Dance Encyclopedia: Bolero


Speaking of bolero, you can mean two different dances that have the same name. In the first case, this is a Spanish dance, performed in restrained rhythms, but at the same time full of passion and inner strength. In the second case — a Cuban dance, slow, graceful and romantic

The Spanish bolero is known from an earlier time, which may indicate the influence of this dance on the emergence of the Cuban bolero, although it is believed that the Cuban dance during its appearance included elements of the danzón and habanera.

History of occurrence

According to the most common version, the bolero owes its appearance to the Spanish dancer Sebastiano Cerezo and has been known since about 1780. The dance was performed in pairs to the accompaniment of a guitar and a drum. Often the dancers sang, without fail accompanying the dance and singing with the sounds of castanets, creating a unique rhythmic pattern of the bolero.

The dance was inherent in the grace of movement. There were many whirling, which, according to one version, could give the name to this dance: “volar” in Spanish — “circle” in common parlance turned into “bolar”. Particular attention was drawn to the hands of the dancers: the women’s performed flexible, expressive, smooth movements, while the men’s were faster and more precise, similar to sword strikes.

In the 19th century, the bolero became so popular that it was not only performed in aristocratic circles, but also acquired elitism, entered the theater stage and became part of classical ballet. Professional training of the bolero was carried out according to the rules of ballet, its elements were complex pirouettes, jumping movements, circling and turns.

As a musical genre, the bolero has attracted the attention of many composers. The most famous piece of music is Ravel’s Bolero, but in Spain it is not very accepted, as it does not coincide with the rhythmic structure inherent in national dances. But when Bronislava Nezhinskaya staged a bolero to the music of Ravel on the stage of the Paris Opera House in 1928, this ballet was recognized by the International Association for the Development of Dance as a masterpiece of ballet art. The same event influenced the spread and popularity of the bolero in America.

What is a bolero?

The musical size of the Spanish bolero is 3/4. During its development, the three-part was not always inherent in this dance, the parts could be divided in different ways. The classic bolero is characterized by a moderate, restrained pace. Castanets are an obligatory attribute of this dance. In the folk version, the dance is performed by one solo couple, several couples participate in professional performances.

The dance is divided into five parts: paseo (Paseo), traversion (Traversias), differentiation (Diferensias), again traversion and finale (Finale). The first part is an image of a walk («pazeo» — from the Spanish «rasear» — «to walk»). In other parts of the dance there is a lot of improvisation, pirouettes and whirling. Between the parts there is usually a kind of pause.

Cuban and Dominican boleros, similar to Cuban ones, have a bipartite rhythm with syncopations and a slow, sensual performance.


Types of bolero and their features

spanish bolero

In different regions of Spain, there were variants of the bolero, which had their own characteristics. Andalusia was characterized by a moderately fast pace and performance solo or in pairs; in Castile, the bolero was played much more slowly; in Leon, couples danced in 3 rows, and in the Balearic Islands the dance was performed by a man and two women. All varieties of bolero were united by common features: gracefulness of movements, slowing down of step and expressive pauses, expression of postures and gestures, which even led to comparison with pantomime. Bolero was characterized by «noble» features that distinguish it from the stormy flamenco style.

Cuban bolero

The Cuban bolero has been known since 1883, when the Tristezas bolero by José Pepe Sanchez appeared. Influenced by the African style, the Cuban bolero has a double rhythm. The Cuban bolero has almost no resemblance to the Spanish dance, it is close to the rumba in terms of performance features, it is distinguished by its special grace and is performed to slow, beautiful, romantic melodies. It is not for nothing that in the 20th century the Cuban bolero was called the «King of Hearts», because it is this dance that creates a lot of opportunities for expressing romantic feelings through movements. Bolero contributed to the emergence in Cuba of songs called Feeling, which means «feeling».

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