Just having performed the night before, my friend’s host mom, and daughter of Don Amador Ballumbrosio, was discussing the importance of dance for Afro Peruvians. She said that the audience wasn’t important, that she wasn’t simply putting on a show, and that her dance was something higher than that. She said, “Cuando bailo, me siento.”
“When I dance, I feel.”
I think it’s hard for anyone to ignore what you feel when you hear the cajón – a traditional Afro Peruvian instrument used as a drum. When you hear the cajón, you have no choice but to feel the richness of a culture and the story of a people who preserved a little piece of Africa in the New World.
Her dance is called Festejo which literally means celebration and is a dance that weaves together both Spanish and African influences. As stated in an earlier post last year, Festejo is a sensual and rhythmic dance representative of youth, vigor, and love.
Many times the clothing used when performing Festejo is intentionally reminiscent of clothing of their enslaved ancestors. Women usually wear a flowing dress with a head scarf and mean wear simple pants and no shirt. However, it is also common to see women perform Festejo in a two piece outfit of a short frilly skirt and a crop top that displays the stomach. The dance is also performed completely without shoes.
Unpopular and limited to the few Afro Peruvian cluster populations along the Peruvian coast, the Festejo didn’t start to receive national attention until the 1950s when there was a surge of interest concerning Black Peruvian culture. Today, music and dancing troupes like Grammy nominated Perú Negro have shared their cultural heritage with the world though national and international tours. And even though I’ve watched a bunch of Perú Negro’s amazing performances via YouTube, there is no bigger privilege than being able to see the Ballumbrosios perform in their own house:
To be there present with the family during a performance was one of those moments you have as a volunteer where you really feel like the decision to leave your life behind for two years was truly worth it. And although I was not out there dancing with them, I could understand how this was not just a show but rather an expression of love for their culture because cuando vi, me sentí.
When I saw, I felt.