Che Malambo: A Hard-Driving, Lasso Whipping Dance Company from the Pampas Comes to Miami

Trapped in a shoe store in Buenos Aires during an end-of-world hailstorm in 2001, I gritted as ice the size of ball bearings struck the steel roof like shotgun blasts.

Later that afternoon, while at a dinner theater in Recoleta, it seemed to me someone had created a dance out of the Southern Cone climate. On stage, an Indian from Argentina’s pampas (plains) rhythmically pounded the floor with plum-sized rocks whirled on a lasso. Over six feet tall, wearing an embroidered leather jacket with a white shirt and tight black pants typical of the Argentine gaucho (cowboy), he performed in a way that introduced me to the folkloric dance rhythms known as the malambo.

Imagine the scene described above multiplied by 14, as a line of nimble giants drum, stomp, and shout rhythms from a stage like a bank of cannons. Che Malambo, the Argentine folkloric dance company, is on its way to South Florida this weekend. 

Gilles Brinas, the show’s director and choreographer, explained by email that Che Malambo takes its name from the malambo rhythm that first arrived in Argentina from Africa. The dance form blends African rhythms with the European dances introduced to the region by waves of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and Germany in the late 19th Century.
Like tornadoes spinning off from colliding weather fronts, specific dances emerged from all this blending. The well-known tango and milonga are two examples. Outside the cities, the malambo first took the form of a kind of fight between gauchos testing skills of speed, strength, and dexterity. As Brinas says, “The malambo was practiced as a kind of rhythmic duel. One performer danced a rhythmic sequence, which was taken up by the other who completed it before it was taken up again by the first, who extended it even further.”

The malambo soon evolved to include its hallmark zapateo, a fast-paced footwork inspired by the galloping of horses. Dancers twist and rotate their legs, striking the floor with heels, toes, and both the inside and outside edges of the boot. Their nearly disembodied legs contort like four-foot salmon loose in the bottom of a boat.

The dancers of Che Malambo initiate and pound out their rhythms accompanied by the bombo, a kind of drum native to Northern Argentina. The dancers’ arch their upper backs exaggeratedly; sternums thrust outward as they piece together elaborate tap-like sequences accompanied by a sound reminiscent of the Irish Riverdance shows. Unlike those shows, however, Che Malambo is an all-male cast of dancers since the malambo, with its gaucho origins, is traditionally a male-only dance.

In addition to the zapateo, Che Malambo features the whirling boleadoras, a throwing weapon made up of intertwined cords and weighted with stones. As Brinas describes, the boleadoras were originally a weapon the first inhabitants of the vast Argentine plains used against one another. “They later served as a hunting weapon, then later still, they were adopted by folkloric dancers as a kind of percussion instrument.”

- Sean Erwin

Che Malambo
Performing Saturday, February 6, at 8 p.m. at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay; tickets: $15-$35;

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