History of Bolero Dance
History of Bolero Dance History of Bolero Dance

Bolero is a genre of slow-tempo Latin music and its associated dance. There are Spanish and Cuban forms which are both significant and which have separate origins.

The term is also used for some art music. In all its forms, the bolero has been popular for over a century.

Bolero rhythm
The bolero is a 3/4 dance that originated in Spain in the late 18th century, a combination of the contradanza and the sevillana. Dancer Sebastiano Carezo is credited with inventing the dance in 1780. It is danced by either a soloist or a couple. It is in a moderately slow tempo and is performed to music which is sung and accompanied by castanets and guitars with lyrics of five to seven syllables in each of four lines per verse. It is in triple time and usually has a triplet on the second beat of each bar.

In Cuba, the bolero is perhaps the first great Cuban musical and vocal synthesis to win universal recognition. In 3/4 time, this dance music spread to other countries, leaving behind what Ed Morales has called the "most popular lyric tradition in Latin America".

The Cuban bolero tradition originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the 19th century; it does not owe its origin to the Spanish music and song of the same name. In the 19th century there grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar.

Pepe Sanchez is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed numbers in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these numbers are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and disciples wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed.

The Cuban bolero has traveled to Mexico and the rest of Latin America after its conception, where it became part of their repertoires. Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, most especially the prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández; another example is Mexico's Agustín Lara. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are listed under Trova.

Bolero fusions
José Loyola comments that the frequent fusions of the bolero with other Cuban rhythms is one of the reasons it has been so fertile for such a long period of time:
"La adaptación y fusión del bolero con otros géneros de la música popular bailable ha contribuido al desarrollo del mismo, y a su vigencia y contemporaneidad."
(The adaptation and fusion of the bolero with other types of popular dance music has contributed to their development, and to its endurance and timelessness.)

This adaptability was largely achieved by dispensing with limitations in format or instrumentation, and by an increase in syncopation (so producing a more afrocuban sound).

Examples would be:
- Bolero in the danzón: the advent of lyrics in the danzón to produce the danzonete.
- The bolero-son: long-time favourite dance music in Cuba, captured abroad under the misnomer 'rumba'.
- The bolero-mambo in which slow and beautiful lyrics were added to the sophisticated big-band arrangements of the mambo.
- The bolero-cha: many Cha-cha-cha lyrics come from boleros.

The lyrics of the bolero can be found throughout popular music, especially Latin dance music.

Ballroom dance
International ballroom
A version of the Cuban bolero is danced throughout the Latin dance world (supervised by the World Dance Council) under the misnomer 'rumba'. This came about in the early 1930s when a simple overall term was needed to market Cuban music to audiences unfamiliar with the various Cuban musical terms. The famous Peanut Vendor was so labelled, and the label stuck for other types of Cuban music.

In Cuba, the bolero is usually written in 2/4 time, elsewhere often 4/4. The tempo for dance is about 120 beats per minute. The music has a gentle Cuban rhythm related to a slow son, which is the reason it may be best described as a bolero-son. Like some 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 executed with a hip movement over the standing foot, with no foot-flick.

American Rhythm
In the dance known as Bolero is one of the competition dances in American Rhythm ballroom dance category. The first step is typically taken on the first beat, held during the second beat with two more steps falling on beats three and four (cued as "slow-quick-quick"). In competitive dance the music is in 4/4 time and will range between 96 to 104 bpm. This dance is quite different from the other American Rhythm dances in that it not only requires cuban motion but rises and falls such as found in waltz and contra body movement. Popular music for this dance style need not be Latin in origin. Lists of music used in competitions for American Rhythm Bolero are available.

In art music
Antonio Cabral Bejarano a bolero dancer
There are many so-called boleros in art music (i.e., classical music) that may not conform to either of the above types.
Ravel's Boléro is one of his most famous works, originally written as a ballet score for his patron Blanche Lapin or commissioned by Ida Rubinstein, but now usually played as a concert piece. It was originally called Fandango but has rhythmic similarities with the Spanish dance form as described in this article, being in a constant 3/4 time with a prominent triplet on the second beat of every bar.

Chopin wrote a bolero for solo piano (Op. 19), but its rhythms are more that of the polonaise. He was a close friend of Pauline Viardot, the daughter of the famed Spanish tenor Manuel García, who had introduced the bolero to Paris.
Debussy wrote one in La Soirée dans Grenada.
Bizet wrote a bolero in Carmen.
Saint-Saëns wrote a bolero, El desdichado, for 2 voices and orchestra.
Moszkowski's first set of Spanish Dances (Op. 12) ends with a bolero.
Lefébure-Wély wrote Boléro de Concert for organ.
The bolero from Hervé's Chilpéric (operetta) has been immortalized in Toulouse-Lautrec's famous painting.
Friedrich Baumfelder wrote a Premier Bolero, Op. 317, for piano.
Charles-Auguste de Beriot wrote a Bolero in his famous concerto "Scene de Ballet" for violin and piano (or orchestra).
In some art music boleros, the root lies not in the bolero but in the habanera, a Cuban precursor of the tango, which was a favourite dance rhythm in the mid-19th century, and occurs often in French opera and Spanish zarzuela of the 19th and 20th centuries.

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