The origins of flamenco are still uncertain, and they have been lost through the centuries in a tangled web of influences and contributions from various civilizations. It is highly probable that flamenco singing and dancing originated in Andalucia toward the 15th century, during the Gypsies' encounter with the inhabitants of southern Spain. It continues to be extremely difficult to trace the origin of these wandering populations who, when they arrived in the region of Andalucia, were bearing with them a culture that was a mixture of Arabic-Egyptian, Jewish and Indian influences (which is obvious, for example, in the gentle and voluptuous movements of the dancers' bodies and arms).
The oldest form of flamenco is cante jondo, an intimate and deeply felt song that recounts the sorrows and hopes of the Gypsies as a people. Originating as a rhythmic form of accentuation for singing, flamenco dancing was enriched over time by constantly increasing expressive possibilities, along with indispensable accompaniment by guitars, thereby becoming the source of a vast repertoire of cuadros (one can consider the solemnity of soleares or the contagious festiveness of sevillanas and alegrias), where the intense and passionate nature of Mediterranean peoples bursts forth.
As a theatrical art, flamenco only developed in the past century, through a constant effort involving stylistic experimentation, refinement of expression and technical codification that gave this form of dancing a true artistic dignity of its own, albeit without causing a loss of its strong identity as folk dancing that is indissolubly bound to the Gypsy spirit. Among the dancers and choreographers who have elevated flamenco to the realm of theater art, one cannot overlook Antonio Ruiz Soler (or, more simply, the "Great Antonio"), who was a superb interpreter of such masterpieces as El sombrero de tres picos, and Antonio Gades, who, more than anyone else, succeeded in infusing flamenco dancing with a form of narrative richness (such as his Bodas de Sangre and Carmen).