Choro el Piernal de Cueca Chora

La Cueca is cool.
Forget the whole
huaso bit and the women in the silly square dance type dresses, we’re talking la Cueca urbana, la Cueca brava… la Cueca CHORA!

Quilombo Ediciones 2009

Quilombo Ediciones 2009

After years of having gym class-style dancing shoved down their throats at any and every cultural event, there’s a quickly growing movement among Chileans to take back the “real” cueca. The cueca that always existed.
The cueca that the  “rotos chilenos” proudly danced in the chinganas, fondas, and ramadas where people from the city and the port went to let their hair down, swill some chicha, hoist a few pipeños, sing a bit, and dance a lot. And that dance was the cueca. A dance that can take flirting to the edge of social mores—without touching—and that when done well, eye-to-eye and with just the right whisk of the pañuelo, turn of the head, tilt of the hip, and stomp of the foot, can bring a flush to the cheeks and set the heart aflutter.

The problem is that until just recently, that spirit of the pueblo cuequero was all but lost, buried under a 1960s wave of imported rock and then appropriated (and toned down) by the military right in the 1970s-80s in an attempt to impose, instill, and imbue “true national values” with an official and state-sanctioned version that involves a manly poncho-wearing huaso patrón who flirts with and wins over a demure and oddly dressed woman called a “china”… Yeah… exactly… No wonder no one I know ever wanted anything to do with it!

La cueca chora. Illustration by Alberto Montt

La cueca chora, step by step. Illustration by Alberto Montt

But there’s been a movement of late to take back Chile. To take pride in the real Chile. To take a stand and raise the pañuelo.
¡Éjale compadre!, put those hands together chiquillos, clap-clap, clap-clap, and tiki tiki tiki
Get a guitar, a pandero (tambourine), and a voice and you’re good to go.
Find an accordion and there are definitely some hot times ahead. And there you are…. The cueca is hot and Chile is cool! ¡Chile es choro and la cueca es más chora aún !

Okay, so there’s a lot more to be said about how I feel about Chile in general and the cueca in particular… but all this has been a long-winded wind-up to the real topic of this post, a new book on how to dance the cueca chora.

Editor Camila Rojas (left), author Araucaria Rojas (right) © MSnook 2009

Editor Camila Rojas (left), author Araucaria Rojas (right) © MSnook 2009

Araucaria Rojas, daughter of the Gran Guaripola himself Dióscoro Rojas (drawing a blank? You’ve got homework: go study up at the Guachacas web site) and who is now finishing up a degree in history, just launched her book “Piernal de Cueca Chora” a guide to everything you need to hold your own amongst the choros, from the color of your pañuelo to just how high to hike your skirt.  ‘Piernal,’ in case you’re wondering, is one of those words invented by necessity because a ‘manual’ refers to something done with the hands, but in this case it’s the legs (piernas) following all the steps that are so explicitly described in words and images (illustrator Alberto Montt of “Dosis Diario” fame weighs in with his signature style). Cousin Camila Rojas edited the book for her newly-formed publishing company Quilombo Ediciones and came up with some pretty clever touches like resolving the twisted spine problem (English books write the title down one side of the spine and Spanish books, the other) by wrapping the book—along with a nifty stamped pañuelo—in a box that allowed her to print the spine in both directions! (¡Bien hecho Camila!).

MST_9556-Monica Perez

Chilean journalist /Guachaca Queen Mónica Pérez

The Santiago launch was held last night (Sept 1) at the 100% chileno bar Piojera (could there ever have been any other option?) with a dedication by the paternal Guaripola and the reigning royal Guachacas Queen Mónica Pérez and King Ricarte Soto, among others, followed by a few patitas de cueca, and a healthy round of terremotos and pichanga. Be sure to check out Eileen’s  bearshapedsphere version of the evening—she can even show you food & drink pictures because by that time I was much too busy sipping and munching to take pictures. An excellent way to kick of this month of fiestas a la chilena!

