DANCES OF THE AMAZON REGION OF COLOMBIA

  1. Amazon Region

The Amazon region of Colombia is comprised of the departments of Amazonas, Caquetá, Guainía, Guaviare, Putumayo, and Vaupés, located in the southeast part of the country.  It is known as the “lungs of the world” for being the largest source of oxygen on the planet.  The most prominent dances of this region are: la ñaca llacta (indigenous Kichwa dance) and la guaneña.

LA ÑUCA LLACTA (indigenous Kichwa dance)

This dance originates from the indigenous Kichwa peoples that are found throughout the area from Chile to Colombia.  The indigenous communities consider cultural performances to be without borders, including dance and song.

LA GUANEÑA

This is a traditional song from the lands south of the Colombian Andes, corresponding specifically to the department of Nariño.  It is a war tune, joyful yet nostalgic.  The use of the term “guaneña” quickly became generalized to refer to any willing and independent woman.  Originally, the women of the town that accompanied the royalist troops—partners, singers, dancers, and cooks, all who did not hesitate, in any given moment, to take up a rifle for combat—were denoted “guaneñas.”  The original version of this musical composition dates back to 1789, when the pastuso musician Nicanor Díaz and his guitarist companion Lisandro Pabón formed the most renowned duet of their time.  Díaz was greatly in love with a beautiful ñapanga (pastusa woman), who because of her strong character had the nickname La Guaneña.  Today, this traditional dance is sometimes performed by dance tours and other cultural groups.

DANCES OF WESTERN PLAINS REGION OF COLOMBIA

  1. Western Plains Region

This region is located in the department of Meta and the territories of Arauca, Casanare, and Vichada.  Its race is a mix of the mestizo race, indigenous and black.  Its dances are specific and authentic.  The main dances of this region are: el joropo and la vaca.

JOROPO

El joropo has Spanish ancestry in its music and its costumes, and it is danced throughout the plains region.  The word joropo comes from the Arab word xorop, meaning “syrup.”  The man is the one who takes the initiative in this dance and marks the steps to be performed, while the woman is passive, following him to the beat and rhythm of the music.  They always remain holding hands or embracing each other.  The joropo is a popular dance and can often be viewed as part of cultural performances, local festivals, and dance tour groups.  Some steps are: valsiao (waltzing), escobillado (brush step), and zapateado (shoe tapping).

LA VACA (“the cow”)

This dance represents one of the plains attractions, i.e. the bullfighting and cattle raising.  This dance is lesser-known, is slower than the joropo, and is danced in pairs.

DANCES OF THE PACIFIC REGION OF COLOMBIA

  1. Pacific Region

The Pacific region is located on the western fringe of the departments of Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, and Nariño.  African ancestry makes the black race predominate in the region, characterized for being cheerful, kind, and festive.  Some of its dances are: el currulao, la contradanza, la jota, and el abozao.

CURRULAO

El currulao is a dance that came from Africa of a loving type where the man dances in front of the woman in gallantry.  Formerly it was performed by slaves in the dark of night in order to avoid being seen by their masters; because of this, they used torches or candles in this dance.  Today, the torches have been replaced by handkerchiefs that are moved with the beat to count the rhythm.  The movements are agile and strong.  The dance is developed based on small circles, figure-eights, quadrilles, advances, retreats, and turns.  The basic step of the currulao is accompanied by an inward movement of the handkerchief and is performed by advancing the right foot, moving the left foot to meet the right, then again moving the left foot forward and following with the right.

In 2015, the currulao was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity along with other marimba music from Colombia’s Pacific region, and the currulao is often performed by dance tours, cultural groups, and other groups at local festivals.

CONTRADANZA

This dance has the original name “country-dance” and originated in Scotland.  Later it arrived in Spain and the conquistadores brought it to America.  In Colombia, it became known by 1810, acquiring a different structure due to black influence.  Some elements are European such as the molinetes (windmills), arm positioning, venias, figure-eights, and turns; and the dancers are always holding hands, whether in groups or in pairs.

JOTA

The epicenter of the jota dance is the department of Chocó, although it originated in Spain.  Its theme is love where the man and woman face each other.  This is a group dance and is always performed in squares using crawling, kneeling, greetings, and face-to-face positioning.

