Puerto rico dances and music: Learning the Dances of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s Culture: Music

One of Puerto Rico’s notable exports is its music, which is probably
the predominant Caribbean music heard in the United States.

Some of the instruments used in traditional Puerto Rican
music originated with the Taíno people. Most noteworthy is the
güicharo, or güiro

, a notched
hollowed-out gourd, which was adapted from pre-Columbian days. The
musical traditions of the Spanish and Africans can also be heard in
Puerto Rico’s music. At least four different instruments were adapted
from the six-string Spanish classical guitar: the requinto, the
bordonua, the cuatro

, and the
triple, each of which produces a unique tone and pitch. The most
popular of these, and one for which greatest number of adaptions and
compositions have been written, is the cuatro, a guitar-like instrument
with 10 strings (arranged in five different pairs).
The name (translated as «the fourth») is derived from the earlier instrument
having four (or four pairs of) strings, but for aims of century 19,
around year 1875, already it was custom to make it with five pairs of cords as
we know it today.

Usually carved from solid blocks of laurel wood and known for resonances and
pitches different from those produced by its Spanish counterpart, this
instruments graceful baroque body has been revered for decades as the national
instrument of Puerto Rico.

Also prevalent on the island are such percussion instruments as
tambours (hollowed tree trunks covered with stretched-out animal
skin), maracas (gourds filled with pebbles or dried beans and
mounted on handles), and a variety of drums whose original designs were
brought from Africa by the island’s slaves. All these instruments
contribute to the rich variety of folk music with roots in the cultural
melting pot of the island’s Spanish, African, and Taíno traditions.

Classical Music in Puerto Rico

During the conversion of Puerto Rico’s Amerindians and slaves to
Christianity after its colonization by the early Spanish, the only formal
music imported from Spain was chants and religious music. Later, however,
as the fortunes of a handful of Puerto Rican planters increased during
the 19th century, their social aspirations grew as well. those whose
children showed musical promise were after sent abroad -usually to Spain-
for the further development of their talents.

One of these was Puerto Ricanw-born Manuel Tavares, a composer
whose orchestral techniques matured within the musical traditions of
19th-century Spain and whose success encouraged other generations of
Puerto Rican classicist to follow in his footsteps.

By 1850, another group of island composers, many only informally
trained, had adapted a Puerto Rican interpretation of the most popular
dance of that era -the minuet- into a musical form known as the
danza. Based on a refined, somewhat rigid classical score, with
and underlying lilt that is unmistakably Caribbean, its most popular
early advocate was composer Juan Morel Campos. Later, this dance
style evolved into the dance rhythms still popular today. Also popular
during the early and mid-1800s was a narrative tale set to music, sometimes
embellished on the spot by a skilled storyteller known as a
decime; the tales originated as rigidly metered 10-line stanzas of
eight-syllable lines with a rhyme structure that could vary according to
the inspiration on the composer. Their musical form -which might have
been the closest thing to a troubador tradition ever development in
Puerto Rico- was after used to convey moral lessons, love tragedies, and
stories of other kinds.

One world-class operatic tenor was Antonio Paoli (1872-46).
Also noteworthy was Jesús María Sanroma (1902-84), a
pianist who performed both Puerto Rican danzas and works from the classical
European repertoire.

Puerto Rico’s classical and orchestral tradition reached its
height with cellist Pablo Casals, who was of partial Puerto Rican
descent. At 81, he chose to spend the last years of his life on the
island. He brought musical fame to San Juan by establishing the internationally
acclaimed Casals Music Festival. This event brings many musicians from around
the world to take part in an orchestra and chamber music program.

Puerto Rican Folk Music

During Puerto Rico’s colonial years, a series of musical
traditions evolved based on the folk songs and romantic ballads
of 18th- and 19th-century Spain. Eventually these became fused with music
either imported or native to the Hispanic New World. Dealing with life,
death, and everyday events of an agrarian society far removed from the
royal courts of Europe, this music has been studiously collected and
re-orchestrated for modern audiences.

One collector of this music was Don Felo, whose 19-century
compositions are based on the melodic traditions of both Spain and the
Spanish-speaking Caribbean. In the 20th century, Narciso Figueroa
continuated the tradition of collecting folk songs and re-orchestrating
them for chamber orchestras; his recordings have been sponsored by the
Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

Today, the most widely applauded -and, to many, most enjoyable- of
the island’s folk music are the hillbilly pieces created by the
mountain-dwelling jíbaros. Using the full array of stringed and
percussion instruments described above they give lyrical performances
whose live or recorded version are popular at everything from island
weddings to commencement exercises. Despite the appeal other island
musical forms, such as salsa, it could be argued that the jíbaro
tradition of cuatro with drums is the island’s most notable -and the one
most likely to evoke homesickness in the hearts of any expatriate Puerto

Bomba y Plena

Although usually grouped together, bomba y plena are
actually two entirely different types of music that are coupled with
dance. Bomba pure African, was brought over by black slaves who worked
on the island’s sugar plantations in the 17th century. It’s a rhythmic music
using barrel-shapped drums covered with tightly stretched animal skins and
played by hand. This form of music is produced by one large drum plus a
smaller drum called a subidor. The drums are accompanied by the
rhythmical beating of sticks and maracas to create a swelling tide of
drumbeats, in which «aficionados» can hear drummers bang out a series of
responses one to another.

