All Music Starts With the Dance
Dancing is the most visceral and vital source of Peruvian coastal music. Like every aspect of Peruvian society, the dances of the coast represent a perfectly syncretic dynamic. Through each coastal dance (vals criollo, festejo, lando, marinera, zamacueca, tondero and zapateo to name a few) an elaborate system of rules, beats, timings and aesthetics become apparent. Dancing in Lima is much like ballroom dancing abroad. Each style is a world onto itself and requires much study and appreciation. In Perú, dance traditions from Spain, Africa and Andean cultures have magically and seamlessly come together. Peruvian dance culture in Lima thus manifests itself as a unique masterpiece of movement.
The video that follows features three important coastal dances which are further discussed below.
Zapateo is a dance style associated with criollo music. Zapateo, from the word zapato (shoe), stands for shoe tapping, and zapateo criollo is often referred to as “Peruvian tap dance”. Dancers engage in complicated footwork using hard soled shoes. Zapateo originated on the coast of Peru when, in the 16th-19th centuries, Spanish colonizers brought thousands of African slaves to these communities. Distinctive styles of dance bloomed from a mixing of African rhythms with Creole, Spanish Rooma, European, and indigenous Peruvian rhythms. Traditionally, only men danced the zapateo, and it became a competition between two dancers, with the emphasis placed on the complex footwork. Some of the rules to this competition include requirements such as five footwork patterns (“pasadas”) performed in a specific order and then in reverse, finishing off with a footwork roll (“redoble”). Other contestants are not allowed to repeat pasadas that were already performed so they must improvise and create their own unique steps. The Zapateo in Lima is typically danced to the sounds of the guitar. Today women also perform zapateo, starting at very young ages as “payitas.”
Tondero is a style of dance and music from the north coast of Perú. It is said to have originated as a mixture of Spanish, Gypsy and African slave expressions. Significantly, the tondero as performed today adds the Andean musical tradition within the clear sentiment of the Afro-Peruvian musical aesthetic. It’s Gypsy influence emerges in its tragic lyrics, as well as the choreography that resembles the popular cockfight. The choreography, music, and use of handkerchiefs is similar to the marinera, the “national dance of Peru.” Unlike the marinera, however, both dancers perform with bare feet. Depending on whom you ask, the use of the handkerchiefs in the tondero signifies the flying of errant birds, which is one of several possible themes for this dance.
Marinera is a dance from the coast of Perú, commonly referred to as the “national dance of Perú.” This is by far one of the most popular traditional dances in the country. It was adapted from an earlier dance form called the zamacueca, although there are many theories on the origin and history of the dance. What is certain is that the dance acquired its current name “marinera” in 1879. During this time, Perú and Chile were at war, and the dance was renamed after the Marina de Guerra del Peru (the navy) and in honor of Peru’s most important naval hero Admiral Miguel Grau. The marinera can be described as a blend of Spanish, Moorish, Andean, and Gypsy musical and aesthetic traditions. This dance is elegant and romantic and symbolizes courtship through the flirtation of the couple, and, like the tondero, uses handkerchiefs. The marinera consists of intricate choreography, with characteristic steps such as the “coqueteo” (with the couple dancing very closely together, although never touching) and the complex “cepillado” footwork (“brushing”). There are different styles of marinera according to region: the south coast (marinera “costeña”), the highlands (marinera “serrana”) and the north (marinera “norteña”). In the city of Lima, the marinera is typically danced to the sounds of the cajón, guitar and voice.