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The north zone

This territory extends from the Region of Arica and Parinacota as far as the Region of Coquimbo.
Their traditional manifestations were born out of the fusion of the origin cultures, such as the atacameña, with the culture of the Spanish.
The music, the dance and the musical instruments are closely linked to each other, and together, they are an expression of a culture.
These manifestations are conducted, mainly, in parties or pagan and religious ceremonies.


Some of the instruments considered as folk instruments in this part of the country were brought by the Spanish, others belong to the native people and others were adapted to our environment. Among the most used instruments are:

Quena: an aerophone instrument which is made of a tube opened on both ends with six holes and a seventh one in the rear.
Instead of a mouthpiece, it has a cut on the upper end where the lip is placed and sound is produced by blowing in it.

Zampoña: an aerophone which has open cane tubes at one end and closed at the other. It belongs to the family of the Pan flutes. Some of these instruments have a double set of tubes.

Ocarina: and oval shaped aerophone and made out of clay. It possesses a mouth piece and the quantities of holes depend on the size of this instrument. Its use in this zone of the country is restricted to some parts of the Region of Arica and Parinacota and Tarapaca.

Charango: Chordophone (the sounds are made trough the vibration of strings) which is composed by a neck and a resonance box with 5 double strings. In its origins, it had a resonance box made out of the carapace of a quirquincho (an armadillo-like animal) which is an autochthonous mammal from the altiplano.

Northern bombo: membranophone (the sounds are obtained through the vibration of leather or plastic membranes) which possesses a great cylindrical resonance box with two pieces of leather on both ends, which are tied up with two ribbons and fixed with a wood or metal arch. It is utilized in almost all of the pagan or religious ceremonies.

Northern dances

The dances of the north zone of the country are pieces linked mainly with the religious celebrations.
Among the ones known, there are:

Carnavalito: it is a dance that originated in Bolivia which is also practiced in the north of Chile. It is danced in circles with multiple dance partners. The instruments utilized are the quena and the bombo, which give the origin to the huiano, the featuring music of this dance. This dance is not only performed at religious celebrations, but also in carnivals.

Northern cueca: Different from the traditional music of the central zone, this type of cueca has only melody. However, the choreography has the same interpretation: the man wins over the woman during the dance. The instruments that accompany the music are the trumpet, the tube, the bombo and the drum.

Torito: a circle is formed and two men are placed in the middle, one dressing in white and the other one dressing in black with a great mask which represents the face of a bull. The rest of the participants, clap and sing on their own, while the two men wearing the costumes pretend as if they were hitting each other with their bull horns until one falls.

Huachitorito: is a Christmas dance, in which the interpreters move according to the Christmas music. Many people get involve in the choreography forming a circle, in where they circle the couples in the middle. The man represents a bull and the woman fights the bull with a red handkerchief pulled out from her waist. While this movement is performed, a caporal (who is the person that leads the dance) hits a small bell.

Trote: Also called huaino or huainito, is a dance performed as couples, in which the dancers, holding both hands, performed steps as if they were trotting (hence the name) forward and backwards. Its music is interpreted with a wide variety of instruments, which include the guitar, quena, zampoña, drum, bombo, among others.

Cachimbo: is a dance which is very similar to the traditional cueca, because in this choreography turns are made according to the music, without leaving out the winning over the woman. The only differences are the steps because these are either slightly walked or done with a slide, there is no stomping of the floor with the shoes and the handkerchief is only waived. The music has only the melody and it is played by the guitar, quena, zampoña, drum and bombo.

La vara: is an exclusive dance for women, who cover their heads with a thick rectangular handkerchief, with the same color as the dress. The choreography is performed around a stick or pole and each dancer has the end of a ribbon of different colors in her hands which are tied up to the pole. During the chorus of the song, the women start to braid the stick or pole with small steps in a trotting rhythm. A caporala is in charge of the instructions of the dance, who is accompanied by a small bell.

Rueda: A dance that is only performed in Isluga, a place at the interior of Iquique. The choreography is a circle were only single women participate, who carry on their hands an accessory called culebrilla . With this element they defend themselves from the besieging of the men who are interested in them during the party. The musicians play in the middle of the circle.

Other dances of the north

Chinese dances: male dance in which the participants (fishermen, miners and farmers) place themselves in lines and perform great jumps. Then they crouch while waving flags and playing flutes in order for the Virgin to hear their grievances or to thank her for favors she has performed.
La Lancha y La Danza (The Dinghy and the Dance): they are dances specific to of Coquimbo. Their choreographies are performed by one or two people and they carry a handkerchief in the right hand. They differ in rhythm and tempo because the Lancha is faster than the Danza.  
Moqueguana or Zonzo Torito (Foolish Bull): for this dance, the guitar player has to have skills as a payador (note: payador is a Chilean folksinger that improvises clever lyrics as he goes on), because he has to sing clever verses that are repeated by the group that is dancing and also by the attending crowd.


