Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cueca culture

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Back in Chile, I was quite surprised to come across what seemed a revival in popular Chilean culture. In Valparaiso, some students took me too a Guachaca club. Guacha is Chilean slang for an odd sock, referring to a particularly low form of life, abandoned and unwanted. The students proudly ordered a special Guachaca drink called the Tsunami, which was basically a wine spider -- a portion of red wine covered in a mountain of ice cream. Funny how national cultures model themselves often on exactly what strangers might find repulsive, like 'garlic' as the guilty secret of so many European cultures.

The photo above was taken from a special club in Santiago that has cueca evenings. As the national dance of Chile, the cueca is often a subject of embarrassment, signifying kitsch sentimentalism rather than something real and exciting. Well a new generation seem to want to re-appropriate the dance in an urban context and flooded the dance floors of the La Habana Club. The musicians were full of energy -- funny and tuneful. Various cueca legends were called up from the audience to take guest spots.

Watching the dancing -- there was no way an Aussie could stumble into that dance floor -- I noticed how courtly the gestures were. Integral to the dance are the white handkerchiefs that both male and females hold in their hands. There are flourished and dangled enticingly before partners, at times like the way the matador holds his red cloth. The dance is relatively short, but very intense and the bright flashing eyes are constantly engaging each other. Quite unique.

But imagine this in Australia. Could there be a club in the heart of Melbourne where young things secretly gather to enjoy bush dancing and listen to Slim Dusty? Hmmm.