SANTIAGO – The cueca, Chile’s most flirtatious dance, takes center-stage every September 18 as Chileans celebrate their Fiestas Patrias, two days of festivities that originally commemorated the founding of the Latin American nation’s first governing body.
Festival grounds are set up across the country and citizens come together to eat, drink and enjoy themselves.
The cueca, a courtship dance, attracts both young and old, who come together to woo one another or simply to have a good time.
Some dress up especially for the party, others wear regular clothes, but everyone ends up on the floor to dance the Cueca.
“They also dance to reggaeton, corrido and cumria, but the cueca is the queen of these fiestas,” Ramon Campos, director of the National Academy of Chilean Cueca, told Efe.
The dance starts with an invitation, traditionally a man would ask a woman to dance, with both partners holding a handkerchief in their hands.
The couple takes a short stroll around the floor before facing each other and completing a series of turns before reaching the so-called “zapateo,” when the pair strikes the floor with their heels.
“It’s a love encounter in which the gallant man courts, pampers and accompanies the woman, and the woman is seduced,” Campos said.
The dance has also kept up with modern times as although “usually mixed men and women couples dance together, nowadays two men or two women can dance it perfectly and there’s no issue,” the expert said.
The traditional dress for dancing the cueca is strict and has to be adhered to for exhibitions or official competitions, but during the Fiestas Patrias it’s not compulsory.
Costumes vary from region to region, but normally the man will be dressed as a huaso wearing the garments traditionally worn by Chilean horsemen, including a Cordovan hat, a shawl over the shoulders, a shirt, belt, straight trousers and cowboy boots with spurs.
The woman will traditionally wear a floral dress over a petticoat.
The music narrates country life, a theme that has evolved over the years to tell love stories and into cueca brava (brave cueca), which is a more urban variant of the genre.
The dance forms a strong part of Chile’s national identity, despite its uncertain origins that are rooted in a mix of dances from Spain as a result of colonization, like the Jota, and Africa, brought to the continent by slaves who arrived in Argentina and passed through Chile on their way to Peru to be sold at the beginning of the 19th century.
This is one of several theories about how the cueca came to be, and one which Campos supports.
He said African slaves were held in the Chilean city of Limanche before being sold and it was there where they would act out their ancestral dances.
“Chile was colonized by Spain and of course it (cueca) has characteristics of the jota and is also related to the zamacueca (the Peruvian dance that originates from Africa) but today cueca is totally our own dance,” Campos said.