The rhythmic stamping of feet and soulful clapping of hands, the expressive arc of the arm and flick of the wrist, the emotional intensity and the fiery passion…

...the fans, the shawls, the flowers, the ruffles, the colors, the castanets, the music, the strum of the guitar, the heat. This is flamenco, the dance of Spain.

The fluid, sensuous dance is as much a part of Spanish culture as matadors, tapas and the running of the bulls. UNESCO even declared it to be one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. You can see performances on YouTube or television but flamenco must truly be seen live to thoroughly enjoy its power. Watching the dance sizzle in its native country is a wonderfully emotional and authentic experience.

And the best place to see flamenco? At the Corral de la Moreria -- called the “Cathedral of flamenco art” and entertaining everyone from JFK, Picasso, Hemmingway, Dali and Che Guevara. AmaWaterways can take you to this cornerstone of cultural life in Madrid – a title it’s held ever since it opened its doors in 1956 and danced into the hearts of locals and tourists. It’s located right in the vibrant heart of Madrid – in the main historic quarters of the city, adjacent to the Royal Palace. The Arabic corbels, decorations and even the furniture and streetlamps which date from the 18th and 19th century will take you back in time, recreating a setting reminiscent of the original tablao flamenco. A delicious Spanish meal is served, for a further delicious taste of culture. And the drive back is so scenic, passing by Madrid’s most impressive buildings at nighttime: Cibeles Palace, Neptune Square and the Gran Via.

The history of the dance parallels Spain’s own history as it is a fusion of Andalusian, Moorish, Egyptian, Roman, Indian and Spanish folk style that gypsies brought with them in the 15th century while fleeing their homelands. From there, the core Gitano ‘Gypsy’ movements evolved, blending with the cultures of the Andalusia region. It is a serious dance, a dance of maturity intended to convey a deep duende (soul). And so in traditional falmenco, most dancers do not hit their peak until their thirties, continuing to perform into their fifties and beyond.

Flamenco rose in popularity in the nineteenth century, when the first cafe and performance theater was opened in Seville in 1842. The dance was now more accessible for the public to enjoy. The dance swept across many artistic disciples, inspiring musicians, painters and fashion designers alike with its fiery arts and enviable style. The word ‘flamenco’ itself may have even been derived from the Spanish words for ‘fire’ or ‘flame’ -- fuego.