Bomba is described as a dialogue between dancer and drummer. It’s
as if the drummer were challenging the dancer to a rhythmic duel. The
dance can go on just a long as the dancer can continue. Although critics
are uncertain about the exact origin of bomba, it is divided into
different rhythmic backgrounds and variations, such as the Euba,
Cocobale, and Sica. As the dance and the most purely African version of
this music and dance, may come from the northeastern coast town of
Loíza Aldea.

Whereas bomba is purely African origin, plena blends elements from
Puerto Ricans’ wide cultural backgrounds, including music that the
Taíno tribes may have used during their ceremonies. This type of
music first appeared in Ponce about 100 years ago, when performing the plena
became a hallmark of Spanish tradition and coquetry.

Instruments used in plena include the güiro, a dried-out gourd
whose surface is cuts with parallel grooves and, when rubbed with a
stick, produces a raspy and rhythmical percussive noise. The
Taínos may have invented this instrument. From the guitars brought
to the New World by the Spanish «conquistadores» emerged the 10-stringed
cuatro. To the güiro and cuatro added the tambourine, known as
panderos, originally derived from Africa. Dancing plena became a
kind of living newspaper. Singers recited the events of the day and
often satirized local politicians or scandals. Sometimes plenas were
filled with biting satire; at other times, they commented on major news
events of the day, such as a devastating hurricane.

Bomba y plena remain the most popular forms of folk music on the
island, and many cultural events highlight this music for entertainment.


The major type of music coming out of Puerto Rico is salsa, the
rhythm of the islands. Its name literally translated as the «sauce» that
makes parties happen. Originally developed within the Puerto Rican
community of New York, it draws heavily from the musical roots of the
Cuban and the African-Caribbean experience. Highly danceable, its rhythms
are hot, urba, rhythmically sophisticated, and compelling. Today, the
center of salsa has probable shifted from New York back to Puerto

Salsa is not an old form of music at all. Music critics claim that
it originated in New York City night clubs in the years following World
War II, an evolution of the era’s Big Band tradition. The first great
salsa musician was Tito Puente, who, after a stint with the U.S.
Navy, studied percussion at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. He went
on to organize his own band, Puente’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, which has been
heard by audiences around the world. One critic said that the music is
what results when the sounds of Big Band jazz meet African-Caribbean
rhythms. Others critics say that salsa is a combination of fast Latin
music that embraces the rumba, mambo, cha-cha, guanguanco, and merengue.

Salsa has definitely made Puerto Rico famous in the world of
international music. Salsa bands require access to a huge array of
percussion instruments, including güiros, the gourds on which the
Taíno people may have played music. Other instruments include
maracas, bongos, timbales, conga drums
and claves-and, to add the jíbaro (hillbilly) touch, a clanging cow bell. Of
course, it also takes a bass, a horn section, a chorus and, a lead
vocalist to get the combination right.

No one quite agrees about who is the king of salsa today, but
Willie Colón, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, and
Hector Lavoe are on everyone’s list as the «Grand Masters of
today’s salsa beat. » Hundreds of young salseros are waiting to
take their trown as the popularity (and income levels) of the emerging
salsa stars continues to climb.

Today’s Music

Puerto Rican Ricky Martin has the world singing Living La Vida Loca,
winner of the 1999 Grammy Award for «Best Latin Pop Performance» and named
by the Los Angeles Times as «The Latin Artist to Watch for 1999.»
Ricky Martin is now -without a doubt- one of the most famous Latin artist
in the world.

Other Resources

  • Hogar de La Danza Puertorriqueña

Caribbean Music and Dance- Bomba













AMCULT 213 Homepage



            La Bomba is a traditional dance form on the island of Puerto Rico. Known as the dance of slaves, this dance was usually performed on sugar planatations. Sugar plantations were placed along the coast, which is the reason la Bomba is is spread out along the sea.8 The instrumentation of Bomba usually consists of one large drum, a buleador, and a maraca used by the main singer. The lyrics, which are comedic, satirical, and sometimes sensual, are sung in a call and response fashion.9 It was used as an expression that provided an escape from the hardships of slavery.

