Don’t Miss A El Tamborito Performance

El Tamborito is a lively dance accompanied by folkloric music.

It is one of many Panamanian folk dances, but this dance is unique to the country.

Which is one reason it is Panama’s national dance.  

The video above was done by

About the Dance

Tamborito evolved starting in the 17thcentury after the Spanish conquistadors brought slaves to Panama. The slave dance culture blended with the Mestizo (mix of Spanish and Indian) dances to establish a new dance.  One that involved percussion instruments, clapping, singing, and lively choreography.

The dance is a romantic courtship between a man and a woman.

The basic choreography of the dance consists of shuffling steps. Every person who wants to dance creates a circle, men on one side and women on the other. Taking turns, one man and one woman will go into the center and dance with subtle movements of their hips and tiny steps. They may dance next to each other or face to face but never touching. Typically there are at least 6 couples dancing.

The male dancer works to impress the woman with fast footwork and by gesturing with his hat. He dances in a circular pattern- almost as if he is chasing her. The female dancer also moves in a circular pattern in accordance to the man. She holds her pollera (skirt) in both hands, letting the long fabric create a bell shape, as she moves gracefully as if gliding across the floor. At times the empolleradas provocatively swish their long flowing dresses.  After inviting him closer in this way, she will spur him by turning her back and continuing her circling dance.

Professional Panamanian folk dancer Dimaris Bergeron says that eye contact is key to any Panamanian folk dance between a man and a woman. The woman is not supposed to smile because that would imply that she finds the man charming.  It is a playful dance with the man trying to entice the woman while she resists his appeals.

The men are called montunos named after the straw hat that they wear. The women are called empolleradas named after their long skirt.

At the end of the dance, the partners curtsey to each other.

NOTE:  The description of the dance above and the customs below are for the more staged and formal performances.  Tamborito often occurs much more spontaneously or casually.  Much like the video of Tamborito above.  

About the Music

Tamborito music incorporates Panama’s African influences. Tamborito means “little drum”. The rhythm is referred to as “Tambor Norte”.

The Tamborito is played with three small drums, one for the high tones, one for the low tones (and a caja), another one for the rhythm.  They layer their sounds on top of each other.

Depending on the region, it may also include a Spanish guitar, a violin and an almirez.  The almirez is a metal mortar and pestle that is used as a percussion instrument.  The instrument is historically Arabic.

There is usually one female lead singer who is supported by rhythmic chorus clapping and singing of the rest of the women. The lead singer, cantalante, may sing about life, work, or love, depending on the type of tamborito.


An important aspect of the dance is the costuming. Women wear La Polleras.  A La Pollera is two separate pieces: a shirt and a Pollerón (long skirt).   The gowns are detailed with colorful embroidery, lace, and ribbons.

On top of each female dancer’s head rests a large elaborate headdress called a tembleque.

The head decoration is almost as important as the dress itself. The hair is parted into two braids and tightly pulled back behind the ears. The head is decorated with tembleques.  They are designed to sparkle. (see photo below).

The tembleques are applied with various types of combs. There can be as many as twenty combs on the head -ten per side.  The woman also wears ornate and reflective jewerly (see photos below).

The men’s costume consists of a

  • White long-leeve shirt (Camisilla)
  • Long pants
  • Traditional straw hat with black lines (Sombrero Pintao)
  • Small bag woven hanging on the left side of the body (Chacara)
  • Black and white shoes (Chinelas).

There are different patterns of shirt, pants, and shoes, according to the region.

Click on photos to start slideshow.


The Tamborito is especially popular during the Panamanian Carnival, a national celebration that takes place between February and March, just before Lent begins.

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