[buh-lair-oh, boh-]
bolero, national dance of Spain, introduced c.1780 by Sebastian Zerezo, or Cerezo. Of Moroccan origin, it resembles the fandango. It is in 2-4 or 3-4 time for solo or duo dancing and is performed to the accompaniment of castanets, guitar, and the voices of the dancers. Ravel's Bolero is in this rhythm.
Bolero is a name given to more than one type of Latin-American music and its associated dance and song. The term covers several styles, all of relatively slow tempo. In all its forms, the bolero has been popular for over a century, and still is today. The Spanish and Cuban forms apparently have separate origins.


Bolero is a 3/4 dance that in Spain originated in the late 18th century, a combination of the contradanza and the sevillana. Dancer Sebastiano Carezo is credited with inventing the dance in 1780. 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.


In Cuba, the bolero developed into a distinct dance in 2/4 time which eventually spread to other countries, leaving behind what Ed Morales has called the "most popular lyric tradition in Latin America". The Cuban bolero tradition originated in Santiago de Cuba in the mid-19th century; it does not owe its origin to the Spanish music and song of the same name.

In the 19th century here grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar. Probably, this kind of life had been going on for some time; but it comes into focus when we learn about named individuals who left their marks on Cuban popular music. Pepe Sanchez, born Jose Sanchez (Santiago de Cuba, 19 03 1856 – 03 01 1918), is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed numbers in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these numbers are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and disciples wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed.

The Cuban bolero traveled to Mexico and the rest of Latin America after its conception, where it became part of their repertoires. Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, most especially the great and prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández; another example being Mexico's Agustín Lara. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are listed under Trova.

International and American ballroom

A version of the Cuban bolero is the dance popular throughout much of the world under the misnomer 'rumba'. The misnomer came about because a simple cover-all term was needed for Cuban music in the 1930s. The famous Peanut Vendor was so labelled, and the label stuck for other types of Cuban music.

In Cuba the bolero is usually written in 2/4 time, elsewhere often 4/4. The tempo for dance is about 120 beats per minute. The music has a gentle Cuban rhythm related to a slow son, which is the reason it may be described as a bolero-son. Like some other Cuban dances, there are three steps to four beats, with the first step of a figure on the second beat, not the first. The slow (over the two beats #s four and one) is executed with a hip movement over the standing foot, with no foot-flick.

Art music

There are many so-called boleros in art music (eg classical music) which may not conform to either of the above types.

Frédéric Chopin wrote a bolero for solo piano; Louis Lefébure-Wély wrote Boléro de Concert for organ; and Maurice Ravel's Boléro is his most famous work, originally written as a ballet score but now usually played as a concert piece. Ravel's Boléro was originally called Fandango, and is certainly not a bolero as described in this article. In some cases the root lies, not in the bolero, but in the habanera, a Cuban precursor of the tango, which was a favourite dance rhythm in the mid-19th century.



  • Morales, Ed (2003). The Latin Beat. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81018-2.

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