ABOZAO

This is a typical dance and rhythm of Chocó.  It originated in the basin of the Atrato River as a preferentially instrumental expression, and it is part of the festive repertoire that is performed with the chirimía (a type of wind instrument).  The choreography is drawn as a game of mutual incitement between the man and woman in each pair, ending with an erotic face-to-face.

The abozao is a loose couples dance with free and individual movements.  It has no preset figures nor coordination of body movements; they are performed spontaneously, emphasizing the movement of the hips, shoulders, and knees, with body tilts and rotations, twists, and rapid turns.  Couples tend to stay face-to-face, although sometimes the men circle their partner without taking their eyes off of the woman’s body movements.  Since the content is markedly erotic, all of the gestures are inciting and provocative.

DANCES OF THE CARIBBEAN REGION OF COLOMBIA

  1. Caribbean Region

This hot zone was influenced by the Africans and the Spanish and overflows its extravagance and joy in its extensive territory, from the Guajira Peninsula to the Gulf of Urabá.  The dances of this region are: la cumbia, el bullerengue, la puya, el mapalé, el fandango, el garabato, and el cumbion.

CUMBIA

The word cumbia comes from the word cumbe of African origin.  The theme of this dance is the black man’s fight for the indigenous woman’s love, and the woman dresses in a colorful pollera (long skirt) and carries candles in her right hand, while the man dances gently next to her.  The woman supports the soles of her feet, slides smoothly with gentle movements, and has the bust and head up.  The man lifts the heel of his right foot and firmly plants the whole sole of his left foot, approaching the woman without touching her, and then distancing himself from her candles.  Cumbia is also considered a popular dance in many other Latin American cultures and is often taught as part of dance camps and classes around the world.

BULLERENGUE

This is a dance performed exclusively by women, which highlights the greater realism of the African ancestry through the percussion of drums, clapping, and choral singing characteristic of its performance.  It seems to have arisen as a cultural reaction within a ceremonial context of the Maroon communities, probably in the Palenque de San Basilio extending through other regions of the Caribbean coast where the Afro-Colombian population was significant.  Basically, it is a ritual dance performed at the special time when young women reach puberty.  The bullerengue symbolizes feminine fertility, although it is not discounted that in colonial times it may have also had funeral connotations.

Over time the dance became a type of street party, danced by a mixed couple.  Little literature exists about the time when the dances of African origin ceased to be ritual expressions and became profane dances.

LA PUYA

This is a street dance known in the departments of Cesar and Magdalena since 1885 as a regional expression of a festive mood, with moderate and rhythmic hip movement.  It is danced with loose couples.  Both the men’s and women’s attitudes are lively.

EL MAPALE

Mapalé is a Caribbean coast dance of marked African descent.  It is also the name of a fish and a drum.  It is said that this dance was born as a song and dance of fishermen’s work that was performed accompanied by drums as evening entertainment upon finishing their workday.  Observing it today, everything indicates that it was transformed from a work-related activity to an erotic ecstasy.  The form in which it is danced today differs from what is narrated by historians.

EL FANDANGO

The origin of the fandango dates back to the coexistence in the 16th and 17th centuries of the pre-Columbian, Spanish, and African cultures; it is curious to note that the word fandango is the fruit of not only Andalusian roots but also African (“fundanga”) and indigenous roots, of the Náhuatl and the Quechua.  In Colombia, it has the greatest presence on the Atlantic coast.  It is a popular street dance and refers to the act of dancing in carnivals accompanied by non-traditional wind instruments.

GARABATO

This dance of Spanish origin represents the struggle between good and evil, between life and death.  Couples dance with large movements and are influenced by death, which is the main character.  In this fight life finally wins and a celebration is performed with dance.

EL CUMBION

This is a more joyful type of cumbia with faster movements, dominant along the entire Atlantic coast.  Its origin is undoubtedly African and is a core musical expression representative of Afro-Colombian culture.  The costumes are attributed to the Spanish.

In the Andean region, there are different kinds of folkloric dancers that are indigenous and Spanish fusions.  Some are danced in pairs and others in groups.  The most representative dances of this region are: el bambuco, el torbellino, el guabina, el pasillo, and el bunde.

