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Colombian Culture: Dance

As long as there has been music, there has also been dance, and as with Colombian music, Colombian dance evolved from Old and New World traditions, culminating in a variety of unique and colorful styles of movement and dress.


Indeed, one cannot talk about Colombian dance without its accompanying costumes. For most dances, the women are barefoot, wear a short-sleeved blouse, and most importantly, wear a floor-length, multi-pleated, flowing skirt, the edges of which are gracefully held and swayed by the dancers, both in their pas-de-deux with their male partners, and when they dance as women together in a group.


The bambuco is identified as Colombia‚Äôs national dance. Its music incorporates Andean and African melodies, as well as European waltzes and polkas, but with a ¬ĺ meter and whose music is sung by two voices. There are six varieties of this particular courtship dance, all of which the groups of pairs move serenely and suggestively, and in which the men discreetly pursue the women, and they coquettishly respond.


The second most famous Colombian dance, as with the most famous genre of Colombian music, is cumbia. African in its origin, cumbia, a word that translates into revelry or festival, was born in Colombia’s fields and plantations around Cartagena as a recreational dance for slave workers. Consisting of five key steps, the cumbia features a seductive motif in which the man beseeches his beloved, and which she in turn alternately flirts with and snubs him. The woman traditionally holds a cluster of candles.


The sanjuanero is another courtship dance, from Colombia’s valley region. Dancers on occasion extend a scarf between each other as an index of the man’s longing to win the object of his affection. Beginning with a series of overtures by the man toward the woman, the dance then proceeds into an ornamental series of turns, with steps backward and sideways, in which the couple come close then pull apart. It is a variation of the bambuco.


Abozao, from Colombia’s Pacific Chocó region, is a more spontaneous dance, with less defined choreography in which moves are improvised. A group dance featuring many pairs, it can also be a courtship dance. It has a noticeably sensual element, with the woman teasingly moving her hips, provoking the man to beg for more, which she does not offer.


Mapalé is Colombia’s sexiest dance, as well as its most overtly African, with movements that can be traced directly back to Guinea. It is one in which the woman does indeed respond to the implied proposal in the man’s physical movements and gestures. Popular along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the dance is named after a fish in the Magdalena River and the dancers perform with a distinctly rippling cadence meant to evoke fish.

In this dance, the woman often wears a short grass skirt, while the man is always shirtless. Both thrust their hips to a fast beat made of drums, handclaps and a collective vocal chant of ‚Äúmapalee√©, mapalee√©!‚ÄĚ


Other notable traditional dances include joropo, with roots in flamenco and Andalusian dances; pasillo, adapted from Austrian waltzes, but with faster, more vertiginous gestures and smaller steps, which gave the dance its name; and bunde, a religious and ceremonial dance that is often performed only by women or only by men, and whose music is entirely percussive, made up only of hand slaps, drums and vocal chants.


The most famous modern dance in Colombia is salsa, with Cali being the capital. Here, both the music and dance have a faster rhythm than in Cuba or Puerto Rico. In recent years, Colombians have taken home the grand prize in international salsa dance competitions.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Colombian Culture: Comedy, Colombian Culture: Literature, Colombian Culture: Museums, Shakira, Colombian Culture: An Introduction, Colombian Culture: Art, Colombian Culture: Music, Colombian Culture: Theater, Cumbia and Colombian Culture: Cinema.

27 Sep 2011

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