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As the light rain drizzled on to the Old Cambridge Baptist Church on the night of Saturday Sept. 23, live Latin music by Ten Tumbao reverberated off the roof of the José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s Sanctuary Theatre. Crowds of people danced salsa and swing across the floor.
Halfway through the party, the participants were treated to an Eleguá dance performance by Cuban artist Yoandry San Juan Estévez. Dressed in a traditional red and black costume, Estévez swept the floor with his enthusiasm, interacting with the audience during his movements and introducing the crowd to the Yoruba culture that Elegúa, a deity of roads, is venerated in.
The Ten Tumbao dance party was a replacement for the 14th Annual Dance for World Community Festival, created by the José Mateo Ballet Theatre in 2008. A free, daylong event with five stages, the festival had originally planned to feature over 60 performance groups, 25 instructors, and 30 participating advocacy groups — reaching a potential audience of over 20,000 people — but was unfortunately postponed due to poor weather. With the main festival postponed almost a year later to June 8, 2024, the Ten Tumbao performance — which was initially part of the concluding indoor part — became the sole act of this year’s version of festival.
The event was nonetheless special, featuring the aforementioned performance of a traditional Eleguá dance by Estévez, who traveled to Boston with the support of MetaMovements, an artist collective that collaborates with artists in Cuba and the Dominican Republic to create cultural exchange via Latin dance and music.
Anara Frank, the Director of MetaMovements Dance Company, commented on the special bond that this event created between artists from the U.S., Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. She then expounded on the important cultural history and lineage behind the dance.
“The program that we do in Cuba is designed by the artists that we work with, so they talk about what things in their culture they want to share with people, what people would participate in,” Frank explained. “And so it’s really like, through the eyes of the dancers and musicians, what is Cuba, what is happening in Cuba.”
Estévez’s performance epitomizes Frank’s sentiment. After sharing this piece of culture with the audience, he gave an explanation of the tradition:
“[Eleguá] is considered in the Yoruba tradition to be the first to come and the last to leave; every event, performance, or party, to be able to invite everyone to come and to be able to say when it’s time to go,” Estévez added.
He then proceeded to expand on the significance of this festival to him as an artist and its meaningful cultural exchange.
“Dance is like a tool for therapy in a lot of ways. It creates a space for bringing joy into your life. It brings a space for movement for getting to know people socializing in a new environment,” said Estévez.
Despite the rain, people were still finding ways to connect, socialize, dance, and have fun in the Sanctuary Theatre. Angela C. Tramontano commented on how she, as a dancer for 14 years, found it important to connect with the dance community through returning to the Dance for World Community Festival again this year.
“It is still a pretty good turnout today, even though it is not outside tonight,” Tramontano said. “But people still came. And people are having fun and the music is great.”
“When it rains, it rains,” Frank added. “Nothing we can do. But I think it is great that people came out and they’re still supporting José and the festival.”
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