There are many suggestions for the origin of the word flamenco as a musical term (summarized below) but no solid evidence for any of them. The word was not recorded as a musical and dance term until the late 18th century.
The Spanish word flamenco can mean “flamingo” – referring to the bird, but originally meaning “flame-colored” – but also “Flemish”, i.e. someone or something related to Flanders. The (predominantly Flemish) courtiers of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (Carlos I of Spain) were known for their colorful dress and florid displays of courtesy, but also for their boisterous behavior. The word flamenco came to be used for arrogant or flamboyant behavior in general, which could possibly have come to be applied to the Gitano players and performers.
The early flamenco dancers, especially the woman, concentrated more on the upper body and arm movements, similar to that of the Indian Bharata Natya, where the dance is focused on arm movements and facial expressions. Also from India is the Kathuk, which is a dance performed by men and woman, where the very intricate footwork has similarities to the zapateado in flamenco.
These dances reached Spain as early as the Greek times, 500-250 BC, where Indian dancers where brought into Spain via the port of Gadir, today known as Cádiz, to entertain the royals of the time. The arrival of the Moors nearly one thousand years later, and also the gypsies, who brought with them, dance and music styles from Pakistan and Persia enriched the existing andalucian styles.
Many theorists lay the blame for the lack of footwork in the early female baile flamenco on the Muslim discouragement for women not to show their legs.The zapateado or intricate footwork displayed by the dancer was not introduced into the female dance routine until the early twentieth century.
The decrees of the 16th century, where Moors, Jews, and gypsies were persecuted, resulted in these outcasts going underground, and taking with them their music and dances, and this is where it stayed, and this is thought to be the very beginning of the formation of flamenco. The style of dance we see performed today has changed considerably since these times, and now styles of flamenco song that were never danced are being taken up by modern dancers striving to find new directions for the flamenco dance.