BAMBUCO

The theme of the bambuco is based on love; it is the process of peasant romance expressed through movement.  The most characteristic figures are: the invitation, which represents the protocol part; the coqueteo or flirtatious DANCES OF THE ANDEAN REGION OF COLOMBIA

  1. Andean Region

stepping, which represents the dialogue that leads to identification and understanding; and the pursued woman, whom the man pursues manifesting his brute force, and the woman pursues asking for clarifications and kneeling.  It is the repentance, the apology and forgiveness, and the religious aspect that invite union and happiness.  The planimetric structure of this dance is circular and predominated by figure-eights and circles, combined with crosses, advances, and retreats.  In the stereometry, men and women take the same step predominated by the low escobillado (brush step).

When the moment in the music arrives, the man sets out to “make the woman fall in love,” but the woman stays silent, so the man uses the half or pointed step in which he puts one foot behind the other in place and dances backwards on his toes.  He taps his foot in place to call for the woman’s attention and plays with the handkerchief.  He taps again with full intensity, and she finally begins to dance in place; then the man approaches, also dancing, and plays with the handkerchief, the zapateo (shoe tapping), and the crossing; he goes, and she comes.  Next, he jumps, kneels on the ground, and with his hand held high flutters the handkerchief.  Meanwhile, she spins around the man and plays with her petticoats.  Then they step forward and backward in a coming-and-going motion, and they dance face-to-face, each making a circle.  Finally, he taps his foot, kneels down on one knee, calls her with the handkerchief, and later throws it; she approaches, and finally she distances herself once more.

This dance is one of the more well-known dances of Colombia and is often performed by cultural groups and dance tours.  The principal steps of the bambuco are: figure-eights, coqueteo (flirtatious stepping), escobillado (brush step), balseo (waltzing), codos (dancing with elbows touching), and turns.

EL TORBELLINO

This is one of the most representative dances and folkloric songs of Boyacá, Cundinamarca, and Santander; the tune usually accompanied Boyacense pilgrims on the way to their sanctuaries as well as wedding dances, patron saint festivities, and other festive environments of the towns and townships of the Cundiboyacense highland.  It is the tone with which countrymen express in couplets the simplicity of their reactions to love, disappointment, religious sentiment, and the varied landscape and cold air of the Cundiboyacense plateau.  The tune, in its expressions of “mesmito,” “sumercé,” “queré,” “truje,” “vide,” “gancia,” “ansia,” “paqué,” expresses the survival of the most typical old Castilian language, in the style of Hispano-colonial descent.

GUABINA

La guabina is a dance of the mountainous region of the country.  There are guabinas of Santander, Boyocá, Tolima, and Huila, and the theme is sad, nostalgic, romantic, and loving.  This is a loose couples’ dance; they make rows, crosses, and escobillados (brush steps).  The man coaxes the woman throughout the dance, pursuing her and flirting with her with his gaze.

PASILLO

This dance has European roots where waltzes were ballroom dances, and in Colombia it dates back to the time of the Colony adapting to the local context and receiving influences of other dances such as the bambuco.  Some of its steps are: toriao, paseo, valseo (waltzing), coqueteo (flirtatious stepping), turns by the woman, and lifting of the foot.

EL BUNDE

The Tolimense bunde is a mix between bambuco, torbellino, and especially the Huilense guabina.  It is a particular piece of the famous musician Alberto Castilla, baptized in song form for its meaning of “mixture and confusion of people, scramble of diverse things,” which is the second meaning of the word bunde, after firstly being a tune, song, and dance typical of the Pacific coast.

SANJUANERO

This is the typical folkloric element of Tomila Grande (Tomila and Huila), which rejoices with special ardor the celebrations of San Juan (Saint John) and San Pedro (Saint Peter).  In the musical folklore, the Sanjuanero is a rhythmic mix between the bambuco and joropo, and in its performance the Tolimense tambora (two-headed drum) intervenes, which brings the joy to the opitas (people of Huila) in their festive traditions when they sing their famous “¡Eeeeeee, San Juan!”

About the Author-

Miguel Dumont

I am a dromomaniac as I have been travelling since I am 18 years. I have travelled around more than 50 countries around the world and lived in 14 different places. Also I am a product manager for digital companies and I have been the last 2 years working on travel solutions. The last one is www.hiretravellers.com