La Jota. The jota is a quick Spanish dance with a ¾ rhythm yet some insist that a 6/8 time is better adapted to the poetic and choreographic structure
The jota is a Spanish folk dance originating in Aragon in the north of Spain which dates back as far as the 18th century and is the national folk dance of Aragon. Jota is derived from Latin and means ‘jump’ which describes the lively, bouncy movements to the dance.
Many of the people of Aragon are of Iberian descent and this part of the country has great Moorish influences hence some say that the dance is, in fact, of Moorish origin. Nevertheless, there are many different variations of the dance depending on the region such as in Valencia, Castile, Navarra, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and Murcia.
The dance is visual more than anything with dancers wearing traditional, regional costumes and the music is accompanied by castanets and generally a male and female couple dancing. In formal settings the jota is more of a theatrical display with dancers wearing more extravagant costumes. However, such things are not used in less formal, everyday settings.
The songs are based on diverse themes such as patriotism, religion, sexual exploits, love and marriage and are intended to arouse a sense of local identity and cohesion for the community. Funerals and wakes are an opportunity to dance the jota as it is often performed in watching the dead. The patriotic Aragonese believe that when a girl is dancing the jota she is able to capture the heart of any man. The dance has reached as far in the Spanish-speaking world as Paraguay and in the city of Pilar, many people join in the dance at the city’s annual festival.
The jota is a quick Spanish dance with a ¾ rhythm yet some insist that a 6/8 time is better adapted to the poetic and choreographic structure and the steps are similar to the waltz however with much more variation.
Different variations of the dance have different styles, for example the Castilian version uses guitars, bandurrias, lutes, dulzaina and drums yet the Galicians use bagpipes, drums and bombos.
Originally, the Aragonese jota had highly complicated dance steps, however the Castilian variation is much quicker but with a calmer feel. The Philippine jota was another variation during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines. It was performed by Spanish men and women in social gatherings such as weddings and the Filipinos adopted this dance forming various versions combining both Spanish and Filipino choreography and music.
Several non-Spanish musicians have incorporated the jota into their music such as the French composer, Georges Bizet in his famous Spanish opera Carmen.
Like any dance, the jota has gradually developed over time and still continues to change, however this is mainly due to the dance’s complexity. Towards the end of the 19th century, the jota had become much more choreographed and it has even been used in movies and festivals. There are many modern varieties also which are performed by numerous folk groups.