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Dance is the ultimate non-verbal communication. It can convey a story with synchronized moves and gestures. Many cultures all over the world use dance to keep their traditions alive for past and future generations.

As the bridge connecting South and Central America, Panama is a mix of Spanish, Indian, African, and European cultures. Its natural beauty and warm personality have made it a hit among tourists. When traveling the world, it is a joy to find the uniqueness of each country.

El Tamborito, which means ‘the little drum’ in Spanish, is Panama’s most popular folkloric dance, celebrated for its vibrant costumes, lively themes, and three-drum percussion core. Originating in the 17th century, the national dance took on its modern characteristics in the 1940s. The dance focuses on couples and the art of courtship.

The cantalante, a female singer, leads the dance and keeps time with rhythmic chorus clapping. Feet stomp and the chanting of coplas, or harmonic poems, create a lush soundscape. Lyrics focus on lust, sexual tension, and the frustration that one experiences at Carnival, which takes place between February and March. The beat centers on three drums: the Caja, the Repujador, and Recapidor.  Performers include the cantalante, female singer, and the estribillio, a group of clappers.

The Caja is the smallest drum, and it produces staccato tones. The Repujador provides the masculine element and is the base of the song. Long and slender in shape, the Recapidor creates feminine properties.

During the courting dance, men traditionally knock the floor with their boots while the signature dance move for women is to curtsy as the crowd claps the beat. With shuffling steps, women move their colorful skirts as men make protective gestures. La Pollera is the name of the women’s bright skirts with two large ruffles that mimic the Spanish styles popular in the 17th century. Men wear El Montuni, a long-sleeved shirt that harkens back to cowboys.

There is a distinct courtship element to this dance. Trying to play hard to get, the woman does not smile. Instead, she moves with her skirt and spurs the man’s advances. He works to maintain eye contact. The audience is intended to participate, which is characteristic of African tribal dances where the entire community is involved.


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