The history of Bolero can really only begin to be summed up by acknowledging that there are actually 2 countries that can be credited for creating the Bolero style of dance and music. Some automatically think of Spanish bolero history when they think of the origins of Bolero and while they are not wrong in making this assumption, they leave the picture incomplete.
One must also look to Cuba when speaking of the history of Bolero as this Caribbean country played just as much a role in the development and popularization of Bolero dance and music as did Spain.
The History of Bolero Dance
The development of Bolero dance in Spain comes from a fusion of different kinds of dances. It grew from the need to have a dance that could be performed at common shows and not just special celebrations. In fact, every province of Spain had their own unique form of dance and Bolero emerged as the unifying dance for them all that could be performed at any time.
Some assert that they can actually pinpoint the man responsible for creating this unifying dance that would become Bolero and the year in which it was created. The man’s name is Sebastiano Carezo and the year was 1780.
Bolero is also sometimes called Goyescas thanks to the man who helped popularize and immortalize the dance in his paintings; the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. He created a few very famous paintings that depicted dancers of the Bolero as they engaged in their movements.
During the early days of Bolero, many Italian dance troupes were performing in Spain. It is in this time that Bolero dance, originally intended for a couple was adapted for grander theatres and more ballet-like steps were incorporated to eliminate the need for improvisation on the part of the dancers.
Through the establishment of various schools that specifically taught the dance in Spain, Bolero became more organized and uniform to the sultry and passionate incarnation that we know it to be today.
The History of Bolero Music
While the history of Bolero music can be traced to Spain where it was a ¾ metered genre that was accompanied by castanets and guitars and occasionally with vocals, what we know Bolero to be today comes by way of Cuba and the Caribbean.
As Bolero gained more popularity in Europe it was exported to the island nation of Cuba where musicians sped the tempo to a 2/4 meter and incorporated Caribbean rhythm and percussion that were essentially African in nature.
There is evidence that comes in the form of newspaper articles of Bolero music being present in Cuba as early as 1792 and a Cuban musician named Pepe Sánchez is credited as writing one of the earliest trova style Bolero numbers in the country.
With the diminishment of Tango as the most popular Latin music, Bolero spread from Spain and Cuba and captured the ears and hearts of people all over the world.
The images we conjure up in our minds of two lovers, deeply entwined in an intricate yet heated dance when we think of Bolero are the results of both Spanish and Cuban efforts.
Artists, musicians and of course dancers all had a prominent role to play in the history of Bolero as it is a form of expression that spans art forms and ignites the senses in a way that few other brands of creativity can. For more information on traditional Hispanic music take a look at the article Hispanic Singers and Musicians.