Bolero: Wikis


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Bolero dancer by Lautrec
Marcelle Lender in Chilperic, 1895

Bolero is a name given to certain slow-tempo latin music and its associated dance and song. There are Spanish and Cuban forms, which are both significant, and which have separate origins.[1] The term is also used for some art music. In all its forms, the bolero has been popular for over a century, and still is today.



The bolero is a 3/4 dance[2] that originated in Spain in the late 18th century, a combination of the contradanza and the sevillana.[3] Dancer Sebastiano Carezo is credited with inventing the dance in 1780.[4] It is danced by either a soloist or a couple. It is in a moderately slow tempo and is performed to music which is sung and accompanied by castanets and guitars with lyrics of five to seven syllables in each of four lines per verse. It is in triple time and usually has a triplet on the second beat of each bar.


In Cuba, the bolero is perhaps the first great Cuban musical and vocal synthesis to win universal recognition.[5] In 2/4 time, this dance music spread to other countries, leaving behind what Ed Morales has called the "most popular lyric tradition in Latin America".[6]

The Cuban bolero tradition originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the 19th century;[7] it does not owe its origin to the Spanish music and song of the same name.[8] In the 19th century there grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar. Probably, this kind of life had been going on for some time; but it comes into focus when we learn about named individuals who left their marks on Cuban popular music.

Pepe Sanchez (born José Sánchez at Santiago de Cuba, 1856–1918) is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed numbers in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these numbers are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and disciples wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed. [9][10]

The Cuban bolero traveled to Mexico and the rest of Latin America after its conception, where it became part of their repertoires. Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, most especially the great and prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández; another example being Mexico's Agustín Lara. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are listed under Trova.[11][12][13][14]


Bolero fusions

José Loyola comments that the frequent fusions of the bolero with other Cuban rhythms is one of the reasons it has been so fertile for such a long period of time:

"La adaptación y fusión del bolero con otros géneros de la música popular bailable ha contribuido al desarrollo del mismo, y a su vigencia y contemporaneidad." [15]
(The adaptation and fusion of the bolero with other types of popular dance music has contributed to their development, and to its validity and modernity)

This adaptability was largely achieved by dispensing with limitations in format or instrumentation, and by an increase in syncopation (so producing a more afrocuban sound). Examples would be:

  • Bolero in the danzón: the advent of lyrics in the danzón to produce the danzonete.
  • The bolero-son: long-time favourite dance music in Cuba, captured abroad under the misnomer 'rumba'.
  • The bolero-mambo in which slow and beautiful lyrics were added to the sophisticated big-band arrangements of the mambo.
  • The bolero-cha: many Cha-cha-cha lyrics come from boleros.

The lyrics of the bolero can be found throughout popular music, especially Latin dance music. This gives the creations of a former time a kind of perpetual life. The old trovadores lived close to their people, and their songs reflected the loves, lives and concerns of the people. It has proved surprisingly difficult for present-day musicians to do better. The bolero is a great survivor.

If the bolero does have limitations for non-Latin audiences (for whom the lyrics are mostly unappreciated), its place in Latin music and dance is more or less permanent.

Ballroom dance

International ballroom

A version of the Cuban bolero is danced throughout the Latin dance world (supervised by the World Dance Council) under the misnomer 'rumba'. This came about in the early 1930s when a simple overall term was needed to market Cuban music to audiences unfamiliar with the various Cuban musical terms. The famous Peanut Vendor was so labelled, and the label stuck for other types of Cuban music.[16][17]

In Cuba, the bolero is usually written in 2/4 time, elsewhere often 4/4. The tempo for dance is about 120 beats per minute. The music has a gentle Cuban rhythm related to a slow son, which is the reason it may be best described as a bolero-son. Like some other Cuban dances, there are three steps to four beats, with the first step of a figure on the second beat, not the first. The slow (over the two beats four and one) is executed with a hip movement over the standing foot, with no foot-flick.[18]

American Rhythm

In the dance style known as American Rhythm, bolero is also one of the five main competition dances. The first step is typically taken on the first beat, held during the second beat with two more steps falling on beats three and four. In competitive dance the music is in 4/4 time and will range between 96 to 104 bpm. This dance is quite different from the other American Rhythm dances in that it not only requires cuban motion but Rise and fall (Dance) such as found in waltz and contra body movement characteristic of tango.[19] Popular music for this dance style need not be latin in origin. Lists of music used in competitions for American Rhythm Bolero are available. [20]

Art music

There are many so-called boleros in art music (e.g. classical music) which may not conform to either of the above types.

