La isa canaria, the most joyful dance

Among the most authentic and deep-rooted manifestations of Canarian folklore is undoubtedly the isa canaria, that original dance and song of the archipelago, whose roots go back to the dances of the Renaissance, although it combines different dances from all periods, from the baroque and neoclassical dances to the most recent centuries, without forgetting the influences of the European dances of the 19th century.

There are dozens of dances native to the islands, and in fact each of them has its own dances, such as the seguidilla, the arrorró, the mazurca, the folía, the polka, the vivo, the sorondongo, the tajaraste, the malagueña and many more, but it is undoubtedly the isa that stands out especially for being a very loose, colourful and happy dance, and for this reason it cannot be missed in the celebration of any kind of pilgrimage, tenderete, parranda or celebration in general.

The Canarian isa, a group dance

The isa canaria is danced in a group, unlike other dances, so the choreography must be very well prepared and rehearsed. This is undoubtedly one of the influences of the European ballroom dances of the 19th century, as well as introducing the figures in pairs, which turned the isa into a very elegant and smooth dance. It is also a braided dance. The isa mainly consists of the couples holding hands in a circle, performing the basic step, which consists of foot, toe and step. Then the cogote is performed, followed by the chain and various choreographies. Dances alternate between couples and groups, with changes, figures, corros and bridges.

Isa canaria

The isa and the jota

The main influence of the isa is, as we said, the Aragonese jota. In fact, in its beginnings, the Canarian isa incorporated the castanets as the main part of the dance, which would eventually disappear. The isa canaria is still called jotilla or jota in some areas. However, the isa is much calmer and smoother, as it does not change rhythm as the music changes, remaining linear, unlike the Aragonese jota, which has abrupt changes in its steps. The jumps in the isa are also smoother than in the jota, less impetuous.

Dancing the isa

Singing and instruments

The isa has a ternary rhythm, that is, a three-beat rhythm, and the instruments that accompany it are traditionally the lute, the guitar, the bandurria and, of course, the timple on the strings and the tambourine and chácaras on the percussion. And of course, the voices, in chorus, because without the accompaniment of the singing, which is very lively and lively, the isa would not be the same. The lyrics of the isa often have a spicy and humorous tone, very typical of the islands, and the singer's voice is usually soft, calm and slow, unlike its Aragonese cousin.

Dancing a Canarian isa

The Canary Islands, by islands

First of all, we must distinguish between the traditional isa and the more refined salon isa. Each Canary Island has its own isa, one might even say its own isa, as almost every municipality has its own isa. The isa of Gran Canaria consists of a square and chorus dance, and is more accelerated than the rest; the isa of Lanzarote has very simple steps, compared to the others, and the isa of Fuerteventura is the isa corrida, also called isa de salón; theisa of La Palma is without doubt the most elegant isa, and the isa of Tenerife is the most formal of all, which in turn influences the isa of La Gomera and El Hierro.

The Canarian isa, a very joyful dance

The Pérez Galdós Theatre Competition and Los Viejos de Gáldar

The influences of the different centuries even reached the 20th century, and one of the milestones of the Canarian isa was undoubtedly the dance competition organised in the Pérez Galdós theatre in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the 1940s and 1950s, which undoubtedly changed the way the isas were danced forever. The reason was to be found in the rules of the contest, which no longer rewarded fidelity and purity with respect to the original dance, but rather innovation, new steps and styles, which was a spur for the different folkloric groups from all the islands to dedicate time and effort to creating new ways of dancing the isa. The Pérez Galdós competition meant a total renovation of the isa.

Classic Isa canaria

In addition, in the 60s of the 20th century, the group Los Viejos de Gáldar became very popular, teaching the arts of the oldest isas to the youngest, marking a milestone in the preservation of the tradition of Canarian folklore. For our part, it is clear to us that the 21st century is already creating new ways of interpreting the dance in each and every one of the islands of the archipelago, making the isa endure over time.

Photos:, Isora TV,,


Download now our free digital guide

If you are looking for a digital guide that will help you make the most of your trip to Tenerife, our guide What to see in Tenerife in 4 days is created for you to know all the essentials and more on your trip.

Featured articles

Other articles about...

Are you going to Tenerife and you still don't have a plan?

Download our free guide "What to see in Tenerife in 4 days" and discover all the corners of Tenerife to make the most of your trip.