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  • Writer's pictureMarianella Desanti

Our Afro-Caribbean Dance & Soul

This is the story of how one single dancer can assume leadership and motivate an entire community with pride and dance.  Through dance an embodied tribute to all that is good of the cultural inheritance is manifested and through which  the roots and richness of Afro-Caribbean Costa Rican dance come back to life.  The heart of Africa pounds through the drums and evolve into a unique Costa Rican choreography and dance capturing the universality of our world voice and humanity, and interpreted through the uniqueness of our national experience and life.  The heart of Africa pounds through the drums and evolve into a unique Costa Rican choreography and dance capturing the universality of our world voice and humanity, and interpreted through the uniqueness of our national experience and life.  In our participation in African dance through our Costa Rican interpretation, we become part of our longest dance started years ago in the first and forgotten original human tribe.  

By inviting us to dance in a class of Afro-Caribbean dance at Taller Nacional de Danza in Costa Rica, Claudio Taylor is inviting us to a life celebration and a process of self-discovery and national healing. His dance is collective, powerful pounding rhythm and dance into the floor...and yet, with a softness to the hips and a flow of the arms invoking the beauty, peace and fluidity of our Caribbean Sea.

I first met Claudio in a classical ballet classroom in the Danza Libre studio, in the capital province of Costa Rica.  We were both to dance in the Nutcracker, and he would shortly interpret one of my favourite interpretations of the iconic Rat King.  Claudio is an accomplished dancer with extraordinary refined, long lines and strongest centre.  He is a mature and yet ageless dancer with great many years of dance training and dance exploration.

Afro-Caribbean Costa Rican dance was born in Limon, a seaside province.  During the construction of the railroad Jamaican, Antillian, Chinese and European immigrants arrived to Costa Rica to work.  Although these immigrants were not slaves, bad work conditions, poor wages and deplorable treatment a slave-like life of poverty and discrimination for many years.  Racial discrimination, poverty and geographical distance from the capital city and the Greater Metropolitan Area, led to a cultural divide and insolation that still echos today.

Far from the capital, the strong Afro-Caribbean roots and culture of Limon’s mixed heritage permeated their lifestyle, culinary arts, dress, music and ofcourse, dance.

In an earlier interview Claudio spoke of dance and of his vision and the perception of Afro-Caribbean dance in Costa Rica:

“I would like that Afro-Caribbean dance reach the entire country, that people would realise that Afro-Caribbean culture is not something remote from the rest of Costa Rica, it is something that belongs to us, because we have Limón and the Caribbean Sea, we have the Afro-Costa Rican Caribbean, and by saying this we make an affirmation of belonging to all our people because it is Costa Rican heritage that has nothing to do with skin colour, it is part of our national culture. Through the processes of globalisation we have to realise that it is a culture that belongs to us and belongs to us all; black, white and indigenous, because we carry it within ourselves.” (2008)

Observing Afro-Caribbean dance class imparted by Claudio himself, the importance of a stable, strong centre, the use of breath, the grounding of hips in a natural sway responding to the bending of the knees. The arms are strong and fluid. At times, arm movements used to represent historical narrative such as the symbolic representation of picking bananas from the old plantations. The rhythmic intensity is hard on the body, with little rest as one sequence feeds into another with greater speed and intricacy...all lead to a stable and strengthening dance technique.

Analysing the value of Afro-Caribbean dance in the early childhood classroom, great benefit can be found for the developing child.  Afro-Caribbean dance uses a great deal of symmetrical work from left to right, and right to left.   Great benefit can be reaped by working on laterality and developing midlines.  The rhythmical patterns and sequential work of Afro-Caribbean choreography allows working in patterns and sequencing which favour logic-mathematical skill development.  The deep plié and strong centre is important for the development of proper strength for fine motor skills conducive to writing.

Beyond the physical skills that children can work on, the most important aspect of working on Afro-Caribbean dance in the classroom is of cultural enrichment.  The developing of a broader understanding of Costa Rican folklore, a folklore that goes beyond our colonial-european roots and embraces our true multicultural heritage that includes our mixed-racial story informed by immigration.  It includes smaller groups than dominant capitol city culture.  It is a true national identity that includes a voice filled of strength, rhythm and Afro-Caribbean dance and soul.


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