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Typical cart of Costa Rica Culture and Crafts Native Jade Craft in Costa Rica

As in other parts of Latin and South America, Costa Rica has many a talented artist and artisan showing and/or selling their wares. One can find those steeped in the traditions of generations of their families’ production of beautiful clay and ceramic items or in the working of wood, as well as talented newcomers busy creating new forms, techniques and family traditions of their own to pass on to their children.

Put on your walking shoes. Get out of the car or off the bus. Today, perhaps, you are in Guaitil or Sarchi or Escazu, etc…You are looking in booths amazed at the formidable amounts of shapes and colors…it is too difficult to choose… you need to continue on your way. You find your way down a small street until you spot the place that feels just right. In certain areas of the country there are enough pottery wheels to keep your head spinning. Brick kilns, clay pits, the small adobe houses that provide the finishing treatment and which are the tell tale sign of a family-owned operation—there are many ways to acquire not only lovely specimens with which to return home, but a feel for the people who are creating these pieces…a personal touch, if you will. There are many people who will enjoy speaking about their craft—and if your Spanish isn’t up-to-snuff, just stand there and gaze their fingers making magic—the only language needed. You will know when you get to the right place and spot which piece is yours! …And if not today? Well, perhaps you will have to come back in a couple of days once you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.

Did you know that certain woods, when cut at the appropriate times of the moon, can be left on the forest floor for up to a year and still be healthy? Some can even take root anew. This could mean the difference between your furniture being termite fodder within months or lasting you for years and years. It is said that the artist takes a block of raw material and just eliminates the unnecessary in order to liberate the end-product. Ironwood, purple heart, rosewood, satinwood, tigerwood….it is difficult to tear oneself away from beauty the various tropical woods give us. Master craftsmen chisel, etch and paint patterns and images on bowls, cups, knife hilfts that are so perfect in symmetry, that they appear to have been formed by lathes. And you will, of course, notice the most colorful carts. Perhaps you will here during one of the parades and see them in their full glory. These are truly a Costa Rican tradition. They are the ox carts. Though now not in everyday use as they once were, they are presently reproduced in all sizes. They are used as home decoration, over sized flower boxes, mini-bars, and carts!….Wouldn’t one just be perfect on your bookshelf? On your patio? In your living room ? How about a gift for a valued friend? In Sarchi , that “outdoor maxi-mall” of Costa Rican crafts you will find the oxcart factories. Even if you don’t want to acquire one on this trip, you will be amazed as well as educated by the experience.

And though Costa Rica is not famous for its indigenous arts, we are not bereft of them by any means. Borucas, the art of carving masks, animals, and supernatural beings are everywhere. The quijongo, a bowed string instrument which boasts a beautifully decorated gourd.

Parties in Costa Rica Music and Dance Parties in Costa Rica
From Guanacaste to Osa to Nicoya to Limon: Ticos love to dance! On weekends folks from all walks of life flock to the small-town dance hall, the cantina dance floor, the concert hall--every venue you might imagine. When it comes to dancing, the hypnotic Latin and rhythmic Caribbean beats of cumbia, lambada, marcado, merengue, salsa, soca, and Costa Rican swing got it goin’ on. Costa Rica is one of the southernmost "marimba culture" countries, although the African-derived marimba (xylophone) music of Costa Rica is more elusive and restrained than the more vigorous native music of Panama and Guatemala, its heartland. The guitar, too, is a popular instrument, especially as an accompaniment to folk dances such as the Punto Guanacasteco, a heel-and-toe stomping dance for couples which is the official national dance. (The dance actually only dates back to the turn of the century, when it was composed in jail by Leandro Cabalceta Brau.) Costa Rica has a strong peña tradition, introduced by Chilean and Argentinian exiles. Literally "circle of friends," peñas are bohemian, international gatherings--usually in favored cafes--where moving songs are shared -- and wine and tears flow copiously

On the Caribbean coast, the music is profoundly Afro-Caribbean in spirit and rhythm, with plentiful drums and banjos. There is also a local rhythm called sinkit, and the cuadrille (a maypole dance in which each dancer holds one of many ribbons tied to the top of a pole; as they dance the brightly colored ribbons intertwine forming a most formidable braid. And finally, the Caribbean, though, is the true domain of calypso, ska and reggae, from where stars such as Harry Belafonte and Bob Marley, as well as many others, introduced these into the mainstream world market over the years.

