Peru's Gypsy Dance

The end of January sees the week-long, annual Northern Marinera Festival in its traditional home of Trujillo. It is not only a celebration of Peru’s national dance, but also of the creole culture of the northern coast.

La Marinera, which translates as ‘sailor’, is a flirtatious dance, between a male and female dancer, that is typical of northern Peru. It was given National Cultural Heritage status in 1986, by Peru's Cultural Institute (INC) and continues to grow in popularity. 

It has a fascinating history that offers insight into Peru’s past and ethnic mix. Originally known as La Chilena, on account of its similarity to a Chilean dance - the Cueca - the name was changed for patriotic reasons, during the War of the Pacific, against Chile, in the late 19th Century.

The dance’s exact origins are cause for debate, but it is known to contain Gypsy, Andean, African and Spanish influences, and has various styles. 

Marinera at Berkeley School

My interest in the Marinera had been piqued by the fact that my seven-year-old daughter had been practising the dance for several weeks prior to her school's Independence Day celebrations in July ... and I had had to invest in a whole costume for her for the one-off event! 

This year the 56th Marinera Festival took place from the 25th to the 31st of January, during which some 50,000 visitors to Peru’s 3rd largest city were treated to parades in which contestants in full regalia demonstrated to on-lookers what they could do; and to the uninitiated, why the Marinera is so special.

It was also an opportunity to see a remarkable dance performed by riders of the beautiful Peruvian Paso horse, whereby rider, horse and a young woman gracefully perform in perfect coordination.

The competitive element takes place in Mansiche Arena where over 1,500 couples from all over Peru, in different categories, defined by style, gender and age group, are judged.

Aside from the dancing prizes, a young lady is elected 'Marinera Queen', who leads the corso (street parade) that is one of the highlights of the festival. 

Trujillo is always buzzing for the whole week of the Festival, and is another reason to make the effort to visit this very worthwhile, lesser-known area of Peru. Ask us how to get there, if your appetite has been whetted.