Baila como un trompo

We continue wending our way through the list of Colombian (or “Colombian”) phrases, and today we wend not on tiptoe, not in a sprint, but in a dance. We’ll even give this post a soundtrack, just for the heck of it. When that one ends, you can finish reading the post and leave your comment while shaking to this one or this one. Oh man, such good music for breaking it down.

5. Baila como un trompo (Knew it. Not uniquely Colombian.)

Literal translation: he/she dances like a top
Translation: he/she is a great dancer
Meaning: to be a great dancer, to be light on your feet, to be a twinkle toes

I think I’ve mentioned a few times that I love to dance. No, really, love to dance. Adore it. Salsa, cha-cha-cha, cumbia, porro, bachata, and merengue. Plus the little bit I know of tango (mostly faking and letting skilled friends glide me around). I don’t think there’s anything I enjoy more. And obviously I’m obsessed with Spanish, especially Spanish of the Colombian persuasion. So, ahem, that makes me uniquely qualified to comment on today’s phrase. Not really, but it does speak my language and matches my groove. Let’s boogie!

Someone who dances like a top is obviously smooth, fluid, and has it going on. Also, they can just go on and on, totally in their element as they whip out dance after dance, azotando baldosa. The bailar como un trompo phrase is a great visual. I admit that sometimes I forget if it’s trompo or trompa. Dancing like an elephant’s trunk just wouldn’t be the same, though! Actually, though, a top is called a trompa in some places, as well as a thousand other names. Here in Colombia, it’s a trompo or a pirinola, which is a variation.

Oh, you know what I just learned? A trompo isn’t just any old top. It’s a top with a string attached to it, also known as a whipping top. This type of top is apparently common throughout Latin America. I’d never heard of or seen one, but I can imagine them. Like a cross between a top and a yo-yo. A stringless top is a peonza, and you can also say that someone dances like a peonza. I’ve been told that skilled top-spinners can make their tops spin the most incredible and intricate figures. I’m now imagining tops doing figure skating-type moves: triple axels and overhead lifts. So, we’re not talking just any old top here, and now you see that we’re not talking any old dancer.

This phrase is not uniquely Colombian by a long shot, but what else is new? Maybe it’s used more here (because many Colombians, especially Caleños, are incredible dancers), but the phrase is definitely used throughout Latin America. Here’s Elaine dancing like a top that’s spun out of control.

I’m sure we have natural ways of expressing this in English, but I just can’t think of them. Because I would never actually say the phrases above, that someone’s light on their feet or that they’re a twinkle toes. How would you say that someone’s an amazing dancer? Maybe compare them to Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson? I guess the most recent ode to a great dancer in pop culture was Maroon 5’s Moves Like JaggerSo, I’m sticking with that: bailar como un trompo means to bust a move like the iconic Mick Jagger. And that’s that!


2 responses to “Baila como un trompo

  1. I always thought of a top as one that you spin with a string. The ones that you spin with your fingers are pirinolas. The classic pirinola is one with six sides, each with a legend, used to play a game. My big surprised was at the Thanksgiving Day parade last year. There was this Jewish child very excited when he saw one of the floats coming, saying to his mom: “a dreidel, a dreidel.” I looked at the dreidel coming down the road and thought to myself, that’s a pirinola. If you don’t know it, a dreidel has 4 sides and playing with it is one of the family traditions in the celebration of Hanukkah. Since the dreidel and the pirinola are clearly related, I looked them up in the internet to get to the bottom of it. It seems that the original toy is of German origin. The dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each of its sides, and their meaning are a direct adaptation of the letters in the original German version.

    End of gratuitous information.


    • May the good Lord bless you and keep you for commenting on these old commentless, loveless posts, edf! I love your “gratuitous” information! When/if I have half-Colombian kids one day (or from anywhere, really!), we are going the whole nine yards with the trompos, pirinolas and dreidels :)

      Pirinola always reminds me of this line from El amor en los tiempos del cólera- NSFW ;)

      Al contrario de lo que hacía creer su corpulencia, Lotario Thugut tenía una perinola de querubín que parecía un capullo de rosa, pero éste debía ser un defecto afortunado, porque las pájaras más percudidas se disputaban la suerte de dormir con él, y sus alaridos de degolladas remecían los estribos del palacio y hacían temblar de espanto a sus fantasmas.


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