Syllabus: Professor Makes Learning Spanish ‘Fashionable’

Posted: December 11, 2009 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: December 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

While most people recognize the flamboyant colors and abundant ruffles of the flamenco dress, they may not realize that some of the clothes they buy in their favorite stores may have been inspired by this early form of Spanish dress.

The flamenco dress originated about five centuries ago when gypsies migrated to Spain wearing the style. Although it has undergone slight stylistic changes, the flamenco dress has remained almost unchanged even today.

To help students understand some of the history and culture of the language they are learning, Marian Quintana, director of the basic Spanish language program in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, incorporated some historical elements of Spanish culture, including fashion, into her Spanish languages classes.

“In my opinion, learning to speak the language of a particular region and learning about the history and culture of its people go hand in hand,” says Quintana.

“It was important to me that students learn not only the basics of speaking the language, but also a little bit about Spanish culture and how it can be seen in many obvious and subtle ways in today’s society.”

To encourage students and faculty members to talk about Spanish fashion and dress, Quintana hosted a roundtable discussion with students in beginning and intermediate Spanish classes.

Several other professors in the Spanish program were involved in the discussion, including Michelle Ramos-Pellicia, assistant professor; Julia Ruíz-Ross and Alejandra Balestra, term assistant professors; and Inma Jones, professor.

Clad in her own version of the popular Spanish flamenco dress, Quintana began the discussion with information about traditional clothing of pre-Colombian inhabitants of Puerto Rico. The only clothing worn by this group of people was enaguas, a frontal apron worn by married women. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, his traditional conquistador style of dress had a powerful impact on how clothing in Puerto Rico evolved, she explained.

As society continued to advance, Latin American cultures began wearing brightly colored clothes in yellow, brown and red because they evoked the colors of Earth elements. According to Quintana, inhabitants of Latin America desired to be linked more closely to Earth.

Spain was once a world force in fashion, and traditional Spanish dress was characterized by elegance and decoration. Rich fabrics were used and decorated with gold and silver thread or jewels and pearls. The Moorish occupation of Spain many centuries ago introduced embroideries using jewels, jeweled buttons, ornaments and collars. Although the style of dress continued to change, Spain contributed to a number of innovations that are still popular today, including the cape and corset.

Today, many Spanish citizens dress in traditional clothing for festivals. The costume of the matador, which includes the bullfighter’s cloak and long sash wrapped around the waist, has remained virtually unchanged.

Quintana pointed out to students that, although they may believe their current style of dress originated as part of Western culture, it actually has been influenced by Spain, Latin America and other major countries throughout many centuries.

“I hope the discussion of historical Spanish fashion and dress helped students realize that the influence of the Spanish is not only felt in Spanish-speaking countries,” says Quintana.

Next semester, she plans to focus on a different aspect of the Spanish culture that complements the language study.

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