Ole! It’s Spain’s Flamenco secret: Discovering the tiny Seville bar named after one of the city’s most notable dancers
- Casa Anselma is deep in the heart of the working-class neighbourhood of Triana
- It is named after the proprietor who was once a well-known flamenco dancer
- Rows of chairs are in front of the dancefloor, with space for only two dancers
Shortly before midnight and I’m waiting amid an excitable crowd on Calle Pages del Corro, deep in the heart of the working-class neighbourhood of Triana in Seville. A bar called Casa Anselma is about to open. Yes, things start late in Spain.
It’s named after the proprietor — a formidable doyenne with scraped-back hair and pencilled on eyebrows, who was once one of the city’s most notable flamenco dancers.
When she arrives, resplendent in a feather-fringed, leopard-print jacket, there’s a palpable air of tension and the crowd hushes as we watch her open a black book — her guest list.
Inside Casa Anselma, a flamenco bar in Seville. Pictured are the musicians, father and son duo, Alfonzo and Fran
With influences from North Africa and India, it was in Andalusia where Roma gipsies first sang stories about life’s struggles and flamenco was born
Those on it will be admitted first. Others have to take their chances. I’ve heard that Anselma’s temper when roused is as quick as castanets, and she’s part ringmaster, part bouncer.
If she doesn’t like the look of you she’ll send you packing. I’m not the only tourist, but locals and Spaniards from out of town certainly outnumber visitors from overseas, which adds to the feeling that I’m in on a secret.
I first learned about the place from my Spanish friend, Daniel, who grew up in Seville — a city that’s more about soaking up the atmosphere than ticking off tourist sights, although the cathedral is spectacular and the Alcazar (royal palace) and gardens dreamily exotic.
‘Meet my parents,’ he told me. ‘They’ll take you.’ May and Ricardo are old friends of Anselma’s, since the days when May made flamenco dresses, and they are first on the list in her book.
Once inside, I scan the walls that are covered in memorabilia — from the glass cabinets holding elaborate fans and well-danced shoes, to the lavish posters and photographs of Anselma in her heyday.
Rows of chairs are arranged in front of the dancefloor, with space enough for only two dancers to perform, while Anselma’s house band, father- and-son duo Alfonzo and Fran, squeeze in behind.
With influences from North Africa and India, it is here, in Andalusia, where Roma gipsies first sang stories about life’s struggles and flamenco was born.
Although the first written reference of the dance dates it to the early 17th century, it’s believed to be older, and the imaginatively interactive Museo del Baile Flamenco — opened by another of Seville’s celebrated dancers, Cristina Hoyos — is a great place to pick up a few steps and learn more of its history before visiting Casa Anselma.
Kate says Seville is a city that’s more about soaking up the atmosphere than ticking off tourist sights. Pictured is Seville Cathedral
Casa Anselma is on Calle Pages del Corro, 49, Triana.
The sign is tiny, so look for the pretty tiled panels on the front of the building. Queues form at around 11.30pm.
A double room at Casa de Indias by Intur, starts at £60, intur.com.
Easyjet flies from Luton & Gatwick, Bristol and Edinburgh from £16.99 one way, easyjet.com.
At 26, Fran sings with an intensity and sentiment beyond his years. I may not understand his words, but I feel every lyric dripping with emotion. As for the dancers, forget swishy polka-dot dresses as this is the antithesis of a tourist tablao.
‘The flamenco in Seville is most romantico,’ May tells me, as we watch a couple perform a fandango — a dance in four rounds in which the couples never touch.
Full of theatrical facial expressions, elaborate hand gestures, foot stomping, and hand clapping, and accompanied by Alfonzo’s frantic guitar strumming, the dance speaks clearly of desire.
A cry of ‘Ole’ from Anselma and you know you’ve earned her approval. She rarely dances these days, but still sings with grit in a commanding warbling voice, full of what Sevillanos call ‘duende’ — a passion for flamenco that possesses her, like a demon, so completely.
SIX THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT FLAMENCO
Although flamenco originated in Andalusia, its roots are thought to be a fusion of Arabic, Jewish and Roma cultures.
Japan claims to have the highest number of flamenco schools in the world, more even than Spain.
Performance is made up of four elements, cante (voice), caile (dance), coque (guitar) and something called jaleo, which translates as ‘hell raising’, involving clapping, stomping and shouting.
To enhance a woman’s figure, dresses are designed with a guitar-shaped body. Heels are essential and can range from 4 to 7cm in height, while shoes have nails hammered in to make the sound louder.
The fastest flamenco dancer ever recorded managed 1,274 taps in a minute.
In 2010, flamenco was listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, joining tango from Argentina and Uruguay, and Cuban rumba.