Dance is a huge part of life. From the time you started walking, you have probably also been dancing! Young children will dance when they hear music, teens in many countries dance in social settings, we dance at weddings, and we dance at home when no one is watching! Besides all of the day-to-day activities we experience which include dance, it has been an important part of performance art throughout the centuries.
The Bolero is one of many dances which evoke romance and love in both music and movement. In this lesson, we will discuss the origins and development of the two types of Bolero - the Spanish and Cuban Boleros - including musical form, movement characteristics, and popularity in other countries.
Spanish Bolero: Drama and Technical Prowess
The origins of the Spanish Bolero are not completely clear, although many believe it was invented by Sebastián Cerezo, a dancer from Cádiz, around 1780 as a popular dance fused with classical ballet.
One of the defining characteristics of the different types of Bolero is the meter. Meter is what gives us rhythmic structure in music and provides what we recognize as the beat - the pulses that keep us dancing in time! A particular meter can be easily identified by the location of a recurring stressed beat or accent. If we feel an accent every three beats, we are in a triple meter (commonly seen on musicians' music as '3/4'), and if we feel an accent every two or four beats, we are in a duple meter (commonly seen in music as '2/4' or '4/4').
Spanish Bolero music is characterized by 3/4 meter, a moderate to slow tempo, and a repeating rhythmic figure under a beautiful, singing melody. It is split into three verses or 'coplas.' At the end of each copla, the dancers trade positions and perform a bien parado, or dramatic pose, with one arm crossed in front of their chest and the other over their head. The arms are thrown into place very quickly, accompanied by smoldering looks on the dancers' faces. Try it! Can you feel the drama and passion? Many people associate this dramatic pose with the Tango, since it is a more familiar and popular form today, but this pose is a characteristic of many Spanish dances - not to mention a lot of fun!
The Bolero is not just about drama though! Dancers must also play castanets and perform complicated steps. This combination of showmanship and technical prowess was perfect as the Bolero transitioned into the theater and other professional dance settings.
Popularity, attention, and technique continued to grow throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with the opening of several 'Escuela Bolera' schools across Spain. Dance companies around the world began to include a Bolero in their shows, especially in the mid-20th century. In recent years, the Bolero has become less common as Flamenco and Tango have increased in popularity.
Cuban Bolero: Sentimental Songs and Urban Pop
The Cuban Bolero developed independently from the Spanish Bolero, resulting in two fairly different styles. While both versions focus on the topic of love, Cuban Bolero is less dramatic than Spanish and tends to use more sentimental lyrics.
Cuban Bolero originated in the 19th century. It is thought to come from the trova musical tradition, a popular style during this time which used some characteristics of the Cuban Bolero, including a romantic singing style and a guitar as the primary instrument. The first Bolero is believed to have been written by Jose 'Pepe' Sanchez, a trova artist, around 1885.
Bolero music in the Cuban tradition contrasts that of Spain in some ways, although they do share some characteristics. Like Spanish Bolero, Cuban Bolero is played at a slow to moderate tempo, with rhythmic figures under a melody line. However, the Cuban style is in 2/4 or 4/4 meter instead of 3/4, utilizes multiple rhythmic lines instead of just one to support the melody, and typically has two contrasting sections instead of three. Singing is also more prevalent in the Cuban Bolero style than in Spain.