People dancing Cueca in 1906.

Cueca (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkweka]) is a family of musical styles and associated dances from Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. In Chile, the cueca holds the status of national dance, where it was officially selected on September 18, 1979.[1]


La Zamacueca, by Manuel Antonio Caro.

While its origins are not clearly defined, it is considered to have mostly European Spanish and arguably indigenous influences. The most widespread version of its origins relates it with the zamacueca which arose in Peru as a variation of Spanish Fandango dancing with criollo. The dance is then thought to have passed to Chile and Bolivia, where its name was shortened and where it continued to evolve. Due to the dance's popularity in the region, the Peruvian evolution of the zamacueca was nicknamed "la chilena", "the Chilean", due to similarities between the dances. Later, after the Pacific War, the term marinera, in honor of Peru's naval combatants and because of hostile attitude towards Chile, was used in place of "la chilena." The Marinera, Zamba and the Cueca styles are distinct from each other and from their root dance, the zamacueca.

Another theory is that Cueca originated in the early 19th century bordellos of South America, as a pas de deux facilitating partner finding.[2]

The usual interpretation of this courting dance is zoomorphic: it tries to reenact the courting ritual of a rooster and a hen. The male displays a quite enthusiastic and at times even aggressive attitude while attempting to court the female, who is elusive, defensive and demure. The dance often finishes with the man kneeling on one knee, with the woman placing her foot triumphantly on his raised knee.

In Bolivia, there are many variations throughout the different regions. Cueca styles of La Paz, Potosí and Sucre are the elegant and static versions, whereas in Cochabamba and Tarija the style is much livelier and free. The same could be said with the music where in different regions rhythm and speed slightly differ amongst the regions. While dancing, handkerchiefs are used by both male and female dancers by twirling over the head. It is said the twirling of the handkerchief is a way to lure the woman.[3]

Clothing and dance

The clothing worn during the cueca dance is very traditional Chilean clothes. They wear black costumes or dresses. The men in the dance wear the huaso's hat, shirts, flannel poncho, riding pants and boots, short jacket, riding boots, and spurs. That information is debatable. Women wore flowered dresses. Cueca dancing resembles a rooster-chicken relationship. The man approaches the woman and offers his arm, then the women accompanies him and they walk around the room. They then face each other and hold their handkerchief in the air, and begin to dance. They never touch, but still maintain contact through facial expressions and movements. The white handkerchief must be waved; this writer has seen Chileans using paper handkerchieves from a box rather than dance the cueca without one.(

Basic structure

Youth dance group, Santiago.

The basic structure of the cueca is that it is a compound meter in 6
or 3
and is divided into three sections.

Some differences can be noticed depending on geographical location. There are three distinct variants in addition to the traditional cueca:

The cueca nowadays

Currently, the cueca is mainly danced in the countryside, and performed throughout Chile each year during the national holidays in September 18 eve. Cueca tournaments are popular around that time of year.

In Bolivia, there are lots of different Cueca styles according to the region: Cueca Paceña, Cueca Cochabambina, Cueca Chuquisaqueña, Cueca Tarijeña, Cueca Potosina y Cueca Chaqueña. What they have in common is their rhythm, but they differ quite a lot in velocity, costumes and style. The Cueca styles of La Paz, Potosí and Sucre are the elegant ones, whereas in Cochabamba and Tarija the style is much more lively.In Bolivia, it is usually called "Cuequita Boliviana"

In Argentina, there are many ways of dancing Cueca. Cueca is mostly danced in the northern and western Argentine provinces of Mendoza, Chaco, Salta, Jujuy, Catamarca, La Rioja etc. Each Argentine province has its own style and way of dancing Cueca.

See also


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  2. Journeyman Pictures reporter Mark Corcoran's documentary with Mario Rojas and Pinochet-era victims' families on YouTube (please disregard political connotations)
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