Cueca in Chile. The Cueca in Chile has been transformed in modern times and now serves to exemplify a nation proud to celebrate its cultural traditions.
Officially declared as the national dance of Chile in 1979, the Cueca continues to enjoy great prestige and widespread popularity as an expression of cultural identity not only within Chilean borders but also in neighboring Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. Performed all year round but most prominently during Chile’s Independence Day celebrations on September 18th, the passionately-performed and usually partnered Cueca dance style captivates spectators with its intriguing zoomorphic story and carefully-choreographed movements. Although once negatively associated with former Chilean leader Pinochet’s 17-year-long regime, the Cueca has been transformed in modern times and now serves to exemplify a nation proud to celebrate its rich cultural traditions.
Great uncertainty surrounds the origins of the Cueca Chilean dance with some experts claiming that African slaves brought it to Latin America while others maintaining that it is an alternative version of Peru’s colonial Zamacueca dance style and yet others believing that it derives from Andalucía’s Fandango.
Presented as a reenactment of the courting ritual between a rooster and a chicken, the Cueca revolves around the desperate efforts of the male partner to seduce the defensive female by performing enthusiastic, and occasionally even aggressive, dance movements.
Broken down into nine distinct parts from the initial “Invitación” to the “Vuelta Final”, the traditional Cueca takes the admiring audience on a skillfully-executed zoomorphic, courting journey. Beginning with the male’s (the rooster’s) simple arm offering gesture to the female (the chicken), the Cueca is a dance of conquest and resistance through primarily semi-circle patterns. Until the dance’s finale the couple never touches but maintain contact through varying suggestive facial expressions and actions. From lively clapping to animated handkerchief waving to the loud stomping of the “rooster”, which indicates the dominance of the male and his success in finally winning over the “chicken”, the Cueca is captivating to watch as the energetic pair move around each other in an almost hypnotic fashion and impress spectators with their adept movements.
Unsurprisingly given the vigor of the dancers, Cueca music is equally lively. Split into three different sections known as the “Cuarteta”, the “Sequidilla” and the “Remate” to reflect the changing mood of the dance, the traditional musical accompaniment combines two singing voices with the diverse, yet harmonious, sounds of the guitar, harp, piano, accordion and tambourine. However, the traditional Cueca dance is joined by three further geographically-determined versions which slightly vary their choice of instruments, musical emphasis and song lyrics. Whereas the northern Cueca omits the singing aspect of the spectacle and prides itself on its use of brass instruments, the urban Cueca, also known as the Cuecachora or bravo, presents lyrics more closely associated with city life and the ChiloéCueca of the Chilean archipelago gives much greater prominence to the role of the vocalist.
Respectively attired in vibrantly-colored dresses and the clothing of a huaso (Chilean countryman), including the chupallo hat, flannel poncho, riding pants and boots, the female and male’straditional country-style costumes not only remind visitors of the importance of agriculture to Central Chile’s past and present economy but, more importantly, draw attention to a people honored to publicly display their uniqueChilean national identity.