All you need to know about dancing with Bata de Cola

Maria Osende wearing a Bata de Cola. Joyce Saunders (vocals). Photo ©JON JAMES Photography

The long-tailed beautiful flamenco dresses or skirts are called “Batas de Cola”.  The image of a dancer wearing a bata de cola has become one of the most emblematic trademarks of flamenco. 

The Bata de Cola Technique

Dancing with a bata de cola requires specialized training. A standard Bata de Cola skirt adds around 2.7kg (6 pounds) to your body weight, therefore getting used to the extra weight and volume requires some getting used to.

Moving the bata as you dance involves learning how to lift and drop the skirt using your feet and thighs and often turning while kicking or pushing the skirt with one foot in various ways, learning to pick it up, drop it, and wrapping yourself in and out of it. This means you spend a lot of time on one foot only which requires a good sense of balance.

Overtime and gradually you will build up additional strength on your lower back and glutes as well as spacial awareness and a sense on how your skirt moves at various speeds. You will know when you master it when the bata starts feeling like a beautiful part of your body you can easily control, rather than an obstacle you have to fight with.

It is a beautiful prop that will add so much to your repertoire and make you feel great, but as anything, it will require consistent training and dedication.

Bata de Cola Technique requires regular practise, so you will need to add this course to your regular flamenco classes. It will take several weeks to months for you to master the bata de cola technique.

Students of Flamenco and Ballet Dance School Maria Osende performing with batas de cola

Ordering your first Bata de Cola Skirt – Budget and Timeline

You will need your own bata de cola – expect to invest around $400-$800 on a basic bata including shipping. Basic models of Bata de Cola, specially if made in Spain, have great resale value amongst dance students, specially outside Spain. Order yours online at least 6-8 weeks or more so it is there when your course starts.

Bata de cola skirts or dresses are generally custom made for each dancer since the correct length is crucial to be able to move it properly. Once you understand the importance of the length, and once you can recognize a good from a bad skirt, you can also buy a second hand one or a pre-made one at a store.

The 3 main components of a bata de cola are:

  1. The body of the bata – the skirt itself. This is generally made from a resistant, anti-wrinkle fabric called “Stretch” but that is actually NOT stretchy! Avoid soft silks, delicate fabrics and stretchy materials unless you make it double layered.
  2. The flounces or circular ruffles – a standard model has four on the front and five at the back;
  3. The “cancán or the under ruffles” – these ruffles touch the floor, help manage the bata and give the tail a fluid movement. They are made out of a stiff “tule-like” fabric called “cancán“.

The process of making a Bata de Cola takes around 15-30 days plus shipping. You can order your bata easily online at specialized shops in Spain, here are some trustworthy resources:

Designing your Bata de Cola

You will need to decide on at least four colours:

  1. the colour of the skirt
  2. the colour or colours of the ruffles
  3. the colour or colours of the stiches on the edge of the ruffles (this could be invisible, as in the same as the ruffle or different, so that the edge of the ruffle pops up and gives it definition)
  4. the colour of the cancán

Specialized shops will offer you lots of examples you can copy or use as a starting point.If your re searching online and finding stunning batas at fashion shows or special events, beware that a bata de cola for a dancer is different from a bata de cola for singer, fashion show or special event. If you want to do a unique, special design, get professional advice from your teacher or a flamenco-specialized seamstress, because the material might look great but be too soft or delicate for the amount of movement it will go through, or require ironing or dry-cleaning, and what is worse: make it way harder to dance with. The same goes for lots of ruffles: each extra ruffle adds weight, so you will need additional lower back strength and balance to move it well. On the other hand, the “stretch” material does not feel silky or elegant when you look at it closely, but works! It is strong, a little stiff and wrinkle free. You can roll your bata in a ball and place it inside your dance bag or suitcase and it will look just fine when you take it out to wear it, even for performing.

Making your Own and the right materials

If you like sewing and are up for the challenge, you can fid a good pattern here:

For the skirt you need “stretch” fabric. The “cancan” fabric – a special “flamenco dance fabric”, which  as far as I know it is not available in North America and only for sale in fabric stores who carry special flamenco dance fabrics. You will find tule that “looks-like” can can, but is lacking the stiffness of the “cancan”, so don’t do it!

Here is a fabric store that carries flamenco dance fabric, such as the “cancán”:

Brief History of the Bata de Cola

The bata de cola is an adaptation of the French fashion in the 19th century. Women carried the skirt with the long train, picked up to one side and then let it go when they reached a clean area. The picking up and lowering it again is one of the first movements that became incorporated into flamenco dance.

One of the first dancers to bring the bata de cola to the flamenco stage was Pastora Imperio in the beginning of the 20th Century. Since then, the bata de cola aesthetic and technique have greatly evolved. Today it is used both in traditional and contemporary flamenco dance contexts by women and also men.