Gif by ADRM-X titled “Dancing Sun”
Article title pilfered from the Pulitzer Prize winning play, “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.”
When the words “dancing” and “Chile” are in the same sentence, visions of David dancing Salsa onstage at the JAS Arena in Rancagua come to mind, thanks to Gladys’ brilliant recap. But I learned that while Salsa and Tango may be popular dances in Latin America, they are not the only options.
Like all cultures, Chileans engage in popular and traditional folk dancing to celebrate cultural rituals. Chile prides itself on a traditional dance called “la Cueca” which became the national dance in 1979. Done at weddings, parties, and family gatherings, la cueca is taught to kids in elementary schools in Chile. Dance is an important part of Chilean culture.
The Cueca dancers dress in traditional colorful costumes with men in cowboy hats, horse riding pants, short jackets and riding boots with spurs. Women wear flowered dresses with aprons. They wave handkerchiefs in the air, mimicking playful romantic courting between a hen and a rooster. The character of the male performer is the aggressor and the female performer is elusive and demure.
The choreography of the Cueca is what makes it so appealing. Clap, clap, step, step, swing that handkerchief over your head… don’t fall, step again, now circle your partner… forward, back and pretend you’re a hen…There is an imaginary circle with the male performer in one half and the female in the other. In sync with the background music, the dance always starts with the man extending his arm as an offer to the woman to dance with him. The dance partners stand face to face at a distance from each other. Before the couple starts to dance, they begin clapping their hands to the music. Subtly flirtatious, couples move around each other in circles but all of the flirting is done with eye contact and body movement. There is barely any touching in this dance.
La Cueca is performed at every important festival in Chile, especially on September 18, Chilean Independence Day. Elder Archuleta could not have missed native Chileans performing this dance on that day.
There are other dances that are specific to different parts of Chile. In the north they celebrate the Fiesta de La Tirana in which the dancers wear demonic masks. In central Chile la Cueca rules and different variations of it are done. In Santiago the the peasant style, ballroom style and the Cueca Brava dominate. In the south there are religious Mapuche dances such as the Nguillatún and the Machitún in which prayers are offered to the supreme god Ngenechen and to the sacred canelo tree. A little farther south, among fishermen and farmers, the steps are livelier, to shake away the cold. In the Costillar dance, two men compete, dancing around a bottle placed in the middle of the dance floor, and the one who kicks the bottle over is the loser.
In October 2011, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Chile celebrated it’s fifty year anniversary of formal missionary work. Members gathered at a week-long celebration to commemorate the event. They celebrated in part by doing traditional dances of the country. The dances start at 1:15 in this video and at 2:50 there’s even a dance that resembles the Mexican Hat Dance.
Video courtesy of Mormon Channel/YouTube
The Chileans are passionate, colorful and religious people. They show this in their music and dance which are both integral parts of their culture. And here comes that vision of David dancing Salsa again. Ay Carumba!