With its melody and meter determined by the text or the lyrics, the cueca is a song most often interpreted by two voices and accompanied by a guitar, harp, piano, accordion and tambourine.
Any of these instruments may be absent, except the guitar, which is essential, just as the public’s clapping, which stimulates the couples who dance in the ramadas during the Independence Day celebrations, or in the folk peñas, gathering places for singing, dancing and traditional foods.
The cueca has been Chile’s national dance since 1979 and is expressed in various ways in different areas of the country. There is the northern cueca, the cueca chilota, the fierce cueca or the cueca chora, the urban cueca and the traditional cueca, danced in the central zone. In the latter, a cowboy, or huaso, and a peasant woman, or china, are dance partners. The choreography is a representation of the romantic flirtation and conquest.
It is said that cueca comes from the word clueca, meaning a hen that about to lay eggs, which would mean that the dance is symbolic of the mating ritual between rooster and hen. The lyrics tell an anecdote about a fight in a bar or at a rodeo, the typical celebration with mounted huasos rounding up a steer in the rodeo ring.
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