The History Of Modern Chile, Mirrored In Dance Augusto Pinochet integrated the musical genre cueca into his regime. For decades, Chileans associated the national music and dance with a dictatorship known for killing thousands of people. But today, young people in Santiago are recovering this music and making it their own.
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The History Of Modern Chile, Mirrored In Dance

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The History Of Modern Chile, Mirrored In Dance

The History Of Modern Chile, Mirrored In Dance

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Seventeen years of dictatorial rule left deep scars on Chilean society, and they show up in unexpected places. Augusto Pinochet integrated the musical genre cueca into his regime. For decades, Chileans associated it with his murderous reign. Today, Santiago youth are making cueca their own.

Reporter Annie Murphy has more.

ANNIE MURPHY: Paty Garcia and Claudia Mena are pretty typical Santiago youths. They wear black jeans and Converse sneakers, have wild haircuts and love rebellious music.

Ms. PATY GARCIA: (Through translator) The words are really powerful. The way one dances is freer. The way you sing is more aggressive. Young people really identify with this.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. GARCIA: (Singing in foreign language)

MURPHY: But Paty Garcia isn't talking about rock or punk. She's talking about the cueca, a traditional dance that dates back to colonial times. Cueca began in the countryside and spread to cities like Santiago.

Ms. CLAUDIA MENA: (Speaking in foreign language)

MURPHY: Paty's friend, Claudia Mena, who's 18, compares cueca to the American blues. It's about a necessity to express yourself, she says, to talk about love and to tell stories about the lives of working-class people - sometimes even about prison.

(Soundbite of music)

MURPHY: Santiago cueca had its golden age in the '30s and '40s. The best music came from the roughest neighborhoods, and bordellos were even a popular venue.

Rodrigo Torres is an ethnomusicologist at the University of Chile. He studies cueca.

Professor RODRIGO TORRES (Ethnomusicologist, University of Chile): (Through translator) The cueca is a dance about the romantic conquest between a couple. The dance resembles the courtship of a rooster and hen. While dancing, the couple moves in circles around each other, and the most important point of contact is the eyes and the gaze.

(Soundbite of music)

MURPHY: But Augusto Pinochet changed all that. He made cueca a part of military parades, and it went from being a flirtatious dance to a symbol of the dictatorship.

Prof. TORRES: (Through translator) Before Pinochet, there was a possibility of sharing with others. The dictatorship brought repression, it relied on fear and distrust. One of the important symbols was the cueca, and it canonized the cueca to a point that many young people rejected the official cueca.

MURPHY: And another sort of cueca also developed during the dictatorship. When a woman's son or lover was taken by the government, that woman might dance the cueca, alone, in protest, and sometimes even without music. That dance is called the cueca sola.

Marta Perez's husband, Ulderico Donaire, was disappeared in 1976. She still dances cueca sola to remember him.

(Soundbite of dancing)

Ms. MARTA PEREZ: (Through translator) On the 5th of May, he said to me, Marta, I won't be around for lunch. Then it got to be 7:30, eight, nine o'clock, and he hadn't arrived. I have four children and we were all there waiting. We waited all night - and we're still waiting.

MURPHY: In the late 1980s, women like Marta inspired Sting's song "They Dance Alone."

(Soundbite of song "They Dance Alone")

STING (Singer): (Singing) They're dancing with the missing. They're dancing with the dead.

MURPHY: But Carmen Gloria Araya says things have changed a lot since then. She owns the dance hall El Huaso Enrique. Today's cueca night is packed.

Ms. CARMEN GLORIA ARAYA (Owner, El Huaso Enrique): (Speaking foreign language)

MURPHY: She says now people of all stripes come to dance cueca - and they all dance together. It's a way to relax from all the stress of the week, a release. Like everything in life, she says, the cueca evolved.

Paty Garcia and Claudia Mena agree. They've been singing cueca together for the past year.

Ms. GARCIA: (Through translator) Before, the cueca was really horrible and lame. You couldn't identify with it. Now, cueca is different. We have a great time singing cueca together. The best part is being able to believe in your partner: I believe in Claudia 100 percent, and she believes in me. We back each other up.

MURPHY: For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. GARCIA: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. MENA: (Singing in foreign language)

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