Every year in January, Trujillo is the host of Peru’s National Marinera Competition. The Marinera is a Peruvian coastal dance that is commonly referred to as the “Peru’s national dance.” Though the origins of the Marinera are unclear, the dance has ties to the “Zamacuenca,” the “Mozamala,” and the “Chileña.” This style of dance has existed for centuries in Peru and in earlier times was referred to as the “Chileña.” When Peru entered into war with Chile in 1879, the dance was patriotically re-named as the ‘Marinera’ in honour of the Peruvian navy (Marina de Guerra del Peru).
As the first festival in my South American travels, it was an exciting introduction to Peruvian culture. I remember passing by the Grand Chimu Coliseum watching the countless pairs of dancers gracefully rehearsing their routines outside on the street as the competition neared its final stages. I was thrilled to get inside and see the show. The only problem was: the competition was likely sold out well in advance. So I showed up with a few friends on the last day of the festival. After some street negotiations and a less-than-legal hand stamp, we found ourselves inside the packed coliseum.
We arrived during the friendly group presentations as a celebration of the last day of the festival. We were greeted by a blaring brass band and a barrage of dancers on the Coliseum floor. After some careful searching, we found “our” seats.
The Marinera is an incredibly intricate dance of courtship. It is seduction in its most elegant form. In the northern variety of the dance found in Trujillo, the man wears a suit with a large-brimmed, straw-colored sombrero and sometimes accompanied by a poncho. The woman wears a beautiful, ornate dress with a long skirt that she uses to seduce the man. Both carry white handkerchiefs which are characteristic of the dance and enhance the seduction.
As the music begins, the partners start the dance gazing into each other’s eyes. A twirl of the handkerchief and they begin their flirtacious advances. The man often flirts with many hat tricks and tap steps while the woman tempts him to come closer by twirling her skirt. One dancer will gracefully “chase” as the other evades, both often making spiraling circles around each other, first at a great distance, then at sometimes coming together nearly touching lips, only to separate and continue the game of seduction. The dancers never touch.
There are 3 varieties of the Marinera: Marinera Norteña (North), Marinera Limeña (Lima), and Marinera Serrana (Highlands). Each variety is distinct in both the dance and musical movements. The Marinera Norteña uses a military brass band while the Marinerea Limeña often has an ensemble of guitars and a cajon (wooden box drum).
No matter what style is your preference, Trujillo is the proud capital of the Marinera. If you happen to find yourself there during the last week of January, you will certainly be in for a treat.