Northwestern Argentina can seem like its own world in comparison to other provinces in Argentina. The local culture is greatly infused with indigenous heritage that can be seen in food, dress, and traditional song and dance. Salteños, the people of Salta, love to attend folk concerts called peñas to dance to criolla music, a blend of colonial Spanish and native influence. The music is a combination of Spanish rhythm and music with lyrics taken from daily life in the area. These Salta dance traditions are an integral part of the region’s cultural identity.
The people from Salta still love to write folklore songs about gauchos (the Argentine cowboy), asado barbecues, and life in the wild outdoors. It is not uncommon to see impromptu concerts at rodeos, weekend gatherings, or outside of the peña dancehalls. Some of the most popular Salta dance styles are the chacarera and the zamba.
The chacarera is a lively dance and is extremely popular with couples. The most common dance move is called the zapateo, which is a quick feet stomping motion. Couples spin and pivot around each other in a star formation, where they meet together in the center to end the dance. The male uses the zapateo stomp to attract the female and then lead her throughout the routine.
Another traditional Salta dance is the zamba, which is actually the national dance of Argentina. The most unique characteristic of the dance is the use of white handkerchiefs. This choreography originated in a Peruvian dance from the 1800’s, where the women waive a white handkerchief in the air while she is dancing. For the male dancers, the malambo style is where the lead male gauchos compete with their best dance moves that show their macho character.
These dances were a part of a bigger folklore revival movement in the 1950’s, where famous musicians appeared on the radio and dancers performed throughout the country. Today, a peña is a mini trip back in time, to appreciate the rich history of the region. Local heritage is preserved and revered and the newer generations take great care in incorporating classic folk music and Salta dance with modernization.
If you visit Salta in mid-June, make sure to attend the two day celebration at La Guardia Bajo Las Estrellas. At this festival, you can see over 3,000 gauchos from all over the province joining together in a parade with horses, gaucho tricks, and folk music and dance.