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!
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!
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.
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!).
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!