Araucaria and Dioscoro Rojas dancing cueca

Araucaria and Dióscoro Rojas dancing cueca

Araucaria and Dioscoro Rojas (© MSnook 2009)

Araucaria and Dióscoro Rojas (© MSnook 2009)


33 responses to “Choro el Piernal de Cueca Chora

  1. oh cool. I loved that video, glad you got a clip of it. And as always, we see and hear totally different things even when we’re sitting next to each other. I’ll be interested to see if we get some cueca classes this weekend or not. And can we just briefly talk about how cueca means underwear in Portuguese and how very unfortunate that is?

    Love the pandereta, it’s my favorite! Now if only I could make my fingers move like that…

  2. Yeah, I really liked the video… So glad I found it!
    I had no idea, but just looked it up, and my Portuguese dictionary does in fact confirm that “cuecas” (with an s, which most Chileans would not pronounce anyway) means underpants or “slip”–which you know and I know mean 2 entirely different things here and in the US…
    And yes, I am determined that I will indeed master the fine art of the pandero one of these days!

  3. What an informative, fun post. I didn’t know much of that about the cueca. I love the “piernal”–very clever and the video is great. I’ll have to add that book to my wish list.

  4. Thanks! Glad you liked it. And they showed the video at the launch and I just happened to stumble upon it on youtube by chance looking for cueca chora videos!
    This is a topic near & dear to my heart… there will definitely be more!

  5. Thanks! A great and informative read. I’m no Fred Astair but I like to shuffle around on a dance floor sometimes. Nice summary of the history of cueca, brava! brava!

  6. Hi John-Well when you’re back in Chile you’ll have to take a hop over to el Huaso Enrique and join the fun! Will you be thinking of us on el 18?

  7. Excellent report, you didn’t miss a thing of that colorful evening.


  8. It was a fun night, wasn’t it? But I definitely need to study that book!

  9. It looks like you’ll be quite busy in the next two weeks.

    Great pictures, by the way.

  10. This is awesome…..! I love all the cuecas, but how fun to have a book about the cueca chora. Do you know where the book can be bought?

  11. José Ignacio- yep gotta get my dancin’ shoes ready! Thanks (about the pictures)

    Tyffanie- I bought my copy ($9.900) at the book launch, but you could contact Quilombo (the link is in the post) to find out where it’s available.

  12. Not to mention that your partner also must be up-to-date in chilean dances. Cueca at least. Feet lightness is also a plus.

    For Tiffanie, here’s the URL of Quilombo’s blog:

    You wont have any trouble in finding the email addresses of all the Quilombo team there.

    Yeah, excellent pictures. Loved the one of Dióscoro hugging Araucaria after the dance. Just Gorgeous.
    ¿Do you have a Flickr account?

  13. Well we’re working on the light-foot part! He’s Chilean, but never learned the cueca, but really wants to now!
    And thanks- I also really liked that father-daughter shot (both of them actually)
    And no, I don’t have a flickr account… thinking about it, but no so sure… and besides, I’m saving my best shots for a book I’m working on!

  14. Now you have a complete manual, so you’re both set. I understand him, because, as you may know already, chileans love to talk about cueca, some may sing it or know some of the lyrics, but only a few good men now their way in the dance floor. Best of luck for both of you.

    And if I were as talented as you with the camera, I too would hesitate to make my photos public. Also I’ll be looking forward to see your book. I’ll just wait for the update of the Quilombo page in Facebook then, and hope for good pictures there.

    Best wishes.

  15. Thanks… and thanks again… whether its with twirling pañuelo in hand or ducking behind the camera… I won’t be far from the dance floor! And I’ll certainly be following Quilombo Ediciones… thanks for the Facebook tip… and I’d be more than happy to share some shots from the event!
    And when my book comes out, it’ll certainly be shamelessly splashed all over Cachando Chile!

  16. Yeah, I will be thinking of you on the 18th. I was married in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. My wife and I went through a military administration. A document stamped here, another stamped at another location… stamps stamps stamps. Finally a dry ceremony with a dour military bureaucrat, but when he left the house the party began and we’re still going strong!

