Cueca: Where the Hen Rules the Roost?

Cueca, the name of Chile’s national dance, is danced merrily around the country for September 18, Chile’s national day of independence. In order to prepare for any dashing suitors that shimmy their way over to me, I trotted off to investigate everything a girl needs to know about cueca.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pasten

Cueca is thought to have African roots and started to gain momentum in Chile in the early 19th Century. Since then, cueca has been through numerous evolutions and reinventions. From its early working-class roots to its status as the national dance, the history of cueca weaves a fascinating story. Even though nowadays Chile’s musical tastes tend to gravitate towards rock n’ roll, for many, cueca is the dance that encapsulates the spirit of Chile.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pasten

Although Cueca was re-implemented into popular culture by the late dictator Agosto Pinochet as a forced symbol of the State and Chilenidad, it was quickly reclaimed back by Chilean women, as the dance of the people. The women whose husbands disappeared under Pinochet's rule protested by dancing Cueca, but they danced italone; without their beloved sons, husbands, fathers and brothers. Know as La Cueca Sola, they danced at public events and outside government buildings, in order to denounce what happened to their loved ones and set cueca free- back into the hearts of Chileans.

Known as the dance of courtship and seduction, cueca relies heavily on traditional male and female gender roles. Meeting my cueca mentor Dafne Klenner, it was easy to be mesmerized by her outfit. Wearing a bright pink dress, that was frilly and slightly garish; she looked like a doll. Nahum Caro on the other hand, Dafne’s male partner, was sporting a much more masculine attire; a shirt, poncho, cowboy hat, boots and rather menacing spurs.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pasten

Given a special handkerchief, or pañuelo, to twirl in the air, the dancing commenced. While I was taught how to dance dainty steps like a demure lady, Nahum tried to woo me with some rather aggressive stomping that left him bright red and out of breath. “This mirrors the rooster and the hen” Nahum revealed. The man (or rooster) spends his time pursuing his fair lady, pulling out all kinds of moves to get her attention. The lady (or hen) spends her time sizing up the rooster, turning her nose up at him if he fails to impress.

Lingering looks and polite smiles are about as sexual as it gets, but if fancy footwork turns you on, then cueca is the dance for you. Even a little shake of the hips is a big faux pas; Nahum waggles his finger and warns, “this is cueca, not salsa”. Everything is said with the eyes in cueca because as Dafne tells me “traditionally there is no touching in cueca because the female is aware that her father might be watching”.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pasten

Despite Nahum’s repeated emphasis on the woman being in control, the man still undoubtedly displays an aggressive, persistent energy. To anyone who has been chased around a bar on a Friday night, by a not-so-dashing man, you might just empathize. However when asked if cueca was macho, Nahum leapt to defend it. “No, absolutely not. The woman is in control; the man pursues the woman and although he is aggressive, he just wants to get her attention”.

After several rather energetic classes in the art of cueca, I triumphantly manage to stumble through the whole dance. Whilst the professionals make it look elegantly easy, cueca requires skill and a whole lot of flair. Nevertheless girls, don’t let that put you off; take yourself off to a cueca party, be brave and let yourself be wooed and dazzled.

For private or group classes with Nahum and Dafne email:

Regular cueca parties are held at:

Restaurant Huaso Enrique
Maipú 462

Club Social y Deportivo Comercio Atlético
San Diego 1130 esq. Av. Matta

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