From its roots in eighteenth century popular theatre, most flamenco performers were professionals. Originally they learned from other performers in the manner of an apprenticeship, not in conservatoriums or dance schools as is usually the way now. Today, most guitarists undergo rigorous professional training and often can read and play music in other styles like classical guitar or jazz and many dancers take courses in ballet and contemporary dance as well as flamenco.
Flamenco occurs in four settings - the juerga, in small-scale cabaret, concert venues and in the theatre.
The juerga is an informal, spontaneous gitano gathering (rather like a jazz "jam session"). This can include dancing, singing, palmas (hand clapping), or simply pounding in rhythm on an old orange crate or a table. Flamenco, in this context, is organic and dynamic: it adapts to the local talent, instrumentation, and mood of the audience. This context invites comparison with that other creation of a dispossessed class, the blues. The Gypsy Blues, or even the European Blues as a means of providing a frame of reference to those new to the genre.
One tradition remains firmly in place: the cantaores (singers) are the heart and soul of the performance. A Peña Flamenca is a meeting place or grouping of Flamenco musicians or artists. There are also "tablaos", establishments that developed during the 1960s throughout Spain replacing the "café cantante". The tablaos may have their own company of performers for each show. Many internationally renowned artists have started their careers in "tablaos flamencos", like the famous singer Miguel Poveda who began in El Cordobés, Barcelona.
The professional concert is more formal. A traditional singing performance has only a singer and one guitar, while a dance concert usually includes two or three guitars, one or more singers (singing in turns, as flamenco cantaors sing solo), and one or more dancers. One of the singers may play the cajon (a wooden box drum played with the hands) if there is no dedicated cajon player, and all performers will play palmas even if there are dedicated palmeros. The so-called Nuevo Flamenco New flamenco may include flutes or saxophones, piano or other keyboards, or even the bass guitar and the electric guitar. Camarón de la Isla was one artist who popularized this style.
Finally, there is the theatrical presentation of flamenco. However, it is now an extended and sophisticated performance in its own right, comparable to a performance of ballet by such ensembles as the Maria Pagès Company.