Bolero, the slow, romantic dance accompanied by music with a slow tempo was born in Spain in 1780. Its music is slow and dreamy and the dance is powerful yet slow and smooth, a clean version of the Fandango, with touches of dreamy romance. Its popularity as a beautiful romantic dance brought it out of Spain and crossed the Atlantic to finally reach Cuba. However it is said that the two forms of Bolero, the Spanish and the Cuban, developed distinctly and separately from one another. From its infancy in Spain the dance had a 3/4 time beat. The one that developed in Cuba had a 2/4 time. Eventually the beat was changed to 4/4. The beat is a slow Rumba rhythm, laid with Spanish vocals and percussion so subtle that silently beckons dancers to take to the dance floor. The beautiful melodies associated with Bolero music led to it to be called “The Cuban Dance of Love.” Bolero reached the shores of the United States around the middle of the 1930s. It is not as popular as the Swing or the Waltz, but it is still part of the repertoire in American ballroom dance competitions.
There are two separate forms of Bolero music and the dance associated with it. The differences might be subtle but these are still otherwise regarded as having disjointed origins.
Sebastiano Carezo, a Spanish dancer, who in 1780, invented the dance style that was eventually called the Bolero. The Spanish Bolero dance is a compound of other dances including the Sevillana and the Contradanza, and is danced either solo or with a partner. It has a relatively slow pace or timing, and the music is sung, usually with guitars and castanets as accompaniment. Five or sometimes seven-syllable lyrics are normally written for each of the four lines that comprise each verse. The 3/4 beat has an irregular rhythm (a triplet) placed on each bar’s second beat.
Cuba’s second largest city and a very important seaport is Santiago de Cuba and this is where the Cuban Bolero began to take shape towards the last 25 years of the 19th century. Despite the Spanish version being around longer, the Cuban Bolero was not based on the Bolero dance and music that originated from Spain.
It was also during that time that an assemblage of musicians from Santiago de Cuba earned their living by singing accompanied by a guitar, which was recognized as the trova style, with the musicians being called trovadores. One of them was Pepe Sanchez, the trova founder; who was also credited for inventing the Cuban version of the Bolero. He never had any formal training and relied heavily on his natural musical ability when composing musical numbers. He never bothered to write down his compositions. It was a pity because most of his work had been lost, but around two dozens or so still remain because his friends and followers had the foresight to put his compositions on paper. Sanchez became the influential example and mentor for the succeeding great trovadores.
After its creation, the Bolero from Cuba crossed the waters and reached historic Mexico as well as the majority of Latin American countries where the dance and the music were quickly adopted by the locals. Rafael Hernandez of Puerto Rico and Mexican Agustín Lara were some of Bolero’s leading composers. Although the music became popular, some of the composers of Bolero who hailed from Cuba were more known to be part of the Trova style rather than a regular Bolero composer.
The Bolero is considered the first great Cuban musical and vocal synthesis to gain universal recognition, and has been dubbed the “most popular lyric tradition in Latin America.”
Cuban Bolero has often been combined with other Cuban tempos to create new musical combinations. This could be seen as the reason behind the Cuban Bolero’s success in remaining visible and popular for so long. The synthesis of the music of Cuban Bolero with other types of similarly prevalent dance music has led to the development of other genres as well as its own.
The Cuban Bolero’s adaptability is due to the lack of limitations in its format or the use of different instruments. The music is fairly flexible, and it could easily be changed just by expanding its syncopation or through the addition of more Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Bolero rhythms were incorporated in the danzon, which yielded the danzonete. They were also present in Bolero-Son, often mistaken for the Rumba and in Bolero-Mambo, which included slow lyrics in arrangements for the big-band sound used for Mambo. Bolero rhythms were also added to create Bolero-Cha, where the lyrics of the cha-cha-cha were borrowed from several Bolero songs. Other Bolero lyrics found their way into popular Latin American dance music, extending the life and influential reach of the centuries-old Bolero.
An adaptation of the Bolero from Cuba could be seen regularly in Latin ballroom dance competitions, but it often confused or very closely associated with the Rumba. This is because it has the same roots as the Rumba, and also has a very slow Rumba-style rhythm. Although it is not usually considered to be one of the main ballroom dances like the waltz and the swing, it is still fairly popular. This started in the first part of the 1930s when an all-encompassing phrase was required for the marketing of music from Cuba that was gaining popularity. People were getting to favor the music although they were still unfamiliar to the different types of music coming out of the island country of Cuba.
