An African-Latino showcase gives us history by way of cha-cha-cha | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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An African-Latino showcase gives us history by way of cha-cha-cha

Columbia College inaugurates a new dance program with four days of cross-pollinated performances.


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Dances that offer important history lessons are rare, and these four shows, commissioned by Columbia College as part of its new Afro-Latino dance program, are doubly unique for illuminating a largely untold history. Even today in Latin America, the rich and complex roots of Afro-Latino dance, shaped by the massive influence of colonization and the slave trade on indigenous and traditional Latin American folk dances, remain less than fully acknowledged.

Chicago-based companies AfriCaribe and Latin Rhythms are keeping both fusion and traditional styles vital. AfriCaribe (Tue 7/15) draws on Caribbean and Puerto Rican social dances: a line of women in pastel head wraps and skirts sing while drummers improvise a relentless beat. Out in front, a soloist's fluttering skirts resemble a swimming stingray. Latin Rhythms' program (Fri 7/18) of salsa and cha-cha-cha includes a melodramatic routine for three couples in which each woman exhibits a thrilling agility of the hips, as if her pelvis were attached ball-and-socket style to the base of her spine.

The program "Postmodern Afro-Latinidad" (Wed 7/16-Thu 7/17) features eight choreographers who suss out cross-pollinations between African and Latin dance. In one, Wind, a duet for two women, Joel Valentin-Martinez traces steps from Spain to Africa to Latin America to Mexico, blending Duncan, Graham, Cunningham, and Fagan with samba, rumba, salsa, and a West African dance for the passage of young women in adulthood. The duet's smoothly interlocking solos include broad sideways lunges, rippling arms, and exultant leaps inspired by African legends in which water and snakes have magical powers.

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