Before reporting on the progress of the Latin Dance Grooves contingent I want to provide a little context.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a treasure when it comes to ethnic dance. This is most likely due to the region’s progressive and inclusive nature that drew artists of all mediums here to join our homegrown creative populace.
The Ethnic Dance Festival premiered in 1978 to showcase dances from around the world with many of the performance companies based regionally. There was already a huge local following for ethnic dance, especially for genres from Africa and its diaspora. Knowing that there was a welcoming audience made it financially possible for master dancers and drummers from afar to come to the Bay Area to perform and do workshops. Some of them even stayed and made a home here.
One such person is the late great Malonga Casquelourd, who was a principle dancer with the National Congolese Dance Company before he migrated to Oakland in the mid 1970s, where he taught classes and established the acclaimed Fua Dia Congo dance troupe. Unfortunately, this incredible man died in a car accident in 2003.
These experts also include local residents, who traveled abroad to study the dances at their birthplace. One such treasure is Blanche Brown, who did extensive dance research in West Africa and Haiti before forming the award-winning Haitian dance group Group Petit La Croix in 1988. Brown, who is in her 70s, continues to teach and inspire new generations of dancers in her weekly class at ODC. These are just two of many master dancers who live in or passed through the Bay Area. We are truly blessed.
This context is the fertile ground where Elizabeth Soberanes fell in love with dance and planted the seed that grew into Latin Dance Grooves. The concept for LDG was brewing in Soberanes’ head for two years before she launched it in 2008 with a Saturday class at ODC. Inspired by Dancer/trainer Patricia Moreno and her Intensati transformational workout that combines invigorating interval training with empowering affirmations, Soberanes wanted to create a dance space that welcomed everyone and encouraged them to be 100 percent present. She worked with Bianca Coleman to gather music and develop choreography. LDG would be based on love for Latin dance, its folkloric roots and spiritual nature. And, above all, it would be professional and done with integrity. And, voila! Here we are today.
Thus, it is no surprise why many of us refer to LDG as a family. The welcoming, supportive environment, the collective struggle to learn a new piece of choreography, and the endorphin-inducing sweat all serve to bring us together. And this family extends outwards to other contingents and people involved in producing Carnaval. We are one big village.
And this part of the village has been busy since the last diary entry. Dancer Carola Ponce created the wonderful icon that will appear in all the associated pieces of this series—photo centerspread, articles, and videos—so that you know they are all connected. This image hints at the dances we will be performing.
The LDG float has been secured and dancer/professional set designer Hector Zavala is busy planning the adornments that will reflect our theme of Agua dulce, água salgada: Our scared source of life. The float will carry dancers and an enormous sound system. LDG Carnaval T-shirts are in the making, featuring a design by dancer/graphic designer Carola Ponce. That woman is prolific. Dancer Heather Wang connected Soberanes with yet another collaborator to get the printing done. Ashbury Images is a business partner of New Door Ventures, a community non-profit based in the Mission that provides employment opportunities for at-risk youth.
On the dance front, we have already learned one choreographed piece and we are actively working on number two. I’m always amazed at how much faith Soberanes has in our ability to learn these pieces. I can’t describe the dances because it’s a Carnaval tradition to keep the choreography a secret until we unveil it on parade dance. But I will tell you that skirts will be fluttering and snapping down Mission Street.
Story by: Eva Martinez