Chopin wrote a bolero for solo piano, keeping more closely to the Latin root word bolaro, meaning to perform two parts in harmony; Debussy one in La Soirée dans Grenada; Bizet in Carmen and Saint-Saëns wrote boleros; Lefébure-Wély wrote Boléro de Concert for organ. Moszkowski's first set of Spanish Dances (Op. 12) ends with a bolero. The bolero from Hervé's Chilpéric (operetta) has been immortalized in Toulouse-Lautrec's famous painting (above). Ravel's Boléro is one of his most famous works, originally written as a ballet score for his patron Blanche Lapin, but now usually played as a concert piece. It was originally called Fandango, but has rhythmic similarities with the Spanish dance form as described in this article, being in a constant 3/4 time with a prominent triplet on the second beat of every bar.

In some art music boleros the root lies, not in the bolero, but in the habanera, a Cuban precursor of the tango, which was a favourite dance rhythm in the mid-19th century, and occurs often in French opera and Spanish zarzuela of the 19th and 20th centuries. [21]


  1. ^ Carpentier, Alejo 2001 [1945]. Music in Cuba. Minniapolis MN.
  2. ^ (see Time signature and meter (music))
  3. ^ Morales, p120
  4. ^ Journal of the American Musicological Society 24, (Autumn, 1971), pp477-485
  5. ^ Acosta, Leonardo 1987. From the drum to the synthesiser. La Habana. p121
  6. ^ Morales, p120
  7. ^ Cristobal Diaz offers 1885: "el bolero, creado aproximadamente para 1885". Diaz Ayala, Cristobal 1999. Cuando sali de la Habana 1898-1997: cien anos de musica cubana por el mundo. 3rd ed, Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p24-25
  8. ^ Carpentier, Alejo 2001 [1945]. Music in Cuba. Minniapolis MN.
  9. ^ Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. p195.
  10. ^ Orovio, Helio 1995. El bolero latino. La Habana.
  11. ^ Loyola Fernandez, Jose 1996. El ritmo en bolero: el bolero en la musica bailable cubana. Huracan, Rio Piedras P.R.
  12. ^ Orovio, Helio 1992. 300 boleros de oro. Mexico City.
  13. ^ Restrepo Duque, Hernán 1992. Lo que cantan los boleros. Columbia.
  14. ^ Rico Salazar, Jaime 1999. Cien años de boleros: su historia, sus compositores, sus mejores interpretes y 700 boleros inolvidables. 5th ed, Bogotá.
  15. ^ Loyola Fernandez, José 1996. El ritmo en bolero: el bolero en la musica bailable cubana. Huracan, Rio Piedras P.R. p249
  16. ^ Diaz Ayala, Cristobal 1981. Música cubana del Areyto a la Nueva Trova. 2nd rev ed, Cubanacan, San Juan P.R.
  17. ^ Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. Chapter 27 The Peanut Vendor.
  18. ^ Lavelle, Doris 1983. Latin & American dances. 3rd ed, Black, London.
  19. ^ W.D. Eng, Inc. dba Dance Vision 2003. American Style Rhythm Bronze Manual, Las Vegas, Nevada.
  20. ^ List of Songs used in America's Ballroom Challenge
  21. ^ Loyola Fernández, Jose 1997. En ritmo de bolero: el bolero en la musica bailable cubana. Huracan, Rio Piedras P.R. p29


  • Morales, Ed (2003). The Latin Beat. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81018-2.  

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