The Conga Line

13 Sep

Bum bum bum bum bum… BAH   Bum bum bum bum bum… BAH

Ah, the conga line. You know, that line dance which looks a little cheesy and is usually performed by lots of drunk people at college parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Can be fun if you’re inebriated enough, usually lasts a couple minutes and is still performed today. But where did it come from?

Cuba. We can trace the date it began appearing in the US (1929) but it was around for quite some time before that. It does NOT take its name from the conga drums, but from African slaves brought over from the congo region of Africa.

Dance was a festival dance, where a couple people start dancing in a line with a kick on the 4th beat of teh rhythm. The drummers playing would intensify the rhythm as more dancers joined in. By the time there were large numbers of people in the line the drum would be deliriously pounding. Nowadys when the dance is done to some set little song it all seems quaint, but back in teh day with live African drumming the conga line could get unbearably intense and in some places would break out into street fighting and riots.

On some plantations the dance was banned because of its ability to work the slaves up. During General Muchados Presidency of Cuba from 1925-1933 the conga line was forbidden in Havana because of the street fighting that would often erupt. After Muchado was disposed his successor Batista allowed the conga line once again but a permit was needed.

Not so cheesy now, huh?

During the dieslepunk era latin american music was the rage in the states. It had started years before with the tango, but as during from the 20s into the 50s central and latin american style exploded acorss the big band circuit. Mambas, rumbas, sambas, salsa, cha-chas… latin american rhythms and dance styles were all the rage. Watch those old Warner brothers cartoons, you’ll see.

In 1929 La Conga Nightclub opened in New York City at Brodaway and 51st Street. the club would be famous for decades popularizing the mambos and rumbas that were to come, but in 1929 it brought he conga line.

However, one man is credited with taking this conga line enjoying some popularity at the nightclub and spreading it across the states, making it the well known party dance it still is today. This man was none other than Desi Arnaz. You know, I Love Lucy’s Desi Arnaz?

Desi Arnaz

Desi Arnaz was a well known Cuban bandleader who toured the states, the world actually, and enjoyed great popularity. Havana was the Vegas of the 20s, 30s and 40s, and Cuban musicians were considering stylish and hip. Desi Arnaz toured the states during the 30s and introduced town after town to the conga dance.

It was easy to pick up, a little exotic but unlike other forms of latin american rhythm and dance, even awkward white people could grasp and do it. The dance would begin when one of the drummers for teh band, wearing a drum around his neck with a strap, would sashay his way out into the audience, begin the dance proper in front of some girl, and then little by little the line would pick up people until it would snake across the room delighting all. The intensity was always kept in check, it was light an fun unlike its cuban origins.

And there you have it. The history of the conga line. Bum bum bum bumb bum… BAH.

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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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