Folkloric dance in Costa Rica Folkloric Dancing Folkloric dance of Costa Rica in National Theather

Guanacaste is the heartland of Costa Rican folkloric music and dancing. Here, incorporating instruments dating back to pre-Columbian times, such as the chirimia (oboe) and quijongo (a single-string bow with gourd resonator) popularized by the Chorotega, which are still used in traditional Chorotega dances such as the Danza del Sol and Danza de la Luna. The more familiar Cambute and Botijuela Tamborito—a blur of kaleidoscopic, frilly satin skirts accompanied by the tossing of scarves, a fanning of hats, and loud lusty shouts from the men--are usually performed on behalf of tourists rather than at native turnos (fiestas). The dances usually deal with the issues of enchanted lovers (usually legendary coffee pickers) and are mostly based on the Spanish paseo, where pretty maidens in white bodices and dazzlingly bright skirts are circled by men in white suits and cowboy hats. A number of folkloric dance troupes tour the country, or perform in venues such as the Melico Salazar and Aduana Theaters, and the National Dance Workshop, which are headquartered in San José. Of particular note is Fantasía Folklorica, a colorful highlight of the country's folklore and history from pre-Columbian to modern times.

Vestiges of the indigenous folk dancing tradition linger (barely) elsewhere in the nation. The Borucas still perform their Danza de los Diablitos, and the Talamancas do their Danza de los Huelos. But many of the drums and flutes, (including the curious dru mugata, a beeswax flute in the ocarina family) are being replaced by guitars and accordions. Even the solemn indigenous music is basically Spanish in origin and hints at the typically slow and languid Spanish canción (lit., song) which gives full rein to the romantic, sentimental aspect of the Latin character.

Youth Symphonic Orchestra featuring at the National Theather Classical Music National Symphonic Orchestra featuring at Melico Salazar Theather

Costa Rica stepped onto the world stage in classical music in 1970 with the formation of the National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Gerald Brown, a North American. The orchestra, which performs in the Teatro Nacional, often features world-renowned guest soloists and conductors. The season is from April through November, with concerts on Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday matinees. Many famous international artists, incuding Luciano Pavarotti, have made Costa Rica a stop for their regional performances. Just this year, Mr. Pavarotti gave a free concert in the Sabana (a large public park in San Jose). Neighbors could even sit by their open windows to be enriched by his dulcet tones.

The Monteverde Music Festival, held annually from January-February, presents a combination of classical with jazz and swing events. Held at the Hotel Fonda Vela, in Monteverde one should make reservations early, as it is one of the most renown, popular musical events that take place here.

Picture of the Melico Salazar National Theather Theater Insights of Costa Rica National Theather

A nation of avid theater goers, Costa Rica supports a thriving acting community. In fact, Costa Rica supposedly has more theater companies per capita than any other country in the world. The country's early dramatic productions gained impetus and inspiration from Argentinian and Chilean playwrights, and actors who subsequently settled here at the turn of the century, pushed to establish drama as part of the standard school curriculum.

The streets of San José are festooned with tiny theaters. Comedy, drama, avant-garde, theater-in-the-round, mime, and even puppet theater attract crowds nightly, Tuesday through Sunday (as everywhere, Monday remains dark). Although predominantly in Spanish, there are some English language companies. The Little Theater Group is Costa Rica's oldest English-speaking theatrical troupe; it performs principally in the Centro Cultural's Eugene O'Neill Theater. And as for ticket prices, one can attend the theater here weekly for a year for the same as one would spend on a single night on Broadway. The Tico Times and Costa Rica Today offer complete listings of current productions.

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