By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
The cueca (a rhythm and its associated dance) is considered a family of musical styles with distinctive features traced to a common root. According to most musicologists, this family would include the different cueca styles (cueca paceña, cueca cochabambina, cueca chuquisaqueña, cueca tarijeña, cueca potosina and cueca chaqueña) from Bolivia (where it is usually called “cuequita boliviana”), the cueca cuyana from Argentina, and in Chile, the cueca nortina (northern cueca), the cueca from the central region (cueca campesina, cueca brava or urbana, cueca larga, cueca criolla, cueca porteña, cueca robada, cueca valseada) and the cueca chilota (from the Chiloé Island).
While its origins remain uncertain, currently the most accepted theory is that the cueca derives from the colonial zamacueca, which arose in Peru as a fusion of both Spanish fandango and jota dancings with criollo and African influences. Composer José Zapiola Cortés believes that the zamacueca would have passed to Bolivia and Chile between 1824 and 1825, where its name was shortened and where it continued to evolve. Shortly after, around 1840, the cueca went back to Peru where it was nicknamed the “chilena” and mixed with the zamacueca. After the War of the Pacific (Spanish, “Guerra del Pacífico”, also known as “saltpetre war”, which took place from 1879 to 1883 and where Chile fought against Peru and Bolivia), Peruvians rejected the term “chilena” on obvious grounds and the story goes that writer Abelardo Gamarra renamed the rhythm as “marinera” to honour Peru’s naval combatants.
Musically speaking, the cueca is played in 6/8 or 3/4 time and the general structure is divided into three major parts that may be different in each style. In Chile, the cueca is played by various local instrumental ensembles: from brass bands and tropas of zampoñas (“lakitas”, which consist of identical melody-playing panpipe types) in the Chilean Big/Far North, to guitars, charangos, bombos (drums) and quenas (notched flutes) ensembles, groups of guitarrones, guitars, harps and tambourines, and soloists on piano, harp, mandolin or guitar, as well as classic ensembles (string quartets), philharmonic orchestras and rock/jazz bands featuring electronic instruments.
The associated dance is a lively courting dance. Though dancers never touch, they still maintain contact through facial expressions and movements while waving a handkerchief in the air. The dance also include such figures as whole and half turns, zapateos (shoe tapping) and floreos (a series of embellished movements, e.g. skirt swirling).
There are different cueca dancing styles. In the Chuquisaca department (Bolivia) the dance is performed in a more relaxed and “valseada” (“walz-like”) way, while in Chile and Argentina the approach is much livelier and “saltada” (jumped). The dancers’ clothes change from region to region: in La Paz department (Bolivia) they wear traditional Andean costumes while in the south of Chile they wear Chilean huaso clothes: hat, short jacket, riding pants, boots and spurs for men, and long floral dresses with an apron for women.
The cueca has been Chile’s national dance since 1979.
Song. Radio broadcasting Chilean cuecas.