The danza was the first Puerto Rican national music, according to a majority of musicologists. It has been a symbol of Puerto Rico since its beginnings and it is not surprising that the national anthem of Puerto Rico is a danza.
There are different versions of how the Puerto Rican danza originated. But most experts agree that its beginnings date to around 1840. Some researchers say it originated in Spain and Venezuela, but the most accepted version is that of Fernando Callejo, who attributes its origin to Cuba. In that era, many young people from Cuba arrived in Puerto Rico and brought with them a new style of dancing in pairs that was characterized by a very rhythmic cadence. The new style contrasted with the Spanish contradanza that dominated social dancing on the island. The new music was called “habanera” and was danced by pairs in a free style that was popular with the youths of the time. At first, it was danced to Cuban music, but later Puerto Rican composers began writing their own.
The new dance was rejected as scandalous by the conservative high society of the time. Some of the titles of the first danzas give an idea of its style: “La sapa,” “El rabo del puerco,” “Ay, yo quiero comer mondongo,” “El tereque,” “La charrasca,” and others of the same style. Perhaps because the pairs danced so closely together, the governor, Don Juan de la Pezuela, issued an order in 1849 prohibiting it, but this had no effect. On the contrary, the prohibition increased its popularity, as often occurs.
The Puerto Rican danza that arose from the “habanera” was by 1870 defined by a new style that was centered in the city of Ponce and was originated by pianist and composer Manuel G. Tavárez, who was originally from San Juan. Known as the “father of the danza,” Tavárez had just returned from studying piano in the Conservatory of Paris and moved to Ponce. In that city, he styled and purified the Puerto Rican danza as a primarily piano work. Among his best known works are “Margarita” and “La sensitiva.”
It was Juan Morel Campos of Ponce who took the danza to its full development as a musical genre. A disciple of and successor to Tavárez, Morel Campos organized his own orchestra, La Lira ponceña, and composed danzas that were mainly meant for dancing. They became very popular and he was a prolific composer, producing more than 200 danzas. His inspirations usually were women and love, which was reflected in his titles: “Felices días,” “Vano empeño,” “Maldito amor,” “Idilio,” “De tu lado al paraíso,” “Mis penas,” “Laura y Georgina,” and many others.
The traditional danza consists of four parts: an introduction, also known as the paseo, followed by two themes, and then a third theme known as a canto de bombardino, where this instrument abandons its usual role as accompaniment to perform the melody solo. After the canto de bombardino, the first theme is usually repeated and the work concludes. Almost all the parts are repeated.
Currently the danza does not hold a prominent place among popular dances, but it is gaining acceptance as a folklore and ballroom dance and has been successfully performed at presentations by classical soloists and music groups. Above all, as our composer Amaury Veray notes, the danza ” has endured as an expression and symbol of Puerto Ricanness.”
Author: Luciano Quiñones
Published: September 11, 2014.
This post is also available in: Español