November 2011

The Cueca or the Dance Challenge

Descended from African dancing traditions and sharing roots with the Zamacueca and Malazama, the traditional Bolivian dance known as the ‚Äėcueca‚Äô was born with finesse and elegance in metropolitan Lima at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

By: Walter S√°nchez
Instituto Investigaciones Antropológicas

Photo: Ximena Noya

Originally the Cueca was a ballroom dance and was only performed in a small area but it soon spread to neighbouring countries in the region. Each culture that the Cueca spread to altered the dance slightly to reflect native dance traditions: in Chile it took on a faster rhythm and, after the war between Peru and Bolivia, the dance became called the Chilena.

The Peruvian form of the dance became much slower and was called the Marinera in honour of their naval forces. In the North of Argentina the dance became the Cueca Cuyana, although in some areas it is still called the Cueca Boliviana.

The Cueca was brought to Bolivia by travelling merchants in the second half of the 19th century. The merchant’s extensive travelling led to the steps that they had learned all over Latin America being combined with regional steps and shared throughout the land.

Such a lively exchange was made possible by the lack of realistically enforced borders at the time, especially between Bolivia and Peru, between whom there was little cultural distinction. In 1816 Manuel José Cortez (1861: 300) remarked on the influence of dances of the Sea Coast from Peru in the Bailes de la Tierra that was commonly danced in Bolivian cities. Also in the Saraos, whilst people first danced in European styles, many graceful and agile dances similar to the Bailecito de la Tierra were becoming popular. The wealthy women of La Paz often danced these dances at balls and attempted to imitate the dancers from the Sea Coast of Peru, thus giving the local Cueca a Peruvian flavour. Chilean influence originating from miners coming through Bolivia by train was also present in the Bolivian Cueca.

As in other Latin American capitals, theCueca was received and performed by diverse Bolivian cultural groups. It was adopted by mestizos and cholos (artisans, merchants, sellers etc.) and quickly became a part of family celebrations such as weddings and baptisms. The Cueca was also performed in public spaces such as chicherías, picanterías, patronal festivals, and religious festivities. Cholos were the most popular minstrels and became the foremost composers of poetry and music that men performed and danced to. The Cueca was also a popular dance present in most brothels and bars in the outskirts of the city.

Whilst the working classes had adopted the Cueca, the elites also shared in the dance ‚Äď this interest of high society in the Cueca is reflected in the works of famous local composers of the time such as Sime√≥n Roncal (1870-1953), Miguel Angel Valda (1855-1957), Baldomero Rodrigo (1874-1916), Te√≥filo Vargas (1866- 1961) and V√≠ctor Rodrigo (1896-1979) who wrote beautiful Cuecas for piano with varying technical difficulty. The cueca kept the essential elements, such as the waving of the tissue, courtships, and twisting movements of the game of tissues. These elements were appreciated by both the dancers and the spectators from all areas of society and, despite its popularity, the cueca remained a technically challenging dance.

Beyond the dichotomy that divided society between ‚Äúpopular‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúoligarchic‚ÄĚ in the end of the nineteenth century, the cueca was danced by citizens from all walks of life. And between the mestizos, cholos, and peasant the cueca was an open challenge that could cause fights ‚Äď this was common at parties and festivals.

M. Rigoberto Paredes in his book ‚ÄúThe Folkloric Art of Bolivia‚ÄĚ (1943:125) expresses how the challenge to dance la cueca developed in the beginnings of the century. ‚ÄúThe couple is face to face, the music starts to play, the singing begins; the dancers approach each other and take a step back waving their handkerchiefs. The man has one hand on his hip and with the other he flirts with his couple by swirling his handkerchief next to her; the coquettish lady is indifferent to this and slides away but close to her partner who obsessively stalks her. Twisting and turning, tapping and swirling, his handkerchief flies over the woman‚Äôs head, or he lowers it down to her knee level, and even drags it on the floor. The female dancer, with eyes halfway closed and calculated movements, seems to attract her ‚Äústocker‚ÄĚ and at the same time refuses him; she gracefully continues dancing provocatively and sensually. The man becomes impatient; he displays all of his choreography skills; polishes his posture, shows off, waves and taps; until, with a certain inciting weakness she gives in, looking into his eyes, she stands beside him along with loud clapping and cheers. The gallant dancer kneels down to his lady‚Äôs feet ending the dance.‚ÄĚ

Such is the beautiful paradox of the cueca: temperamental and violent but also sensual. There is provocation among ‚Äúmachos‚ÄĚ that challenge each other, even though the true challenge is with the woman who feigns submission during the dance. Not in vain, the women would display all their power during the dance being the ones who in the end stood straight while their opponent would fall on one knee. This meaning of the cueca is modified after the defeat of the Chaco‚Äôs War (1932- 1935), where it loses its manly essence, and becomes the ‚Äúweeper‚ÄĚ


> Exposici√≥n fotogr√°fica ‚ÄúDesiertos andinos‚ÄĚ
Artista Bernard Francou.
25 de octubre al 4 de noviembre
Horarios de visita: 9:00- 12:00 /15:00 ‚Äď 19:00

> Presentaci√≥n del proyecto ‚ÄúUn bibliob√ļs para Cochabamba‚ÄĚ
7 de noviembre

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