It’s a rainy Monday afternoon as dancers and observers gathered in Miller Gym to participate in the Afro-Peruvian Dance Workshop taught by dancer and choreographer Cynthia Paniagua.
We gathered in a room while we waited for the other dance class to end.
Julie Mulvihill, Georgia College’s resident jazz instructor who hosted the event, came out and asked who wanted to dance and who wanted to watch. I raised my hand to dance along with most of the other people in the waiting room.
I’m a firm believer in stepping out of one’s comfort zone. And that day I was going to learn Afro-Peruvian dance.
I did a little research before embarking on the Afro-Peruvian journey. I knew it originated in Africa. African slaves then brought their dance style to South America. In Peru the African styles mixed with Spanish dances to give us Afro-Peruvia
We entered the studio, and there was already a number of girls spread out on the floor, stretching. The room was large with wood floors, mirrors along the front and ballet beams pushed to the far side of the room. My friend and I found a spot in the back corner. I followed the other dancers’ lead and did some half-hearted stretches. Mostly I wanted to catch a glimpse of the woman that would be leading the class.
A woman in a suit got our attention and introduced the director Mitch Teplitsky and Paniagua. Teplitsky said a few words about the film before turning the class over to Paniagua.
“In my class I don’t really do a warm-up,” she said as she moved her arms to the side to demonstrate. “We move and stretch throughout. I want to take you through the progress of Afro-Peruvian dance. First with the African origins then adding the Spanish moves.”
She flashed an encouraging smile, and I knew she wouldn’t be too hard on us. I started to become less nervous about making a fool of myself and more interested in the dance itself.
The moves started off easy, more like stretches than actual dance moves.
In one move we lunged our right leg forward to a right angle and kept the left leg extended.
As we continued through the moves, Paniagua yelled over the blaring music to share different pieces of information about the moves. She stopped occasionally to break down a step or to explain the significance of a move.
“The Spanish dancers are very proud,” Paniagua explained. “They keep their shoulders back. It’s very ‘Who? Me?’” She pointed to herself and laughed.
She kept her head and shoulders high as she moved her hips at what seemed like 90 mph.
“Your top half is saying ‘this is no big deal’ but it really is a big deal,” Paniagua said. “The top half is very proper while the party is downstairs.” The room laughed as she pulled out a Spanish-style skirt and put it on.
“The skirt emphasizes the hip motions,” she said, as the purple ruffles of her skirt flew up.
Paniagua had us line up on one side of the room, and we danced across six at a time.
As we danced I tried not to think about what I looked like. I focused more on the feeling of the dances than getting every move perfect.
I talked to Paniagua after class, and she discussed more about the Afro-Peruvian dance style.
“It’s starting to become more popular, starting to get back to its roots,” she said.
Paniagua received a Fulbright Scholarship to study all kinds of dance and investigate the history behind them. She is featured in the documentary “Soy Andina.”