The Bolero belongs to the list of competitive dances in the category of American Rhythm ballroom dance. This Bolero dance is known as an “American Style” dance because the initial step is usually executed on the primary beat before it is held on the second beat and followed by two steps done on the third and fourth beats. The timing count is describe as an initial slow beat and hold followed by two successive quick beats, which is dance parlance in called slow-quick-quick.
When performed in competitions, Bolero music with a 4/4 time is used, which normally falls in the 96 to 104 beats per minute range. The American Style Bolero dance differs from other dances in the American Rhythm style because it is the only one that must have the Cuban rhythmic hip sway. At the same time it must also have also include the CBM (contra body movement in preparation for turns), typically found in Tango, as well as the falls and rises that characterize the Waltz.
The music that accompanies this style of Bolero dancing does not need to be Cuban or Latin; however a majority of the music used for the dance is arranged using Spanish vocals with a subtle percussion sound in the background played at a 20 to 25 measures per minute tempo.
In addition to being closely associated with the Rumba, the Bolero is also considered a modification of the Fandango, where only the gracefulness of the dance is retained and all the objectionable parts left out. It is even said that even the members of the clergy and the strict and upright judges could be enticed to dance the Bolero, since the movements are simple, easy, and quite wholesome
The original Spanish Bolero was a 3/4 dance, done in triple time and usually had a triplet on the second beat of each bar. The Cuban Bolero, on the other hand, was originally 2/4 time, but is now also commonly written in 4/4.
The tempo for the dance is around 120 beats per minute, and the music has a gentle Cuban rhythm. Much like many other Cuban dances, there are three steps to four beats, with the first step of a figure on the second beat, not the first. The slow (over the two beats four and one) is done with a hip movement over the standing foot, with no foot-flick.
The dance involves a left-turning step based on a slip pivot, which is the rotation of the body on the ball of the supporting foot, which creates either a forward or backward pivot. As mentioned before, the Bolero has rises and falls like those found in the waltz but in the Bolero, only the body rises and not the feet. This, combined with the slip pivot and the slow music, gives Bolero slow and smooth movements with a look and feel that is very romantic. The foot patterns are very similar to the Rumba, hence the common confusion between the two, but both dances have a very different feel once performed. Rumba music is also frequently misconstrued as Bolero, but each has a different tempo.
The music that accompanies the Bolero is slow and romantic, giving dancers the opportunity to cling closely to their partners or make big, flashy movements. When dancing the Bolero, clothing is not an issue so long as the outfit allows the dancer to move without restrictions, although it still has to follow a studio or competition’s dress code. Dance shoes are also recommended to easily glide across the dance floor. Using shoes not designed for dancing could greatly impair movement and could also lead to injury.
The Bolero beat is counted as slow-quick-quick. A slow count lasts for two beats while a quick count lasts for one beat. On each step, the dancers must put their full weight on the moving foot. Furthermore, the Bolero is done in a closed dance position, meaning the woman places her right hand in the man’s left and the partners’ hands are held at eye level. The man places his right hand on the woman’s left shoulder blade, just under her left arm, and the woman places her left hand just behind the man’s shoulder. The man and the woman each have different steps in the Bolero.
For the man, he first stands on his right foot and should take a step with his left. On the slow count that comes next, the man takes a long sweeping step to the side with his left foot, and then steps back with his right foot on the next quick count. On the last quick count, he should then replace his weight on his left foot. The next sequence of slow-quick-quick counts will be the same as the one before, only this time the man would use his right foot to begin. The sequence is repeated afterwards for the duration of the dance.
For the woman, it’s basically the same as the man’s and she would be mirroring his moves. She will first stand on her left foot and will take a step her right. On the slow count, she will move her right foot in a long, sweeping step to the side, then step forward on her left on the first quick count then place her weight back on her right foot on the next quick count. Like the man, the next sequence will be the same as the one before only this time the woman will use her left foot to begin.
The Bolero has traditionally been associated with romance and Spanish love songs, making it a very sensuous dance. The rise and fall movements are reminiscent of Waltz, while the twisting contra-body moves are just like the moves found in Tango. The hip sway and other movements of the body are usually found in most of the Latin dances, making Bolero a dance that employs a variety of techniques, an advanced dance form, in fact. Just like the majority of Latin American dances, partners dancing the Bolero display a deep understanding of each other, which is almost akin to expressions of love and romance.