Music and dances of the zone central Chile

The tone, the singing and the cueca characterize the folk expressions of this sector which includes the Region of Valparaiso as far as the Region of BioBio. These manifestations are directly influenced by the Spanish colonization.


The most characterized and utilized instruments are:
Guitar: chordophone of six strings which comes from Spain. One of the variables created in our country is the Chilean guitarron, which is similar in size and structure, but has 25 strings. It is mainly used in the Metropolitan and O’Higgins regions.
Harp: Chordophone of a triangular shape which consists of a column, a resonance box and an arch, where 35 strings are placed.
Tambourine: is a mixed instrument, because it is membranophone when is hit and idiophone when is shook. Its wooden carcass has a hexagonal shape, with its top part covered by a patch of leather and metal discs placed on its outer part. It is hold with the left hand and the sound is executed with the index finger of the right hand when the cloth is rubbed.  
Tormento: it is a wooden table with several flat tables on its top part and with metal pieces in its interior which sound by touching the flat tables with the hands.
Cacharaina or carretilla: Idiophone made out of a jawbone of a mule or donkey with the molars and premolars taken out. The sound is made by rubbing the teeth with a stick o directly hitting the top part with the fist. It is generally used when dancing cueca.

Instruments of Eastern Island

This Polynesian island, also known as Rapa Nui and connected to the Chilean territory in 1888, has its own music and the chants known as himene reign this place. Some of the instruments used to accompany the dances are:

Puhura: aerophone which is a sea nail. It is also called Pipe Moroke.
Tara: Idiophone constructed with a bovine horn, with notches added to it. It is played with a piece a metal or wood.
Ukelele: chordophone which came from Polynesia. Has a similar structure of that of the guitar but it is smaller. It has four strings and has a more acute sound.
Maeas: stones that are hit against each other thus producing a sound known as titingue.

Cueca, the national dance

On September 18th, 1979, according to the decree N° 23, the cueca was declared as the national dance.

In regards of its origin, there are many theories, with two of them as the main ones:

African origin: some specialists say that derives from lariate, a dance performed by the color people of Guinea (Africa).
European origin: it could have a close relationship with the zamacueca, a dance with an Arab-Andalusian background.

The choreography of the cueca starts when the huaso moves forward towards the girl that he likes the most and asks her to dance. At the beginning of the dance, she accompanies him in a brief stroll and then they face each other, with a handkerchief in the hand.

They start the dance with a full circle, then the huaso follows the girl using the handkerchief as if it were a rope, he surrounds her without touching her and brings her next to him. She draws near him in a flirtatious way slightly rising up the edge of her dress with the left hand, while moving the handkerchief with the right. After the second circle, the stomping of feet starts by both dancers, but the woman’s is less intense, until the make it to the last circle, where the hold their arms at the same time that the music finishes.

The cueca was declared as the national dance on September 18th, 1979.
During the choreography of the cueca, the huaso surrounds the girl and brings her next to him.

Dances of Central Chile

El pequen: it is practiced from the Region of O’Higgins as far as the Region of BioBio. It is denominated with this name because the dancers adopt the attitude of this bird, this is to say, that they adopt a shy attitude, which is denominated as apequenado. The arms are moved with soft flapping movement, the head is always down, a handkerchief is carried in the right hand and the legs remain in a semi-squatting position.

Sajuriana: This dance is practiced in the Region of BioBio. At the beginning of the dance, the man stays in his place and the woman surrounds him. After that, both of them move in a circle, with the man chasing the woman. The feet of both dancers stomp and brush the ground throughout the choreography.

Sombrerito: in this dance, the hat is the accessory that cant be missed during the performance; hence its name (little hat). At the beginning, both dancers take this element with the right hand and do a full turn. In the chorus of the song, the hat is placed in the ground and the couple does a figure similar to the number eight.
Then they hold each other’s arms to finish putting the hat on their heads.

Refalosa: it is a dance that arrived to Chile from Peru in the first half of the XIX century. It is done in couples and its main characteristic is the soft sliding that both dancers do throughout the choreography.

Polka: It is a dance where the man holds the waist of the woman with one hand and the woman holds his shoulder, while both hold hands with their free hand, stretching it forward. At the beginning, the step is heel, toe and double jump and then in the chorus, the dancers go forward in circles, spinning in their own spot. This dance comes from Europe.

