The town of Santiago del Estero is known as the birthplace of many famous folkloric dancers and musicians. The dances from this region spring mainly from Europe and the culture of the gaucho, or South American "cowboy."
The word "gaucho" comes from an indigenous Quechua word "huachu" meaning orphan or vagabond. The Spanish colonizers transformed the term into two words: "guacho" (WA-cho) still means orphan, often endearingly, and the term "gaucho" (GOW-cho) means vagabond and refers to the men of indigenous roots mixed with African and/ or European ancestry, who took up the work of tending cattle in what is now Argentina, Southern Brazil, and Uruguay. Fiercely independent, they lived in a very difficult world of work and solitude. They benefited greatly from contact with the indigenous peoples, who were ultimately exterminated by European contact and by the Argentine government. Gauchos still exist and work, on ranches and in rural areas.
The style of dance that gauchos typically enjoyed was called malambos, and began around 1600. Incorporating zapateo, the art of percussive footwork rooted in Spanish Flamenco, malambos were traditionally performed by men. The dance movements include the cepillada (brushing - to graze the floor with the sole of the foot), the repique (striking the floor with heel and spur), and floreos (decorative movements of the feet). This dance form was often used as a form of competition between two or more men. One man starts with an escobillado (softly brushing the floor with his foot), and then he proposes a "figure" or footwork passage to his competitor, and ends with a salute. The other man copies the proposed figure, adding one that is more difficult, and then performs the salute. When one is unable to copy the other, the competition is finished, with the more proficient dancer the winner. The music features guitar and/or bombo, the drum.
The boleadoras were originally a weapon used by the indigenous people and adopted by the gauchos, to entrap fleeing animals. The weapon was basically a lasso, with three balls (originally rocks and later wood) bound and suspended from rawhide strips and swung three at a time in a whirling motion to entrap the neck or feet of a fleeing animal (or enemy). It is said that in the early 1950's, Santiago Ayala began incorporating footwork (zapateo) with weapons, establishing the malambos with cuchillos (knives), lanzas (lances), làtigos (whips), bombos (drums), and finally the famous boleadoras. The dancer uses two wooden balls as boleadoras, making rhythms against the floor, and whirling them in a rotational motion. Increasing the complexity of movements increased the rhythmic possibilities, becoming an exciting dance both physically and musically.
While based on typical and traditional gaucho dance, folkloric interpretations of these dances incorporate stylizations of stage performance, transforming them into artistic works for the stage. The dances of the gauchos are a popular part of Argentine folkloric dance, and are becoming increasingly infused with "fantasía" - incredible feats of skill for exhibition and show.
CostumeThe gaucho also wears a chiripà, which is woven of wool keeping him warm and providing protection for the legs while mounted on horseback. The large pants are called "bombachas" and the "rastra" is a large leather belt decorated with coins and links of chain, which acts a place to store necessary tools of the trade, including a cuchillo (knife), and the boleadoras.
The "botas de potro" were made from the skin of the horse's leg, similar to a boot but with the toes exposed. Of course, modern folkloric dancers use boots that are appropriate for dancing on a stage, and that have heels and toes that are studded with nail heads to act as taps.