Last Saturday, Rubén Darío Mejía led the first class of the spring season, introducing a group of parents and their children to the traditional Colombian dance, Bambuco. It started with musical examples, followed by an introduction to his simple dance steps. In the 45 minutes they spent with Rubén, each one began to do their part in the dance group, giving samples of a complete routine full of the history and rhythms of Colombian Bambuco.
Dance is a combination of influences, much like other traditional Colombian art forms. It mixes Spanish and indigenous influences and has a structure similar to the European polka. As one parent commented, "It's a very technical dance." However, she is also very theatrical and tells romantic stories within her performance.
We asked Rubén to talk more about the importance of Bambuco to Colombian identity and how its story can provide insight into the values that stand the test of time within Colombian culture, whether at home or abroad.
When did you first discover Bambuco?
I heard my first Bambucos as a child. The radio was still playing in my hometown Anserma Caldas, Colombia. I also listened to them in the typical Colombian ensemble: tiple, bandola, and guitar in 1970. I was 8 years old.
Did the Bambuco originate in a specific part of Colombia?
There are several versions of the origin of Bambuco. They say that the Spanish brought it between 1700 with the arrival of the first religious crusades. It is also believed that with the slaves brought by the Spanish came many African traditions. It is also considered that the indigenous tunes that were common in the Colombian Andes were influenced by these new cultures.
Does Bambuco have a traditional purpose in Colombian society? wedding dance? formal dance?
The Bambuco fulfills different social functions in Colombian culture. In Tolima Grande, its function is festive in patron saint festivities. It is there where we find the origin of the sanjuaneros: festive Bambucos that are interpreted as celebration songs. The Cundinamarca and Boyaca styles are timider, almost religious, while in Antioquia, Caldas Quindio, and Risaralda, the dance takes on a romantic character.
How is Bambuco and its origins a reflection of Colombian identity in the present? in the past?
Well, the Bambuco reflects the nobility of the Andean race, since it is there where its impressive movement is generated. There are as many modalities as there are regional zones. Each region shows us its influences. For example, in Cundinamarca, there is a great Spanish influence. While in old Caldas its influence is of an African nature, since there are African settlements that work in the gold mines. And in the south, as in Cauca and Boyacá, its predominance is totally indigenous. All these versions have a loving character as their characteristic.
Can you tell us more about the history of the Bambuco attire?
In the Antioquia region, the man wears attire representative of the muleteer and coffee farmer. The woman wears a colorful dress with an apron and a scarf. In Cundinamarca and Boyaca, the costumes represent wealthy people that, in a certain way, imitate the European fashions of the time. In the south, as I said before, the clothing is consistent with the indigenous clothing that existed in these regions.
Why is it important for you to teach and preserve Bambuco?
The teaching of Bambuco is important for the continuity of the cultural traditions of the Colombian people. The new generations must appropriate this richness that is still preserved in a large part of the Colombian territory and that is still valid through meetings, festivals, conversations, and forms of media like YouTube. Teaching Bambuco to children is important, since through this exercise they learn the value of their own Colombian identity, to love it, recognize it, and feel proud of their own Colombian identity.