle
cuando se te antoja venirte a mi vera / when you crave to come to my side
cuando te acaricio rozando tus manos / when I caress you brushing your hands
cuando te susurro buscando tus labios / when I whisper to you looking for your lips

Rafael del Estad, Sueños de Amor

The first segment of the sevillanas is a simple introduction. Five times over the two dancers move towards each other then retreat, move towards each other then retreat before switching positions. Then several horizontal sidewards steps replace the previous back and forth motion, and finally, the dancers stride past each other four times over, then man ceding way to the woman like the bullfighter does to his bull, adding perhaps a click of his heels to each pass for added drama. A spin into each other’s arms finalises the intro and we are already into the second sevillana.



En la cárcel donde vivo / In the gaol where I live
Tus cabellos son barrotes de oro puro / your locks are bars of pure gold
En la cárcel donde vivo /In the gaol where I live
Son barrotes de oro puro que me encierran / They’re bars of pure gold that lock me in
En la cárcel donde vivo / in the gaol where I live

En la cárcel donde vivo / In the gaol where I live
Y me tienen prisionero de tus besos / your kisses have me prisoner
De los que yo soy cautivo / they have me captive
Prisionero de tus besos vida mía / I’m the prisoner of your kisses, my love,
De los que yo soy cautivo / I’m their hostage

Rafael del Estad, Tus Redes

If in the first sevillana you meet your partner, in the second you get to know them. In this segment first there is a warm-up of a few light taps of the foot, a spin, more foot tapping, then the main show of Part II: an eight step spin around in a circle – partners arm-in-arm, faces face-to-face – before dizzily falling again into the other’s arms to start the third sevillana.


Estoy bailando contigo / I’m dancing with you
Y no me atrevo a mirarte / yet I don’t dare look at you
Porque si miro tu cara / because if I look at your face
Me dan ganas de abrazarte / I want to hold you

Rafael del Estad, Te Canto Estas Sevillanas

Act three is where the drama begins. After carefully pointing their feet at each other three times, the dancers will suddenly break into a zapateo: a loud pa-pa-pa-pa-pa sounds three times over as  the dancers stomp their feet at each other before passing by each other once again, this time back-to-back, as if denying the earlier boldness of the foot stomping. As the maestro poet of the sevillanas Rafael del Estad wrote, “I’m dancing with you, yet I don’t dare look at you..”




Mírame a los ojos / Look at me in the eyes
Dime que me quieres / Tell me you love me
Mírame a los ojos / Look at me in the eyes
Dime que soy dueño / Tell me I’m the owner
De tus labios rojos / of your red lips
De tu piel morena / of your dark skin
De tu pelo negro / of your black hair..

Rafael del Estad, Mis Sueños

The final act of the sevillanas, la cuarta, is the most difficult but most beautiful and light of them all. This one begins with some initial approaches which are taken back into a backward spin, after this the dancers will glide past each other once – this time face-to-face, not shoulder-to-shoulder as in the first three segments of the song – with their arms raised and flying above them. They make a quick couple of foot stomps, slide past each other again, and then begin the dizzying final finale of four of these gliding motions, eyes locked on the other while the rest of the room blurs by watching the glowing smiles of the dancers fall into the final embrace. They kiss each other on the cheek and the sevillanas strumming comes to an end.


Humans have created an infinite number of ways to enchant the other, an infinite number of ways to pass the time, to do something for no particular reason at all and in so doing affirming life. And in Spain’s south, they have their own invention; the sevillana. In the sevillana, in the feria, you do not ask where you’re going nor why, you just watch the dance, life, pass by, like the sevillana says:

Pasa la vida, pasan los años / Life passes by, the years pass by
Igual que pasa la corriente/ Just as the current of the river
Del río cuando busca el mar / passes by when it searches for the sea
Y yo camino indiferente / and I go unworried
Allí donde me quieran llevar / wherever the years want to take me

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