The Spanish Flamenco Shawl – Dance the Beauty, Tackle your Beast!

  • taniagoh
  • Jan 31, 2024

It’s flamenco weekend and exciting because it’s the girls’ Day 1 learning to dance with the Spanish shawl. 

We call it ‘Mantón de Manila’ in the Spanish language.

And if you’ve wondered why ‘Manila’, then you can travel with your curiosity along the trading routes of old, from Asia (think China and Philippines)  to Latin America (think Mexico, Cuba) and to Spain (think Sevilla, Cadiz)

Imagine how culture, people interaction and fashion have evolved the mantón to what you see in your very hands, or in the shops of Spain today.

And so, besides growing your physical dance abilities, you can also grow through imagination and curiosity, gaining wider cultural exposure and connections to your art.

Here’s the Beauty of the Mantón:

Its lovely textures, colourful embroidery  and long tassels that make our dance look dramatic visually!

It’s no wonder it has a power of attraction for flamenco students, just as it was a fashion objet de désir  in Europe, in the earlier days of shipping trade.

Just imagine the flower motifs of the embroidery changing from oriental camelia, chrysanthemums and peonies,  to Spanish flower motifs – rosas and claveles (carnations).

Tackle Your Beast

But, Where is the “Beast’ in this? 

Well, I’m inspired to use this word because in the very first mantón class this year, I could see my students really working at it. 

We’re having to tackle the beast of effort – giving sheer physical energy, grit and mental focus – all to make our dance look effortless and pleasing, to ourselves, and to our audience.

So just saying, if you are attracted to learning to dance with the mantón, here’s a reality check. 

You need to back it up with effort,  perseverance and time!

Ok, so let’s go into:

Beginner Tips – How to dance with the Spanish manton.

1) Before you dance,  practise how to hold it. 

In the video, I demonstrate 2 ways of holding it – simply fingers over the manton, or fingers under it.

The posture of your arms are important. Your arms should not cling to your body. 

2) ‘Feel the drape’! Feel it on your skin. Feel your muscles

Support it, feel the drape behind your neck, on your shoulders and your upper arms. 

Get used to supporting in the different positions for the Spanish style of arms.

Obviously, this will require muscle effort to even maintain your arms.

Be aware of your arms (particularly extension). If your arms aren’t stretched, your manton will flop around you!

3) Practise moving it around you, while you stand on the spot

For starters,  work big and feel how it circles around you. 

As I say to the girls – clear your head, and imagine: you are clearing your peinetas (the Spanish hair combs), and all those roses on your head!

And don’t forget to clear around your feet too (so that the tassels don’t get caught in your shoes. 

By the way, another tip – don’t wear shoes with buckles when dancing with the mantón! 

I use shoes with laces. The less ‘danger’, the better, especially when you’re starting out. 

If you have a piece of music, work to the rhythmic compás, so you get to work on two manageable things at the same time. 

4) Speed and momentum

Now you can work on giving flight to your manton. ‘Make it fly!’ is what I tell the girls.

How? With the proper arm work that I  explained above, experiment to feel how you can give visual flight to your manton and the tassels. 

You will need to feel momentum.

You can experiment with speed, and also with accents – where you might give some emphasis that helps the manton gain momentum. 

5) Coordination Exercise

The original choreography is without mantón by my maestro Manuel Betanzos. 

I’ve adapted it to manton, and now there is extra coordination to be done.

You just have to practise over and over again. 

Repetition (when done correctly and with awareness),  leads you to improve round after round. 

If you are not one to persevere, then you have to think about the level of involvement in any art. 

Because bear in mind that there is training towards skills and excellence – remember what I mentioned earlier – you have to master the beast of effort!

What not to do when dancing with the flamenco mantón

Don’t lose the feel, cleanliness, lines and awareness of your arms. 

If you go back to the basics of doing braceados (such as the typical Spanish arm warm up exercises we do), this will be very handy for working with the manton.

Don’t lose connection with your mantón.  It’s like your dance partner, you don’t lose feeling and awareness of it.

Do not be ‘sucio’ (dirty in Spanish) and just ‘whack’. Your moves should be clean and well-executed (we call it ‘having technique’)

Do not bunch it all around your neck, creating a bunched neck effect – you know, all that fabric heaped around your upper body.

Extra Tips 

  • Don’t wear watch, ornaments, ear rings jewelry when you practise
  • Don’t fling the manton so high it gets stuck onto the ceiling, and ceiling fan (true stories)
  • Don’t dance so close to your mates, you get entangled with each other (true story on stage)
  • Don’t practise so close to your mates, you can cause an accident (hook onto a long eye-lash or tooth) – again, true stories!!!

Benefits of learning to dance with the manton

  • I believe it really helps you build awareness of your arm work! If your arms aren’t in the right positions, your manton will tell you right away, because it will either flop or look messy in the air.

  • Helps build arm strength. Not only are you toning your arms, you are getting a full body workout twirling the manton around you. I tell my girls, they’re not having to pay for a gym membership to a toning class.

  • Build coordination  – but of course! If you are tossing it in the air and around you – in time to the rhythmic compás,, over time, you will be gaining motor skills, eye-body coordination and improving your sense of hearing!

  • Pure joy and Aesthetics – well, it’s simply beautiful to dance with this complemento (accessory), so sometimes you don’t need much of a reason to do something. Do it because you simply enjoy it!

Watch flamenco dances with the mantón

If you’d like to appreciate some flamenco dances with mantón, here are some performances to watch. 

Spanish Dance Singapore dancers at the national theatre, Esplanade outdoor stage

Blanca del Rey, famous artist for the mantón, rehearsing the Ballet Nacional de España

I like what she shares as she tells the dancer to feel free.

“Feel, to be able to develop what the music and the song can bring to every moment and instant. Because within the steps, though staged fixed, there is always change. Because as the mantón comes to life, slides, expresses itself and tells you its own way of feeling and being.”

“Libre, para poder desarrollar lo que la música, el cante puede aportar en cada momento, en cada instante, porque dentro de los pasos que se han creado fijos, siempre hay cambios. Porque el mantón al cobrar vida, se desliza, se expresa y te cuenta su propia manera de sentirse y de ser.”

Luisa Palacio in a scenic spot in Málaga, dancing with both mantón and Bata de Cola


Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On Instagram