Bolero dance is a slow, sensuous rhythm dance coming from the Spanish tradition. The lead in the dance literally mimics the movements of the toreador in a bullfight, while the follow alternates between movements suggesting the bull or the matador's cape.
The Style of Bolero Dance
Bolero originated in Spain, where it was given five specific parts:
- Paseo, an introduction of the dancers moving around the dance floor
- Traversa, literally "crossing" done both before and after the following step.
- Differencias, a series of steps in place displaying the grace and balance of the dancers.
- Finales, where the dancers interact passing by each other in various ways, lending itself to flirting and connection.
- Bien parado, literally "graceful attitude," acknowledging the audience as a couple, then with a brief embrace of an arm at the waist, finally formally saluting each other before departing the dance floor.
When listed that way, the dance loses some of its intense passionate charge. But like the bullfights it is modeled after, bolero dance is full of dramatic tension combined with the discipline of athletic grace. The movements are low and sinuous across the floor, with the the dancer's weight usually on the toes. The dance frame (the way the dancers hold their torso during the dance) is held very strong and macho, with graceful up-and-down movement as they glide on the floor. The arm stylings, however, move into the vertical quite often. One of the basic flourishes involves both dancers extending their arms in long arcs over their heads, like the waving fabric of a cape as the crowd shouts "Ole!" Other moves include intricate footwork designed to suggest the teasing, charging, and avoidance games played by the the matador and his opponent.
A Part of Latin Competition
Bolero became a part of the American dance scene in the 1930's, partially due to Maurice Ravel's very popular composition of the same name. As the world of ballroom dance became more competitive, the dance form was added along with cha cha, east coast swing, rumba, and mambo as one of the rhythm competition dances. It is one of the most difficult because of the slow and highly stylized nature of it. Many people mistake it for a slow rumba, and it's not surprising - the rumba has a standard beat of 104 beats per minute, where bolero dance is only 96, edging out the rumba to be the slowest of the rhythm dances.
The time signature for Bolero is a reflection of its journey across the ocean. Originally danced in ¾ time in Spain (where it is said to be a version of the Flamenco sequidillias or a respectable version of the fandango) it traveled to Cuba and developed there alongside the rumba, moving to 2/4 time. Eventually this evolved into the the 4/4 time that we use in the dance today. There is also a Mexican variant of the Bolero, making it one of the most authentically Latin of the Latin dances.
It is also, like rumba, danced in a "box" style, with a slow sweeping glide to the side on the first two beats and then two forward steps - one short, one of medium distance - done after to complete the basic step. Because the rise and fall are in the body, not in the feet, the Bolero is a dance that appears effortless but actually is very physically demanding. Because of this, Bolero is not danced socially very much any longer - other dances such as the salsa, the rumba, and Argentinian tango have replaced it in popularity.
For those who are more competitive, though, it is a challenging and rewarding performance and a perennial audience favorite. Perhaps the best known Bolero is the dance sequence performed at the end of Baz Luhrman's Strictly Ballroom, where the tale told by the dance echoes the story of love lost and found in the movie itself. It is a dance of universal human emotions, and there's something in it for everyone.