SANTIAGO – Known in Chile since 1824 and still danced on squares, events and gatherings around the country: the cueca is Chile’s national dance. A huaso and a china dance around each other in circles. If anything is symbolic for Chilean culture, it is the cueca.
A man in traditional clothing, or huaso, approaches his female counterpart, or china, and as she takes his arm they take a walk around the dance floor. Facing one another, as the vocals start to sing, they start their dance in circles around one another waving their white handkerchiefs in the air. It is a dance of conquest and elegant flirting.
“Laying eggs in front of a rooster”
The origins of the Chilean cueca are not well established, although there is a consensus in that it has an arabic-andalucian background. Cueca filters down from the word Zamacueca, described by Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna as being the “aggressive state the hen takes on when laying her eggs in front of a rooster.”
In 1979 the dance of the Cueca was proclaimed the national dance of Chile. It is said to be a representation of the energetic dance a rooster makes to courtship a hen, and the defensive nature the hen resembles. The huaso, is a countryside man, while the countryside woman is nominated china. The dance developed and traveled through the country in the centers for entertainment and popular parties. The sound of a guitar, a piano, and sometimes even an accordion represent the main instruments of the dance.
It is structured in 14 verses that last less than two minutes in total. The song speaks about topics such as geography, history, flirting and some are even romantic. throughout the country small variations of the dance can be expected. There is the cueca brava for example, that has more structure and technique than others. On the other hand, the cueca norteña is known for not having lyrics, and enjoyed only by its instruments.
Although they have their differences, the dance always consists of phases that the dancers go through in less than two minutes. Starting off with the huaso picking the most beautiful china, and offering her his arm. As the music begins, they make a circle around the dance floor and settle in front of each other waiting for the vocals.
Once the vocals start, the dance will consists of turns around each other and small circles made with the hand to wave around the handkerchief. A constant chase of the huaso to the china who runs away is represented by his hard stepping on his heels. At one point, she will get closer elegantly and flirt a bit by raising her skirt slightly with her left hand while keeping up the handkerchief with her right. The dance ends with the music, and the huaso kneels down on one knee in front of the china.
The cueca is seen the most during the fiestas patrias in September, although there are places in Santiago and other big cities where it can be found everyday.
Maria Paz Rodriguez Zaninovic. Born in Santiago, Chile and moved to the US at a young age. Here she began noticing the differences between societies and her curiosity grew about how people think, how countries work, and how culture affects lifestyles around the world. Although professionally a dentist, her passion for writting and photography has always been a part of her everyday life.