Guaracha: A heritage from Cuban rhythms, it is a dance where each dancer acts separately, with sudden movements, moving their feet and arms towards the side according to the rhythm of the music. It greatly spread at the end of the decade of the 40’s.

Corrido: With Mexican influence, it arrived to our country at the beginning of the XX century, and was danced mainly in rural zones. The choreography is done in couples, where the man holds the waist of the woman and she holds the back of the man, moving forward and moving backwards according to the rhythm of the music.

Pascuense (Easter island) dances

There are two known dances on Easter Island that are musically accompanied by a guitar, ukulele and a percussion instrument known as the Tara.

Sau Sau: it is a dance originally from the island of Samoa (Polynesia). It is danced in a couple with soft, docile hip movements and wavy motions of the arms and hands. The moves are slow and the feet barely leave the ground. A guitar is used in the music, and every now and then a ukulele and an accordion.

Tamure: dance of Tahitian origin, which, unlike the Sau Sau, has fast, violent moves. Men perform real acrobatic feats as they perform skillful moves with their legs.


Southern zone

A rich folkloric diversity takes place in this sector of the country due to the multiple cultural influences contributed by the different original cultures, like the mapuches and foreign colonies, especially Spanish ones. It stretches from the region of la Araucania to Magallanes y la Antartica (Antarctica).


A few instruments the mapuches play in their ceremonies are:

Cultrun: membranophone and idiophone (because the pebbles inside of it emit sound) which consists of a hollowed out trunk of wood in the shape of a deep dish. It is covered in leather at its top part and tied with horse mane. The leather is painted with motifs that symbolize the seasons or lunar cycles. It is played with a mallet or trepukulhue or it can make sound by playing it directly with your hand.

Trutruca: aerophone that belongs to the trumpet family; it consists of a hollowed out tube of cane or coligüe (chusquea culeou) which is two to four meters long. It is a mouthpiece at its top end and a cow’s horn at the bottom end, where the sound is amplified after blowing.

Pifilca: wooden aerophone about 20 centimeters long that had one or two holes at each end. The one at the top end is larger.

Wada or Huada: idiophone that is made out of a dry pumpkin with seeds and pebbles inside of it. They produce sound when shaken.

Chilote instruments

Another zone that represents the south of our country is the island of Chiloe.

A few of the most used instruments are:

Chilote bombo (bass drum): membranophone that measures thirty centimeters high and one meter in diameter. It has a double leather patch in order to withstand the characteristic strength of the zone’s rhythms.

Rebec: it is a chordophone and the chilote adaptation of the violin. It is made with wood that is autochthonous to the island and its size is larger than normal. The same goes for the neck and resonance box, which consist sof three strings and not for like the traditional instrument.

Caja chilota: it is a smaller membranophone than the chilote bombo, but its construction is similar. The only difference is that the lower patch has a tight string and it is played using two drumsticks.

Cambucha or Cajeta: small aerophone made of metal that has been bent in half and which has a hole in the center. It is held against the lips and sound is produced when air is blown through this hole.

Southern dances

Trastrasera: it is originally from Chiloe (region of los Lagos) and can be danced in a couple or a group. Before the music starts, the dancers step on to the dance floor holding hands; then, simulating a jog, the man moves forward and the woman moves back, as if she were ashamed.

Choiquepurun: also known as the dance of the Ñandu (Rhea), it is a ancestral mapuche dance that shows this bird’s courtship. It is performed by gently flapping one’s arms to the rhythm of the cultrun and the pifilca.

Cueca del Chapecao (Chapecao’s Cueca): originally from Chiloe and accompanied only by a guitar, it is dance with several partners. It is similar to the cueca of the central zone, but only until the second vuelta (turn); at that moment the dancers switch partners until the end of the dance, when they get back together with their original partner.

The costillar (ribs): it is a chilote dance that is performed around a bottle placed at the center of the dance floor. This dance’s special trait is the skill and ability of the dancers, for they have to close the circle tighter and tighter as they dance and stomp their feet for the duration of the song. The one who knocks over the bottle as to pay a penalty or leave the dance floor. It is a dance generally performed only by men.

The sirilla: it is a dance of Spanish origin that is also danced on the island of Chiloe. The choreography is performed by two couples that have a handkerchief and who stand face to face in a kind of square.
The main moves are turns, changes of place and stomping in place.

Chilote cueca: it conserves the choreographic structure of the other cuecas danced in the rest of the country, but it stand out because of a few steps, for short steps are combined with strong stomping. Also, the music is characterized for the absence of the initial couplet.

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