While its origins are not clearly defined, it is considered to have Spanish and African influences, among others. The most widespread version of its origins relates it with the zamacueca which arose in Peru as a variation of Spanish Fandango dancing with criollo and African influences. The dance is then thought to have passed to Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, where its name was shortened and where it continued to evolve. Due to the dance's popularity in the region, the Peruvian evolution of the zamacueca was nicknamed "la chilena", "the Chilean", due to similarities between the dances. Later, after the Pacific War, the term Marinera, in honor of Peru's naval combatants was used in place of "la chilena." Both the Marinera and the Cueca have different styles that distinct them from each other and their "root" which is the zamacueca.
Cueca is also used as a form of protest for women whose husbands or sons disappeared during the Pinochet years.
The usual interpretation of this courting dance is zoomorphic: it tries to reenact the courting ritual of a rooster and a hen. The male displays a quite enthusiastic and at times even aggressive attitude while attempting to court the female, who is elusive, defensive and demure.
Some differences can be noticed depending on geographical location. There are two distinct variants in addition to the traditional Cueca:
In Bolivia there are lots of different Cueca styles according to the region: Cueca Paceña, Cueca Cochabambina, Cueca Chuquisaqueña, Cueca Tarijeña, Cueca Potosina y Cueca Chaqueña. What they have in common is their rhythm in three, but they differ quite a lot in velocity, costumes and style. The Cueca styles of La Paz, Potosí and Sucre are the elegant ones, whereas in Cochabamba and Tarija the style is much more lively. In the Chaco region the Cueca is danced along other popular Gaucho folklore as the Chacarera.