  17. The bureaucracy hasn’t changed much–still a lot of go here, go there, stamp this, stamp that… though fortunately a lot of things can now be done on-line (instead of in line!)
    Congratulations on keeping the long-term, multinational, multi-country party going so long! And be sure to raise a glass, offer a brindis (toast) and maybe even do a cueca or 2 on the 18th!

  18. Hi, i was looking the show in live and i think was cool …

  19. Well, I’ll sure be loking forward for those pictures, I care a lto for those girls (Camila, and Paula, part of the Quilombo team).

    Also looking forward to when your book comes out, I’m sure it’ll be another contribution to reflect accurately the chilean culture, made by a foreign person of course, the best historians of our nation.


  20. Great- I’ll send some pictures to Camila (who I first met in the book publishing program at UDP!)
    I wouldn’t say that foreigners are any better historians, but we do have a different way of looking at things… sometimes you need to be on the outside to see what’s going on on the inside! Not that we always get it right, of course… but that’s a project for all of us… and one of the best parts about a BLOG, for example, is that everyone gets to contribute and therefore we all get a bit closer to getting it right!

  21. Well, I must confess that I’m also part of the book publishing program at UDP, that’s why I care about Quilombo, Camila, etc. Isn’t this Piernal a proof that the program actually works, haha?

    That different way of looking at things makes them better. Foreigners usually see things (the bad ones, usually) that chileans often choose to turn a blind eye. Don’t get me wrong, here we have a lot of people that raise the practice of self examination almost to an art or sport. But the fresh outside look is always welcome and necessary. And in that number, I include your blog, a useful tool in the endless endeavour of “getting it right”.

  22. You’re in the program too? I KNEW your name sounded very familiar!!
    In certain aspects, people are people everywhere on Earth… some see all black, others see all white, and what we really need is the ability to see all the matices–the many shades of gray in between.
    And yes, there’s an awful lot of “navel gazing” going on here- but oddly, it’s usually a means of trying to see how Chile stacks up to other countries… I’m more interested in seeing Chile in its own right, just the way it is!

  23. Yes, maam, I’m still there, struggling.

    True is what you say, indeed. There’s people everywhere, and, as you may have heard here, “en todas partes se cuecen habas”.
    Well, considering the excess of self/country absorption, our insular character pops up, among other “feathers in our cap”, that are also more used for laughing at ourselves, instead of correcting wrongdoings. I settle with just looking and catching glimpses, and trying to get things done, as pompous as it may sound, 😉

  24. Hmmm… I’m not so sure I see Chileans laughing at themselves very much… it seems much more like a love-hate relationship… Chileans can be extremely critical of their country/culture and then turn around and be extremely proud and defensive…
    Maybe we need a few more Coco Legrands and Eileen Shea’s around here!

  25. Maybe the laughter comes out of the mockery. Sure, the chilean reflection is a bipolar one.
    Coco and Eileen are nice and friendly mirrors. Others are black.

  26. I’m not crazy about dark humor, which is too often at the expense of someone else. I prefer the attack of laughter that comes with the surprise of recognizing oneself in the mirror for the ridiculousness of some trait or other that we all know we have.
    It’s important to take oneself seriously… but not TOO seriously!

  27. Well, here humor is at somenone’s elses expense. A performance of those clowns on the bus is proof of that. They laugh at people i their faces and then ask for money.
    Coco and Eileen are great in the examination, the clinic eye, and then the impecable trnasformation of those observations into witty and inavoidable routines, routines we can identify with, which is the key of their success, they show us how we are, instead of making people uncomfortable.

  28. My point exactly… they (Coco and Eileen) make us laugh at ourselves without making anyone feel like an idiot. To me, that is true humor. The other is just a cheap shot.

  29. Couldn’t agree more. That’s why I love Coco, makes laugh, and also puts in the table situations we all can relate.
    It takes real talent to do that. Te other is just being a smiling bully.

  30. Pingback: Fuente de Soda: Schop, Cortado, Completo, Cueca Brava & Buddy Richard… « Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  31. Pingback: Chile’s Fiestas Patrias: Fondas for September | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

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