The Dance of the Boricua

By Jerry Valentin
By Jerry Valentin

Some people say that Puerto Ricans were born dancing. Instead of learning to crawl before they walk, they dance, learning to move their little legs and hands graciously. Rooted the rhythm of the high notes in their spirits, their bodies order their hips and feet to follow the tune, surging at the compass of the music an impulse to let their souls express the melody that fills the heart of a Boricua.

The indigenous ancestors, known as the Taínos liked to celebrate the areyto, a festive rite that included feasting, dancing, and singing. This religious ceremony involved the community, and its purpose was to communicate with the spirit world.

Throughout the centuries, the puertorrican music became a mixture of Spanish, African and indigenous genres; evolving within the years into la bomba and la plena. When the Spaniards brought to the island Africans to work as slaves, their beats and rhythms expressed a joyous dance claiming their freedom. They also created percussion instruments to go with their singing and dancing.

La Bomba goes back to the 17th century, during the early European colonial period. Similar to La plena, this dance is one of the traditional musical styles of Puerto Rico. La Bomba was a source of political and spiritual expression that created a sense of community and identity among the working, low-class people. La Bomba is a musical conversation between the drummer, the dancer, and the singer, improvising the lyric with a festive and upbeat dance.

Following la plena, a story is told about their spontaneous expressions of everyday occurrences. Its rhythm is very similar with La Bomba, except la plena has one basic beat, and la bomba has 16 beats. It integrated both European and African elements in its lyric and form. La plena became famous in the early 1920’s, practicing the African slaves this genre to share their circumstances.

Called the “newspaper,” La Plena communicated their frustrations and anger toward their jobs as well as any highlights of their lives. The main instruments used are the guitar, the pandereta, the cuatro, the guiro, the maracas, the bongos and the congas.

In the mid-nineteen century, La Danza resembled a European classical music. La Danza was a rigid, slow dance and was only danced in couples. After 1840, La Danza was classified in two types of dances: romantic and festive. Many immigrants from Cuba influenced this genre, losing its popularity the way La Danza was danced by changing it into a more freestyle dance.

Originated in Puerto Rico, the merged genres Cha Cha and Mambo emerged into salsa. There is a misconception that salsa began in Cuba; however, the earliest evidence claims that it gave birth to Puerto Rico. In the 1950’s, Ismael Rivera, known as the “Father of Salsa,”  composed many songs in this musical style. As the Cubans brought their upbeat tempo and flavor into the island, salsa became a very popular dance worldwide.

Dancing is a very common practice in Puerto Rico  If you ever join a small group of Boricuas, even if they have no instruments to play; a beer bottle, a pair of wooden sticks and a glass jar containing small shells will be enough to create the music that expresses their cheerful nature.

Music is heard everywhere and all the time in Puerto Rico. Even through life, you can listen to a sweet melody in the tide of the ocean waves while the breeze spontaneously hums. The flora and the fauna are always dancing; joyfully jumping the coquís while they sing in harmony with the raindrops of a shower.

The puertorrican personality is carefree, friendly and warm. Don’t ask them to stay still for too long because if they are seating down and there is music in the room, their feet will start to follow rhythmically the compass of the musical notes.


  1. The music accredited to Cubans for geographical reasons are wrong, is not only theirs it belongs to the whole Caribbeans, Puertorricans have the same roots, so Salsa per is ours. the hell with sensationalism. There has always been more cubans than puertorricans in the USA, you can not ignore our legacy. with all the respect, but cubans are generally arrogant however we are not.


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