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Danzón Fest attracts new generation to old-world music

545efac7c7750.image 545ee35d3e0e5.imageBy Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro From Valley Morning Star

The dance instructor gave final instructions to more than 20 couples inside the Edinburg City Hall auditorium Saturday afternoon.

As the rhythm of Caribbean style music blared inside the hall, couples embraced and attempted to move in unison.

“One, two, pause,” they counted aloud. “Three, four, pause.”

They moved forward and back and tried to mimic the moves the instructor had directed just moments before.

This was the scene at a Danzón workshop, where couples at the inaugural Danzón Fest learned a basic four-step swing dance — just one of the common routines that is synonymous with the dance that originated in Cuba.

But Danzón, which dates back to the late 1800s, isn’t exclusive to that country. It has also thrived in Mexico, specifically in Veracruz, where people in the Gulf Coast state still gather in the evenings and dance with Caribbean style. The dance is a mixture of traditional ballroom dance infused with the beat of the Afro Caribbean rhythm.

Leticia Leija, library and cultural arts director at the Dustin M. Sekula Memorial Library, said the library has held events with Danzón performers in the past. But Saturday’s event the first time they held an entire festival to celebrate the dance and its culture.

“It was a lost art but it’s starting to catch the younger generation’s attention,” she said.

The director said she expected a large turnout of people from all over the Rio Grande Valley and those from northern Mexico.

Aside from the dance workshop, artisans sold handmade bags, hats, necklaces and homemade foods. People were treated to live musical performances that included Grupo Danzóneros de Reynosa and a folklorico group from Veracruz.

Cynthia Martinez, 36, of McAllen, sat in the courtyard with her family.

Martinez said she had family members visiting her from Laredo and decided the weather was pleasant enough to attend and a good way to expose her daughter to some culture.

“We don’t want them to lose the Mexican tradition, she said. “Whenever there are festivals we try to bring them out so they can see everything and they can learn about our culture.”

One of the guests at the festival was Cristina Kahlo, 54, of Mexico City, artist and grandniece of the late Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo presented an exhibition of photographs called “Tiempo de Danzón.” Kahlo’s photographs depict a litany of moments that embody the Danzón culture. Kahlo spoke of her time taking photographs of Danzón in Mexico and then held a question-and-answer session.

Equipped with their cameras, Juan Silva, 44, and his 12-year-old daughter Andrea, of Edinburg, said they came to take pictures of the dancers performance.

‘I wanted to see what it was about,” he said. “To see this culture, appreciate the music of Danzón and see where it comes from.”

Silva said he listened to similar music while growing up and believes that the Caribbean style is becoming popular.

“Some people think this is only for old people but nowadays I think it’s amazing how young people like these Caribbean rhythms like Bachata , salsa, and I’m pretty sure if they hear Danzón they will like it too,” he said.

Kahlo’s “Tiempo de Danzón” exhibit will be on display in Edinburg at the Dustin M. Sekula Memorial Library through Saturday.

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