The Cueca is the national dance of Chile. For several weeks of every year, leading up to the eighteenth of September, you will hear the music and find Chileans dancing everywhere - in parks, in city squares, on beachfront promenades -
The story of the Cueca is the courting ritual of the rooster and the hen. The gentleman, his lady on his arm, leads her in a promenade around the dancing ground. As the music swells, she spins loose. Handkerchief in her upraised hand, she flutters and flirts, looking everywhere but at the gentleman who preens and stamps, bobs and swoops, circling her in a fusillade of intricate footwork, until at last, as the music comes to a close, he kneels on one leg before her on the ground, with the lady's foot planted firmly and triumphantly upon his raised knee.
The Chilean cueca is the courtship dance par excellence. It reflects the national pastime of flirting and double entendre… with comments on how my foot stamping was going, and to make sure I danced in only one fonda! How do national dances evolve, I wonder…does the cueca have anything to do with the matador and the bull, stamping his feet, poor thing, with no idea of the outcome… Flirtation with danger is the name of the game, and some of us do get out of practice! Just like in the animal kingdom, it is the woman who leads the poor huaso by the nose, for all his posturing and foot stamping (zapateo) – she is the hunter, drawing him in with her flirtatiousness, hypnotizing him until she decides to put an end to the circling and close in for the kill. Literally and figuratively, she draws the poor fool to his knees and puts her foot elegantly down to deliver the final blow.
Dancing in the Caribbean is a more uncensored affair – and I’ve forgotten what I did know and could never perform the contortions they get up to these days, x-rated to boot (no pun intended). I had never considered myself a prude, but Carnival in Port-of-Spain has been an eye-opener. I joined the band with my Trini friend for J’ouvert morning, 4am to sunrise, covered in mud, oil, paint, dancing in costumed rags behind our band of “devils” in the street, to party, “jam”, “wine” and tramp (“chip”) to calypso music, together with the other participants in the band, whatever their colour, class, creed or country: all you need is a cup of rum in one hand and rhythm in your soul. Carnival is all so well-organized, with bands, costumes, booze, bathrooms, buses to rest in, food, music, a three-day orgy, bacchanalia galore. There must be something about the spring, the changing of the seasons with the sun’s traverse that brings out the pagan in us.