The Huayno: An Andean Tradition

The Andes mountain range, located in South America, is the longest mountain range in the world. Some of the most amazingly beautiful and rich cultures are located along this mountain range. Countries such as Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia as well as many others are found along this region and they all contain some of the most complex folkdances and music styles that you’ll meet. It is evident that the remoteness of these indigenous peoples of the Andean mountains has caused a lack of scholarly works that delve deeply into the history and steps of the dance style.

The Huayño, or in Quechua the wayñu, is one of the most commonly practiced folkdances throughout the Andean mountain range. You can find it being performed in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Ecuador but it originated and remains the most popular in Peru. This dance formed from pre-Columbian influences that include the indigenous peoples, the Quechua and Aymara. It is said that the huayño developed during colonial Peruvian times (mid-1500s) and has a mix of indigenous flare with the popular urban dances of that time. In Quechua the word huayñuni literally translates to a dance of twos, or dancing in pairs and the word huayño means dance.

It is a dance often seen performed at most festivals and parties. Because of this larger setting, it is often performed by large groups of people even though it is a dance of two. The dance begins as many pairings dancing about and eventually the dancers will form a large circle with one couple in the middle. There are several formations that the dancers will go in and out of throughout the dance such as an arch for couples to pass through or an enclosed circle. The steps are very fast and intricate stamping movements. The man follows the woman throughout the majority of the movement and the man is typically very happy and celebratory by nature. In modern performances there is no particular dress code. When performed by the indigenous people of the Andes the men are typically found wearing ponchos and trousers. The women can be seen wearing skirts, traditional blouses, and braided hair.

Like many other folkdance forms that we’ve run into, the music and the dance are one. If you are looking for information on the huayño dance style it is to be expected that you will read many articles that focus highly on the music of the huayño but it is important to realize that this is okay because the dance relies so heavily on it. The original instruments of the huayño music include the quena (flute), sika (panpipe), harp, guitar, mandolin, lute. In present day it is common to see this music performed by a saxophone and it may also have an accordion present. Early huayño is often performed by a high-pitched vocalist but now that part has been given to the saxophone. Andean flute music has been commercialized and even appeared in a recent South Park episode. The sound of the panpipe and the flute is familiar to most who hear it and this Andean music is less segregated than the dance style is.

– Meghan McGuire


Herrera-Sobek, Maria. “Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions, Volume One.” Santa Barbara:ABC-CLIO, Incorporated, 2012.

Mendoza-Walker, Zoila. “Contesting identities through dance: Mestizo performance in the southern Andes of Peru.” Repercussions 2.3 (1994): 50-80.

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