Dancing Our Stories
By Lorna Shannon
“When we dance we are the earth in motion.”
The dancers who make up Samba Colorado come from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common. We all utilize dance as an outlet for self expression and as an agent of healing. This group of individuals enriches my life deeply, just by showing up for their own. I am reminded each time we are together in class, rehearsal, backstage before a show, or at a community gathering, that we all come with stories to tell. We all have faced some form of struggle in our lives, and we find healing through connection, community, and creativity.
Our beloved Artistic Director Kebrina Josefina De Jesus teaches us to dance from a place of humility, appreciation, and gratitude. In each class we learn about the roots of Samba to understand its lineage of Afro-Brazilian dance. Historically taught as an oral tradition, Samba comes from real life situations, rich in stories of resistance of oppression, embedded with symbols, codes, and warnings. When we come to dance with this in mind, it can be a potent healing agent which facilitates a conversation with our ancestral memory and our higher selves. We can receive messages about freedom, pain, clarity, understanding, and joy, taking what resonates with us and releasing what is not for us. We are taught to mindfully enjoy the experiences we are gifted through our explorations.
We also dance to show appreciation for ourselves and our individual journeys. Kebrina is invested in her students’ success in whatever their dance or life goals may be. She fosters a sense of contemplative community and encourages dancers to connect with each other. The atmosphere she has created holds space for us to really reflect and share our authentic selves while we all learn and evolve together.
Melanie Warning, a ballet dancer who joined the Summer 2018 program, says the experience of training and performing with Samba Colorado has opened her up to new ways of moving in her body and being in community. “This supports deep exploration of self and authentic connection. I feel honored to be learning about the roots of these dances and moving with intention in a community of uplifted, empowered people.” Another Summer program member, Erica Dennison, says she stopped dancing consistently after she graduated college in 2006. “Life just took over,” she explains. “I think I forgot the little things that make me happy. Over a decade later, I found a community that made me comfortable enough to get back into the arts. A community that embodies empowerment with Brazilian dance, which was new and unfamiliar to me, and has meaning and purpose. Because of Kebrina and all the dancers at Samba Colorado, I’ve realized that you’re never too old to get back into something you love, especially when you find an incredible community behind it that allows you to be vulnerable. After my last class of the summer program I arrived home feeling fulfilled and grateful, as I do every time I end a rehearsal or class.”
Tajah Schall, an Afro-Cuban dancer turned Somatic Counselor who joined Samba Colorado Dance Company for its 5th season during the fall of 2017, reflects that through dancing with Samba Colorado she is learning to lead with her heart and celebrate her accomplishments. It is a practice to “present yourself to the world with pride and gratitude,” she says. “Staying open and meeting new people isn’t the easiest thing for me. When I first started last year, my family was coming out of a pretty serious health emergency with my son, and I desperately needed to feel like myself again. Dance was always the way I had been able to do that. What surprised me was the amazingly warm and welcoming community that I found as well. How lucky we all are that Kebrina puts her whole heart into this work.”
We learn through Kebrina’s guidance as well as from her elders and master teachers she brings for residencies, to see Samba and Afro-Brazilian dance as a way to dive deep, explore and discover. We step into the unknown, the vulnerability, Through this training we become scientists, experimenting with our bodies, discovering our own freedom with each step and each breath. Samba is not just a set of steps to repeat and look like everyone else. There are lessons to learn beyond the steps, beyond the shapes, beyond the choreography. It is about experiencing the spirit of samba, not mimicking it.
Tania Choquehuanca Bibbo shares her eye opening experience of joining Samba Colorado as a beginner dancer and a busy mother of two. “I didn’t start dancing until my motherhood years so I’m a true beginner in dance. Kebrina has an alternative approach to teaching which has been good for me. She mixes advanced dancers with beginners which I’m sure is very challenging to direct. I credit her with helping me with my body movement, technique, and being well grounded. She’s introduced me to many genres of dance; I never knew there were so many different types of Samba! I’ve also learned a lot about the roots, where certain dances and movements come from and the ancestral stories that go with it. Another great thing about Samba Colorado is the opportunity to get your family involved. There are many opportunities to dance, drum, and help with shows, parades and performances. My hubby and daughter have played with the Samba Colorado drum ensemble and that has been an amazing experience as a family. I also love how Kebrina allows you to make the experience work for you. Sometimes I need to slow down, take a break or try other things for a little while and she’s very understanding with that. She encourages you to explore what’s out there, find what makes you happy. I truly appreciate that. When I dance with Samba Colorado, I feel like I’m sending an artistic message about life. It’s definitely made me look at dance very differently. It’s not just about memorizing choreography. It’s about expressing yourself through movements that all have a meaning and a story behind it. It’s the universal language of art and that’s beautiful.”
As for me, when I dance, I honor where I came from, where I am now, and where I want to go. I am of Irish, Brazilian, and German descent; dance is most certainly in my DNA. I have close family ties to Brazil, so it has been so enriching, learning Samba and Afro Brazilian Dance as a way to connect to the Brazilian culture in my blood. Becoming dedicated to dance as a discipline has also been a way for me to heal myself with a somatically informed approach. I have struggled in life to be grounded and embodied, with tension and blocked energy in my body, and a nervous system that takes great effort to regulate. My gratitude for this body and this life has been fought for and hard won. For me, to dance is to know I am alive, and to know that I have agency with my body. It is a joy to include dancing with Samba Colorado as a modality for this healing. I have discovered just how strong my body and spirit truly are.