Blazers dance to a Latin American beat
When the music begins, senior Jhon "JC” Colque and the other performers come alive, as if stirring after a long slumber. Clad head-to-toe in brightly colored traditional Bolivian garb —including multicolored feathered hats — they twist and turn in a series of fast-paced dance steps. With each fluid movement, their neon clothing adorned with sequins becomes a blur of color and energy. The male performers leap up and down and, helmets in hand, bang rhythmically on the floor as the women shake their dazzling hats and skirts to the brisk and cheerful beat of the music. Energy radiates from Colque and his fellow dancers; their twirling, hopping, sliding and twisting to the Bolivian music creates an enthusiasm so infectious that the audience cannot resist bobbing their heads to the beat.
In this April 3rd performance at Blair's International Night, Colque is dancing with Tinkus Tiataco, a group that performs Bolivian folk dance in parades and competitions throughout the Metropolitan area. Colque, who lived in Bolivia until he was seven, is one of many immigrants to the United States who use dance as a way of connecting to their homelands. He is one part of a rapidly expanding population of Latinos in the Washington, D.C. area. According to a 2005 survey by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, 316,257 Latinos live in Maryland, 40 percent of whom are in Montgomery County. This is the fastest growing population in Montgomery County, with a five percent annual growth rate between 2000 and 2005. And along with these immigrants, the culture and traditions of Latin America are taking root in the United States, especially dance.
According to Luis Rumbaut, former editor of Fiesta D.C.'s Latino Cultural Guide to Washington and former president of the Latin American Folk Institute, Latin American dance spreads due to the influx of so many people of different cultures to the United States. "In large part, I think that dance spreads not so much following a conscious goal but rather as the natural result of the growing contact among peoples of different culture, and of movies and CDs and Internet videos,” says Rumbaut. At Blair, many students engage in a variety of different dances from all over Latin America, yet they all share one thing in common: their use of dance as a way of embracing, sharing and understanding their cultural roots.
‘Tinkus runs in my blood'
It was three years ago when Colque began dancing with Tinkus Tiataco, a group of nearly 90 people that range from ages six to 50. He learned about the group through a cousin and says he joined because he hoped to more deeply understand his Bolivian heritage.
Tinkus, one of the major dances in Bolivia, originated in the city of Potosí and is meant to portray two tribes pitted against one another, according to Colque. The dancers sport bright, colorful outfits that resemble the traditional clothing worn by indigenous people from the rural areas of Bolivia. According to Rumbaut, many traditional Latin American dances are based off old customs and stories. "In some countries, like Bolivia, dance goes back to pre-Hispanic days, reproducing old traditions that have to do with such things as farming and animals, cosmic views, village festivals and territorial conflicts,” he says.
Colque says he has an especially strong connection to Tinkus because his grandfather was from Potosí. "Tinkus runs in my blood,” he says, grinning. Although he initially saw dance as just a fun hobby, Colque says it has become a way of seriously reconnecting with his Bolivian roots, as well as a means of sharing his culture with others. "By dancing, I show off my culture. It's a way of not forgetting the culture and spreading it even if you're not in your own country,” he says.
For senior Milton Flores, dance is more a way to connect to Latin American culture in general, rather than to understand and find security in his specific background. Although his family is from El Salvador, Flores was born in the United States and says he has been "dancing and moving around” in all dance styles since early childhood. Flores, whose mother also dances a variety of Latin American styles, attributes his love of dance to family influences that borrow from a number of countries.
When he entered high school, Flores was able to channel this passion through the Blair Spanish Club, a group of students from all over the Spanish-speaking world that convenes every day after school in the SAC to let loose and dance. Flores says the club mainly explores bachata, merengue, salsa and cumbia, and that they to are eager show off their hard work to others. The Spanish Club performed on April 3 at International Night, and in November they danced in an MCPS competition at Albert Einstein. Flores says that dancing constantly with the Spanish Club has provided a connection to his Latin American culture as well as a way to exercise, have fun and show off. "I'm a beast, what can I say?” Flores says as he laughs and nudges a friend standing close by.
While Flores emphasizes his family's role in introducing him to the world of Latin American dance, it is his peers in the Spanish Club who have exposed him to new subgenres and styles. This, says Rumbaut, is unsurprising given the multicultural nature of D.C. and its suburbs. "In places like Washington, with its varied population, I see a trend to a looser association among young people from different cultures,” he says. And though Rumbaut admits that some find refuge in the familiarity of their own culture and customs, he says that dance can be a universal language. "Sometimes you just feel like moving your body along to the music —it's in our DNA,” he says.
Sharing the love
Because dance is so universally appealing, many Blazers find it easy to share their passion with others. Upon their parents' requests, seniors Maya Maldonado-Weinstein and Mandy Brown started learning Mexican folkloric dance in an after-school program when they were fourth graders at Rolling Terrace Elementary School. Brown and Maldonado-Weinstein, who are both half-Mexican, were so inspired by the program that they decided to join Los Quetzales, a small dance troop based in Arlington, Virginia, which performs dances from all over Mexico.
But Brown and Maldonado-Weinstein weren't satisfied with just performing dance — they wanted to teach it. Every Friday last year, they showed 25 fourth and fifth graders at Rolling Terrace Elementary how to dance various folkloric Mexican dances. Although many of the elementary schoolers were initially reluctant to join in "the whole dancing thing,” they all ended up enjoying it, and a few even came out of the program saying they wanted to pursue dance in the future, according to Brown. This is just what Brown and Maldonado-Weinstein wanted — to spread their beloved pastime. "It was really nice to share our love for dance,” Brown says.
Colque also hopes to share his passion by continuing to dance with Tinkus Tiataco, and he has ambitions to become president of the group, which would require him to make leadership decisions as well as help publicize the group. In the last dance of the night, Colque spins, his costume flashing a pattern that seems exotic in Maryland — but would be completely at home 5,000 miles away.
Lily Alexander. Loves El Salvador, James Franco, "Freaks and Geeks" (best show EVER), Mint chip ice cream, softball and field hockey. She is OBSESSED with gmail and adores "Dirty Dancing Havana Nights" (and aspires to dance with Diego Luna). More »