Dancers and choreographer Kate Ladenheim arrived in Oaxaca in the evening. After a quick introduction to one another and a dinner of tortas (that were quite tasty!), everyone headed to bed, buzzing with excitement for the next two weeks filled with opportunity to share art!
The day began with an early, windy bus ride to Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec in the mountains three hours outside of Oaxaca. JUNTOS dancers taught their first workshop to young, energetic students and quickly realized the challenges that arise when teaching in a foreign language. Though faced with challenges, JUNTOS Dancers were reminded of the joy they felt when dance was new to them, just as it was for the children they were teaching. JUNTOS was broadcasted on the local radio, where translations were made from English to Spanish to the indigenous language Mixe. It was incredible to hear words spoken in English be translated two times over.
On our last chilly day in the mountains, JUNTOS dancers dove into working with choreographer Kate Ladenheim and continued rehearsing JUNTOS rep. We talked to a local advocate (and dance lover), Irma about preservation of the Mixe culture. She discussed the importance of continuing to create community and the role art plays in building that community, discussing their cultural dances as “a chance to lament and come together as a group to go communicate struggle and triumph”. We taught our final workshop complete with a sassy combination and warmed an audience in the dancers first performance by performing beautifully and from the heart.
Back in Oaxaca, JUNTOS had our first day of work with professional level dancers in Oaxaca City, teaching a three hour workshop complete with technique, improv and a groovy combo. A highlight of the workshop was an improv circle where dancers went into the center two at a time making shapes around one another and then improving into a different shape. It was incredible to see how well the dancers worked together with their bodies regardless of language barriers. JUNTOS dancers performed at a safe home for young girls and began to discover the power their performance had in making connections with audience members. There was a young girl, around 5 years old, whose smile would grow bigger and eyes wider every time a dancer made eye contact with her.
We continued to work with the professional dancers in Oaxaca City with a technique and improv class. Kate Ladenheim also gave a short composition class to both the JUNTOS dancers and Oaxacan dancers. They collectively came up with beautiful material. We headed to a DIF (government run) center that caters to adolescents with disabilities and abused and neglected youth. One girl who did not have the ability to see, sat next to Kate during the performance, holding her hand and listening to the music as Kate did her best to tell her what was happening in front of them. Throughout the performance, adolescents progressed from being slumped in their chairs and talking to their neighbors to sitting on the edge of their seats in silence and awe.
Dia de reyes (Day of The Three Kings) is celebrated amongst Mexicans annually on January 6th, but people still made it to the performances JUNTOS dancers gave. To celebrate two days of working together, JUNTOS dancers and Oaxacan dancers performed the combination they had taught in a public performance near the center of the city. In the evening, they performed for students and families at a music school created for at risk youth in a low income community (outside of Oaxaca City). The dancers kicked up dust as they performed while the sun went down in front of them. Dancers began letting go of the expectations of getting every step right and moving into sharing dance with someone else.
Though considered a rest day, the dancers were kept busy absorbing the culture and deepening their understanding of the rich heritage that exists in Southern Mexico. First, they headed for a group trip to Monte Alban (the oldest ruins in Mexico), where they discussed what it means to have privilege. From there, they went to a workshop where Alibrijes, small wooden statues, are made. Just as the dancers work for hours a day honing in on their craft, artists who craft Alibrijes do as well. It is an important reminder to see artists of different backgrounds with different interests working hard to achieve goals in honor of what they love.
Today was an exciting first for JUNTOS as an organization. Dancers performed for the small village of Candelaria Yegole, were most folks work in Palenques, making some of the finest Mezcal on the market (Mezcal Vago). The town inhabitants were excited to see contemporary dance for the first time and equally excited to share and discuss Mezcal with the dancers post performance. Aquilino, a man who has made Mezcal for a good portion of his life discussed his relationship to other Mezcal makers in his area: “I am there for them whenever they need anything, including advice on making Mezcal. We don’t share our recipes, but we share a love for the making.” The dancers began to draw parallels between the passion behind Mezcal production and their own dance backgrounds.
Today was another exciting (and difficult) first for JUNTOS. We worked at Hermanos En El Camino, a safe house for immigrants traveling from Central America providing legal counseling, food, shelter and more. Dancers heard stories of immigrants journey’s and composed dances inspired by their stories. Some of the stories included being robbed, beat up and worse. After seeing the dancers perform, one migrant said he now thinks he has the strength to move forward in his journey. After the devastating earthquakes in September, 2017, Hermanos en el Camino have lost many resources and need all the help they can get. If you’re interested, donations can be made HERE.
A five hour bus ride to travel from Ixtepec to San Cristobol left dancers with plenty of energy for a free day to explore the city.
JUNTOS dancers performed and taught a short workshop in a retirement center in San Cristobal. One man in the center had refused to take his medicine for a week due to depression, but after the performance agreed to take his medicine because the performance and energy of the dancers had brought light to his heart. It’s impossible to know who art will touch, but when it does, it touches part of them not much else can: their soul.
JUNTOS dancers performed for another retirement community JUNTOS returns to annually. The performance was filled with comedic moments, as there is a man who has been there the past two years who falls in love with one dancer each year. Last year it was dancer Georgia Lipari and this year it was Emmy Wilson. Every time Emmy would gesture towards him, he would blow her a big kiss creating laughter amongst the dancers and staff. After the performance, dancers had a workshop with young folklorico dancers and learned a folklorico piece they would perform the following day: with huge skirts and all.
JUNTOS dancers spent the morning reflecting on their time in Mexico and how they could create a bridge between their experiences over the past two weeks and their lives at home. In the evening, they had their final performance in San Cristobol where they shared the stage with young folklorico dancers. Filled with energy, the dancers expanded in the space as they performed, using the experiences from the past few weeks to tell their stories.
Today was another emotionally difficult day for JUNTOS dancers. We had a quick hour long drive to Tuxla – Gutierrez where we jumped right into a workshop with adolescents who have been removed from abusive situations. Initially, the teenagers were timid, but after a few songs had played, they were dancing their hearts out. Following the workshop, JUNTOS dancers performed. After the performance, holding their hands, the adolescents brought them into a room and began showing them their own dances they had choreographed. This of course led to a very long dance party filled with joy and giggles. After a quick lunch, JUNTOS dancers headed to one of the best public children’s hospitals in Mexico for a performance. They waited as the young patients were rolled out in their beds to a central space and performed one last time in Mexico. After the performance, one parent cried as she hugged the dancers, saying “you took my pain away for a moment.” It is never easy to see children or adults in pain, but as artists, we can hold pain for a moment or two in hopes that others can feel relief and peace and can tap into that feeling for the rest of their lives.
Dancers say their final goodbyes and depart.