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History of Cumbia Dance: Feel the Music and Style of Colombia

History of Cumbia Dance
Ever seen anyone perform the Cumbia dance? If yes, then you must agree that it's mesmerizing. This article traces the history of this beautiful dance form.
Mukulika Mukherjee
Last Updated: Feb 16, 2018
Colombia is a beautiful South American country bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Amazon rainforests on the other. Its rich culture has shades of Italian, Spanish, American, and African influences. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is where the Cumbia originated as a form of music. Gradually, a graceful dance form evolved around this music and came to be known as the Cumbia dance. Today, it is the national dance of Colombia.
Origin ...
The Cumbia dance originated around the late 17th century, as a courtship dance. It all began with the African slaves who were brought in by the Spanish to the Caribbean coast. These people made the most of the occasional opportunities to celebrate, and it was on these days that they had fun, dancing to the beat of drums, claves and other percussion instruments. This deep-rooted African influence in Cumbia music exists even today. The word 'Cumbia' originates from the word cumbe, the name of a Guinean dance form. Let's have a look at the history of the dance and its evolution, through each of its aspects: dancing attire, style, purpose and the use of musical instruments. This article focuses on how each of these elements evolved with time, to make the Cumbia dance, what it is today.
Cumbia dance originated as a dance of courtship where young men and women dressed up mostly in white. While the women wore long, graceful, layered skirts, the men wore sombrero hats. The men also carried bundles of candles which they had to give their ladies to hold, during the course of the dance. They also carried a red handkerchief or scarf to wave in the air or simply wrap it around their necks. Today, the attire is much brighter with shades of vibrant colors in it.
The Music ...
Although Cumbia music was originally African and was brought in by the slaves from African countries who landed up on the coasts of Colombia during the Spanish colonization, with time it was influenced by other forms of music. As the African natives got acquainted with some of the local ethnic groups such as the Kogui, the Kuna and the Amerindians, their music gradually got incorporated into Cumbia. In addition to this, some Spanish influence also crept in. Thus, along with the wooden drums that had always been an integral part of Cumbia music, came instruments such as flutes, guitars, lutes and the gaita. The modern Cumbia, which is an amalgam of three different styles of music, uses many other instruments such as clarinets, saxophones and synthesizers, among others.
The Style ...
The Cumbia dance style has come a long way from the days of its origin to the modern times. This dance form initially began as a dance of courtship and had young couples tapping their feet to the beat of the drums. The couples form a circle and each pair moves to the center of the circle, in turns. Once at the center, the woman waves her long skirt and the man hands over to her the candle he had been carrying. The Cumbia dance steps follow the rhythm of the beats, which is 4/4. The man dances along, occasionally waving his sombrero hat in the air, trying all the while, to win over the woman. Today, this dance is also performed by groups of women.
Global Recognition ...
Deemed as a dance form not appropriate for people coming from the higher strata of society, till around the middle of the 20th century, the Cumbia dance is a recognized dance form today, loved by people all over the world. This has been made possible by certain famous names in the world of music, who have contributed a lot in bringing the Cumbia before global audiences. Musicians from Colombia, including Pacho Galan and Lucho Burmudez, were responsible for popularizing Cumbia in the Americas. Today, the Cumbia has reached countries like Mexico, Panama, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and the United States.
So this was about the history of the Cumbia dance. The Cumbia is an amalgam of three distinct forms of music: African, Amerindian and Spanish. Experts believe that all major forms of Latin music and dance had its roots in the Cumbia, and this includes the salsa and the meringue. Today, Cumbia is performed at carnivals in Colombia and other parts of South America and is an integral part of Colombian culture.
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