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The contradanza is an important precursor of several later popular dances. It arrived in Cubain the late 18th century from Europewhere it had been developed first as the English country dance, and then as the French contradanse. The origin of the word is a corruption of the English term. Manuel Saumell wrote over fifty contradanzas (in 2/4 or 6/8 time), in which his rhythmic and melodic inventiveness was astonishing.
The contradanza is a communal sequence dance, with the dance figures conforming to a set pattern. The selection of figures for a particular dance was usually set by a master of ceremonies or dance leader. There were two parts of 16 bars each, danced in a line or square format. The tempo and style of the music was bright and fairly fast. The earliest Cuban composition of a contradanza is San Pascual Bailon, published in 1803. The Cubans developed a number of creolized version, such as the paseo, cadena, ostenido and cadazo. This creolization is an early example of the influence of the African traditions in theCaribbean. Most of the musicians were black or mulatto (even early in the 19th century there were many freed slaves and mixed race persons living in Cuban towns).
“The women ofHavanahave a furious taste for dancing; they spend entire nights elevated, agitated, crazy and pouring sweat until they fall spent.”
The contradanza supplanted the minuet as the most popular dance until from 1842 on, it gave way to the habanera, a quite different style
This, the child of the contradanza, was also danced in lines or squares. It was also a brisk form of music and dance in double or triple time. A repeated 8-bar paseo was followed by two 16-bar sections called the primera and segunda. One famous composer of danzas was Ignacio Cervantes, whose forty-one danzas cubanas were a landmark in musical nationalism. This type of dance was eventually replaced by the danzón, which was, like the habanera, much slower and more sedate.