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Bolivian Dance


Bolivians love to dance. Traditional dances performed in annual carnivals and festivals are known to last for hours on end, without stopping. Most dances, which have been passed down and performed for centuries, celebrate religious events or help to tell the story of a culture or community. Others are simply for fun. Regardless of whether you're a hip-shaking salsa expert, or more of a wallflower, the world of Bolivian dance has got something for you.


Most dances take place during annual celebrations and can be linked to specific groups or communities. Perhaps the most famous dance is the huayno, an ancient Andean highland dance during which couples dance arm in arm in procession. The dancers wear extremely colorful and ornate costumes, so heavily decorated that they can often weigh as much as a teenager! The morenada is a dance thought to originate with the black slaves brought to Bolvia to work in the mines and metal production centers. The dancers wear dark masks that often have long, thirsty tongues spilling out of them. Another favorite is the kullawada, a dance hailing from the Lake Titicaca region, depicting the proud legacy of weaving in the region. The list of indigenous dances in Bolivia is endless, and way too long to fit here.


Comparsas are large groups of dancers who typically perform in front of an audience. Their dances are choreographed to specific music and the dancers wear specialized costumes. There are a number of comparsa dances that draw from the colonial period, in which the natives parody their European masters, dressing as old men with glasses and long beards. The characters Doctoricitos and AquiAqui are good examples. Other dances portray ancient indigenous activities such as weaving, hunting or working in the fields. Some dances are significantly more influenced by the Spanish presence in Bolivia. The cueca, for instance, is quite similar to the Spanish fandango. The cueca dancers perform a sort of courting ritual where the male repeatedly attempts to win the affection of the female, who dances around the man waving her scarf in the air. In the end, the woman finally succumbs to the man and they dance together as spectators clap along to the music.


If you head to a discoteca you'll likely find that the most popular dances aren't Bolivian at all. Inspired by their Latin American neighbors, Bolivians love cumbias, salsas and sambas—just to name a few. Sign up for dance lessons in the major cities if you want to keep up.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: Bolivian Art and Bolivian Architecture.

By Emma Mueller
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry...
15 Jul 2009

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