Friday, October 9, 2009

dance nation

As much as I enjoy it, I will never be able to fully appreciate the relationship Bolivians have with dance. It's one that, while common throughout Latin America, completely fails to exist in the culture I come from.

Education students danced Tobas at the College's recent Intercarreras festival.

During any first round of get-to-know-you questions, I'm often asked by Bolivians about my preference for dance. What's your favorite Bolivian dance or music? Have you been to Carnaval in Oruro? Have you seen La Paz's Grand Poder? I've lived here long enough that I can hold my own in these conversations; I have the verbiage to impress Bolivians with my ability to rattle off the names and hum the music of a variety of traditional dances. But, it's when they ask: "What are the folkloric dances you do in your country?" that I stumble over choosing the proper way to respond. "Mmmm... The Polka? The Twist? The Electric Slide?"

Really, in the U.S. we have nothing that compares to the overwhelming number of folkloric dances here in Bolivia--the ones that are celebrated at community festivals, school events, and city celebrations. Each dance tells an important story and expresses deep sentiments about Bolivian culture. Some dances tell the story of Bolivia's history--its struggle for liberation from Spain. Some dances tell the story of the indigenous belief in Pachamama (Mother Earth)--their reverence for the land as they ask for blessings upon the harvest. Some dances represent modern day life--backbreaking work in the field to make sure bread arrives at the table.

Pre-University students waiting to dance Tinku. They went on to win second place.

Me pictured with UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy dressed up and ready to dance Pujllay with the other UAC-CP administrators.

Visitors and volunteers here are always amazed that everyone here dances. Men, women, and children all spend hours committed to learning the proper steps, moving their bodies in the same rhythmic motion. Their love and passion for the dance is something that I am unable to equate to anything that we have in our melting pot culture in the U.S.

Agronomy students sit in the shade waiting for their turn to dance El Chacarero--a cowboy dance that comes from Bolivia's Chaco region. It's characterized by the male part which involves high kicks and fierce boot stomps.

Last Sunday as part of the College's four-day festival, the entire day was dedicated to traditional, group dances. Seven groups participated, each representing one of each of the College's five major academic departments as well as the Pre-University Program and the College's administrators (with whom I danced Pujllay). Each group paraded onto Carmen Pampa's soccer field and dancing in front of a panel of judges and an enormous crowd of locals who flocked to see the major attraction--as events of this magnitude don't generally happen in the countryside.

In the end, the Veterinary Science Department took home the first place win for their interpretation of the Cocalero. Wearing homemade costumes and using a local band of Carmen Pampa area farmers on pan flutes, the Veterinary Science students simulated all of the many parts that compose the reality of coca growers in a very political, social, and cultural way. The last group to dance, they were for every one of us watching, I think, the obvious winner.

Veterinary Science students won first place with their dance of Cocalero. Their unique interpretation, which included all homemade costumes (like the paper machete mask of Bolivian president Evo Morales), paid tribute to the local people who make a living by growing coca.

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