            Bomba is a dialogue between the dancer and drummer.10 It starts with a female soloist called called «laina» who «sings a phrase evoking a primitive call».11 The drummer plays a rhythm and the dancer responds in a «freestyle» manner while swishing their skirts around». Men usually wear all white and fedora hat and women wear plantation shirts and a head scarf.12 Men and women both participated in this dance, but do not dance in a partner form or touch at all. “After the abolition of slavery, in 1873, the free slaves and their descendants followed the tradition of La Bomba as a social activity.»13 It eventually went from a dance of the slaves to a dance adopted by popular and upper classes.  But there was still a rift between lower and upper classes. “At least until the 1840’s, the island’s dances were divided into two types: one known as the bailes de sociedad , or high society, which consisted of adaptations of polkas, waltzes, and other European dances, and the bailes de garabuto, the popular dances.»14



Latin American Dance Part 11 (Puerto Rico)




| Folk dances

Dances of the World

Puerto Rican Dances

Spanish seguidillas, fandangos, and country dances helped shape the early folklore forms of the Puerto Rican rural «jibaro» culture that developed in the central highlands of the island. In the south, in the second half of the 19th century, an elegant «danza» appeared in Ponce. Dansa was Puerto Rico’s first national form of music and dance, and like the Cuban danzón, it was a form of opposition to Spanish rule. As mentioned above, the closed position of couples in ballroom dancing violated Spanish traditions of female chastity and decorum. Dance lyrics were often used to arouse nationalistic feelings in the population. nine0004

Puerto Rican dances

The danza begins with a paseo, or slow «walk» on the dance floor, with couples holding hands or tying hands. In the dansa of colonial times, women carried fans with which they could gracefully fan themselves while walking. There was also a range of gestures with which they conveyed messages to their partner or observer. A closed fan, hanging over the left hand, meant «someone is watching», a fan held near the heart meant «my heart belongs to you.» nine0004

Puerto Rican dances

The opening song for the paseo was repeated until the dancers completed one circuit of the ballroom. Then the musicians began to play «merengue» (not to be confused with the merengue of the Dominican Republic), under which the couples took a closed ball position and performed a repeated four-step part (slow-fast-fast) until the end of the melody. The steps were small and the dancers’ feet slid across the floor as the couple gradually turned. nine0004

Puerto Rican dances

Puerto Rico’s cultural identity is due in part to an agricultural economy based on sugar cane, coffee, and tobacco. The black workers, slaves and freemen who worked on these plantations created the «bomb» in the 18th century as the main social dance, which then spread throughout the island among various social groups.

Puerto Rican dancing

The bomba resembles the Cuban rumba. The dancers form a circle that includes at least two drummers, a palito player (small sticks), maraca players and singers. The bomb starts with a solo part, which is echoed by a choir supported by musicians. One dancer (or couple) enters the circle and begins the dance from the paseo along the inner circle. The dancer then approaches the drummers and greets them to pay respect. From this point on, the dancer improvises, «competing» with the drummer. The audience add their voices to the choir and wait their turn to enter the circle as dancers. In many ways, the bomba is similar to the Cuban «columbia», except that the bomba is danced by both men and women. nine0004

dance, culture, history, Latin America

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Everything about reggaeton, its origin and performance

Reggaeton is a dance that got its name from the musical direction «reggi». Accordingly, now there is no question of what kind of music it is performed to.) The origin of both music and dance is one thing, this is Panama, Puerto Rico, that is, Latin America. If we talk about modernity, then I would not say that this is a modern style, since it appeared due to the merger of several dance styles, such as: hip hop, dancehall, etc. But in fact, the most natural reggaeton has been dancing for a very long time, in Panama it can be called folk to some extent, but it received international demand a little later. This is how reggaeton dance is danced and today in almost all countries of the world and Ukraine is also no exception, but unfortunately reggaeton fades into the background every year, it is replaced by kizomba, bachata, twerk, dancehall and other directions. nine0004

Why do you ask sorry? Yes, because this is a wonderful dance, and I think it is in such choreographic genres that all the originality and authenticity of the peoples from where they come from — Africa and Latin America are hidden.

Although reggaeton is such a cool and hot dance, but for some reason it is very rare to find it here, almost no dance school in Lviv teaches this style.

Everyone can learn how to dance reggaeton, and after that you will hardly ever be able to refuse it. Because this is an incendiary dance that can cheer up and tone the body too.)

In addition to the usual reggaeton, there is also reggaeton fusion — this is the same reggaeton, only somewhat modernized and more similar to modern choreography, it includes new elements from other styles.

Coupled reggaeton also happens, similar to social dances such as kizomba or bachata and radically different from reggaeton that is danced alone, it is more gentle and sexy and its tempo is also slower.

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