November 08, 2023 #ChileDiverse

La Cueca: A Mirror of Our Great Cultural Diversity

Whether it is danced in the north, the south, the countryside or the city, during the month of September it is almost impossible not to hear the stomping and clapping that always accompanies the cueca. Officially declared our national dance on September 18, 1979, its variants are as many as the diversity of people that inhabit our country.

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The Cueca Nortina, for example, has no text and is danced with a shuffling and sometimes jumping step. It is performed with instruments typical of the area, such as the quena, the bombo, the zampoña and the charango, and the dancers' clothing is influenced by Aymara dress.

Cueca Criolla is inspired by peasant life, but is composed in towns and cities; it uses instruments such as guitar, harp, tormento, accordion, and is sung in two voices. The Cueca Brava or Cueca Chora, is a type of urban cueca typical of Santiago and Valparaíso, which has a unique stamp because it deals with city and social themes, but also with love, and mixes instruments of different musical styles, such as piano, guitar, electric bass and even coffee cup cymbals. 

The Cueca Campesina is the most traditional. It is usually anonymous and sung by women with one or two voices accompanied by a guitar, or by payadores singing it with a Chilean guitarrón. There is also the Cueca Cómica, in which the dancers ridicule or imitate some of those present, and the Cueca Robada, in which the dancer "steals" the partner of another.

The Cueca Chilota is typical of the Isla Grande de Chiloé and is danced in celebrations and occasions where the community gathers, such as mingas or boat launches. 

Despite this enormous diversity, the structure of the dance is always the same: it is a fragment that has 52 bars that make up the so-called foot, in which couples usually dance in threes in a row. A true passion that every day has more followers and that even in times of pandemic does not stop being danced and spread, even outside our borders.

This is confirmed by Julie Cabrera, director of the Bafochi (Ballet Folklorico de Chile) academy and dance teacher of the professional cast, who has been teaching cueca classes to adults and children for a decade. "Every year BAFOCHI gives cueca classes for all people who want to learn or who want to reinforce certain concepts," she says. 

Julie explains that the slogan of the Bafochi academy is "Learn to dance Cueca in 3 classes", demystifying that this is an overly complex challenge. She says that for those students who had already incorporated the basic skills and were interested in continuing to deepen their knowledge of the dance, "Bafochi also had a second course available, in which they learned more advanced techniques such as different types of escobillados or zapateos".

For Julie, the revaluation of cueca, especially in recent years, is exciting. "The urban cueca, the cueca chora, had a lot to do with that. It is danced following the same frequency, the same structure, but it is not necessary to do the steps in such a precise way, the attitude is more important, it is a cueca achorada and that has made people love it again".

Another space that keeps alive the practice of the national dance is the traditional Casa de la Cueca, a space at Avenida Matta 483 built by musicians Pepe Fuentes and María Esther Zamora, which for almost 40 years has been dedicated to keeping our folkloric traditions alive.

"The cueca is soul, tradition and life. You can have a lot of sorrow, but you start to sing the beats of a cueca and it makes your heart and soul happy. Today it is a pleasure to see how hundreds of groups of young cuequeros throughout Chile keep this dance alive," says María Esther Zamora, renowned folklorist and current owner of the Casa de la Cueca.

Recently, the Casa de la Cueca was the stage chosen for the production of "La Cueca del Chileno en Todas Partes", a musical piece produced by Imagen de Chile that seeks to connect and reconnect with Chileans who spend these national holidays abroad. 

"We have had almost 40 years of tradition here on Matta Avenue. Today, cueca is in the place where it should always have been: the soul and mistress of our country," he adds.


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