“Petenera” is a “palo” flamenco based on a strophe composed by four eight-syllable verses. It may also be composed by six or more verses if one of them is repeated, or if another one is added which is usually "Madre de mi corazón." This is formed by melancholy and sad lyrics, played in a slow and sentimental way, even though there are some older versions, whose rhythm is faster and lyrics are less unhappy.
“Petenera” existed musically before being adapted to flamenco. According to some scholars, “petenera” is related to “zarabanda” (17th century). This designation is due to a singer from Paterna de Rivera (Cádiz), which was called "la Petenera" (late 18th century).
There are two version of this singing: old and modern version. It can be "corta" (short) and "grande" (big). “Petenera grande”, in contrast to “corta”, isn't suitable for dancing. "Petenera corta” is danced accompanied by clapping.
The origin of the “petenera” has been much discussed among flamenco scholars. Some have claimed that its origin is in America, as there is also called “petenera” to a music style and “jarocho” dance, typical of the region of Veracruz (Mexico), others claim that its origin is Spanish.
At the end of 19th century, singer Jose Rodriguez Concepcion, known as “Medina el Viejo ", unveiled its interpretation of the “petenera”. This version was adopted by another great flamenco singer: Antonio Chacon. Later, “la Niña de los Peines” made her own version and enriched it melodically. Then, this was repeated by other singers such as Pepe de la Matrona. In the late 19th century, “petenera” dance became very popular: dance schools taught it “sevillanas” and “seguidillas”.
Federico García Lorca dedicated his poem "Gráfico de la petenera" in his work “Poema del cante jondo” (1931) to this style. This was even performed with piano as an accompaniment to "La Argentinita" in a historical recording. One of the works of the composer Pablo Sarasate, has the "Peteneras" name, and was wroten to be played by violin and piano.
“Petenera” singing and dancing have been historically surrounded by an superstition atmosphere. It was believed that "patenera" brought bad luck to performers.