The Puerto Rican Danza

Para versión en Español oprima aquí

The "Danza" is the maximum artistic expression of the Puerto Rican culture. It is the musical form of the New World that most resembles European classical music. It is a form very rich in melodic and harmonic contents with a very deep character. Some are melancholic and romantic: with long phrases, rich harmonies and three or more clearly defined parts. Others are fast and lively: very short pieces of a playful character. Some are hard to classify in one or the other category, but all retain the essence that characterizes this musical from.


The origin of the Puerto Rican danza is not clear, but most scholars agree that it began around the middle of the 19th century (around 1840). During the first third of the 19th century it was very popular in the island of Puerto Rico the Spanish "contradanza" or "counter dance" (a word derived, according to some, from the English "country dance"). This was a very rigid dance, a "figures" dance, in which the dancers had to do specific movements according to the directions of the "bastonero". The "bastonero" was some kind of director who decided how many couples would dance on each dance and the position of each dancer. The first dancer, who was usually one of the most experts on dancing, performed whichever complicated movements or "figures" he wanted and the other dancers had to imitate him on their turn. It is said that many of these dances ended in fights or great discussions when some of the dancers didn't faithfully follow the leader's movements. The bastonero was suppressed from 1839 on and the change began to take place.

Around the decade of 1840 Puerto Rico received many immigrants from Cuba, who brought with them some new music. The "contradanza" was losing popularity, due to its rigidness and the new dance began to displace it. This new music was called "habanera" (from the name of Cuba's capital city, La Habana). The habanera was danced by couples in a very free manner that was liked very much by the youth of that epoch. At the beginning, cuban music was used, but later on Puerto Rican composers began composing their own music and adding their variations and flavor.

The first part, called the "paseo", usually consisted of 8 measures , and lacked a rhythmic base but served as a tonal introduction. The second part, which was called the "merengue" (which is the name of a delicious candy made of whipped egg whites and sugar) was extended from its original 16 measures to 34 in 1854 and up to 130 later on. Other parts began to appear and a new musical form began to take shape.

Apparently, the original danza was very unsophisticated and was rejected by some of the high class people of that time (but not by the youth), maybe due to the fact that couples could get very close together and could talk privately to their ears. This caused governor Juan de la Pezuela to emit a decree prohibiting it, but it didn't prevail. Some titles of those first "danzas" were: The tail of the pig; Oh, I want to eat pork chops, and others by the same style.

The form continued evolving until it was taken by the young pianist Manuel G. Tavarez, who just arrived from his studies in Paris, and took it to a new artistic level. His disciple, Juan Morel Campos took it from where he left it and developed it to its maximum expression, composing more than 300 danzas, most of them masterpieces of an exquisite beauty. The evolved danza was inspired mostly on women and love and their titles reflected that change: Margarita, "From your side to paradise", "Laura and Georgina" (one of the most exquisite and popular dedicated to the beautiful Capó sisters from Ponce), "My sorrows", etc. You can see the words of some danzas (in spanish) by clicking HERE


Traditionally, Danzas are classified in two types: romantic and festive. The two variations don't really resemble one another.

The Danza consists of four parts: an introduction or "paseo" (usually of 8 measures), a first theme, a second theme, and a third theme, each one of 16 measures. The third theme is usually more lively or melodic and in it the "bombardino" (an accompanying instrument which sounds very much like a trombone) leaves its role as accompanist and becomes the soloist. After the third theme there is a recapitulation of the first theme and sometimes a coda for the end. All parts except the coda and recapitulation are played twice. There might be variations to this as the introduction of "bridges", parts of 8 measures instead of 16, etc.

Although danzas are mostly romantic, they are characterized by a very peculiar rhythmic accompaniment, played by the left hand when at the piano or by the "bombardino" or trombone in orchestras.

The festive danza is very rhythmic, lively and fast. Good examples of these are: No me toques, Sí te toco, La Cuñadita, El Ciclón, Fiestas de Santa Rosa and many others. In my personal opinion, those danzas should be separated into a new classification of "Super-Festive", because they are pretty different to the others (very similar to a "guaracha"). We could leave the term "Festive" for another group of Danzas that are between the "Super-Festives" and the "Romantic ones". Examples of these are: Maldito Amor, Sara, El Coquí, Un conflicto, Linda Mayagüezana, Gloria, Consuelo and others. These have an accompaniment very similar to the romantic ones, but are played a little bit faster and merrily.

Most of the danzas are instrumentals, for piano or for orchestra, but there are many with lyrics.


There is a controversy about the interpretation of the danza due to a very particular element present in most of them known as "the elastic triplet". The tempo of the danza is binary but it has many triplets. The "elasticity" of the triplets (mainly in the accompaniment) consists of a license that allows the interpreter to lenghten or shorten those notes at his will to achieve the desired effect. It is something purely interpretative and can't stand a rigid analysis because it really is a violation of the norms of correct music notation.

If the interpreter insists on playing them as written, many won't sound as a real danza! That's why it is acceptable that the performer uses his discretion and good taste in the interpretation of those phrases, according to tradition and not according to the written score. Most of the modern composers have made the adjustment or correction and their danzas can be played as written.

To learn how to dance the Puerto Rican Danza press HERE

Press here to see "The Language of the Fan"

For a list of Danzas that you can listen to or read their lyrics, press the musical note at left
(Only those with this symbol have sound. You must press the RED BALL beside the tittle.

(Only Tavarez, Morel, Quintón and Luciano Quiñones available in English)

Adolfo Heraclio Ramos 1837 - 1891
Manuel Gregorio Tavarez 1843-1883
Braulio Dueño Colón 1854 - 1934
Juan Morel Campos 1857 - 1896
Angel Mislán 1862- 1911
Juan Ríos Ovalle 1863 - 1928
Luis R. Miranda 1875 - 1949
Simón Madera 1875 - 1957
Jesús Figueroa 1878 - 1971
José Ignacio Quintón 1881 - 1925
Monsita Ferrer 1885 - 1966
Juan F. Acosta 1890 - 1968
Rafael Duchesne 1890 - 1986
Celso Torres 1902 - 2001
Rafael Alers 1903 - 1978
José Enrique Pedreira 1904 - 1959
Narciso Figueroa 1906 - 2004
Ramón Collado 1909 - 1996
Guillermo Figueroa c. 1910 - 2001
Raúl Pomales 1918 -
Rafi Escudero 1945 -
Luciano Quiñones 1948 -
Eladio Torres 1950 -