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Bolero is a 3/4 dance that originated in Spain in the late 18th century, a combination of the contradanza and the sevillana. It is danced by either a soloist or a couple. It is in a moderately slow tempo and is performed to music which is sung and accompanied by castanets and guitars with lyrics of five to seven syllables in each of four lines per verse. It is in triple time and usually has a triplet on the second beat of each bar. A number of composers have written works based on this dance: Frederic Chopin wrote a bolero for solo piano, and Maurice Ravel's Bolero is one of his most famous works, originally written as a ballet score but now usually played as a concert piece.

In Cuba, the bolero developed into a distinct dance in duple time which eventually spread to other countries, while the dance itself gradually disappeared from Cuba, leaving behind what author Ed Morales has called the "most popular lyric tradition in Latin America". The modern Cuban bolero song tradition originated in Santiago in the 19th Century. The travelling, storytelling (or canción) tradition was major basis for the Cuban bolero, influenced by a variety of European musical styles. The trova was usually accompanied only by a guitar, and had a rootsy, Spanish sound. Some musicologists also trace an influence from the traditional son music of the Mexican state of Yucatan; this is actually quite plausible, as the traditional music of this region sounds very much like the bolero, having many similarities in melody, tempo, and vocal style. Though some scholars date the bolero to the early 19th century, Ed Morales dates it to Jose Pepe Sanchez's Tristeza, in 1885, which popularized the term bolero and is now considered the first classic in the field. The Cuban bolero traveled almost immediately to Mexico after its conception, where it became part of the repertoire of Mexican traditional music. In fact, some of the bolero's most prominent composers have come from Mexico, an example being the great Mexican composer Agustin Lara.

Another kind of Bolero is the American Style ballroom dance popular in the United States. It is a unique dance style combining the patterns of Rumba with the rise and fall technique and character of Waltz and Foxtrot. The music is 4/4 time, and is danced to the slowest rhythms of the Latin ballroom dances (the spectrum runs Bolero, Rumba, ChaChaCha, Mambo/Salsa). The basic rhythm of steps in patterns, like Rumba, is Slow-Quick-Quick.

Bolero in Cuba today has evolved along similar lines as Bachata in many ways, and is quite similar to the American Style dance Bolero, but the difference lies in the intensity and energy of the connection between the partners.

Above & below are two short sample tracks. Please use the controls to pause and play each track individually to get a feel for this type of music.

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