Ancestral dance at the heart of Cali’s Loma de la Cruz

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Foreigners and locals dance to the ancestral beats and rythmns in Cali's Loma de la Cruz/ Photo: Gaia Neiman

In the heart of Cali, where the vibrant pulse of salsa usually dominates Thursday nights, a different kind of magic unfolds in Loma de la Cruz. Transforming a space typically dedicated to local artisans, an indigenous leader takes center stage, encircled by a diverse group of participants drawn from all walks of life.

This weekly gathering has become a symbol of unity, bringing together people of various backgrounds – tourists, students, workers in their uniforms, and members of the Afro-Colombian communities, all spanning generations.

What sets this event apart is the collective enthusiasm and energy invested in the indigenous dance workshop. Participants, despite the sweltering temperatures of Cali’s warm tropical nights, engage with impressive fervor, moving in a rhythmic dance around the central guide. At the heart of the circle often stands Jaguar, an active member of the local Yanakuna indigenous tribe, who unintentionally initiated the event in 2001. Originally, a group of indigenous dancers faced constant interruptions during rehearsals in the square, leading them to recognize the community’s deep desire for a connection to their indigenous roots, prompting the establishment of a regular workshop.

The urbanization of indigenous communities, particularly in the fertile Valle de Cauca region, resulted from historical conflicts and the privatization of large arable land for multinational expansion. Despite progress, rural versus urban tensions persist, highlighting some of the many challenges faced by marginalized groups who live on the fringes of large urban sprawl.

The indigenous dancers aim to fill by serving as a weekly re-education program. The weekly re-education program has also inspired younger generations that never learned their indigenous languages or ancestral traditions to be a part of the family that celebrates their forgotten culture.

Culture and art are a form of communication that has the ability to condense the essence of a people, containing their language, thought, and worldview. For Jaguar, the power of cultural expression through dance is transformative—a form of “medicine” that activates ancestral memory and connects individuals with their heritage.

The musical repertoire spans indigenous rhythms from across the Americas, representing not only the nine recognized indigenous groups in Cali but countless others worldwide, including native Canadian rhythms. This inclusive approach mirrors the city’s internationalism, attracting visitors who fall in love with Cali and its indigenous dances.

The fusion of ancient traditions with the widely beloved modern communication device of music has contributed to the event’s popularity. Cali’s status as the global capital of salsa, with music permeating every street corner, seamlessly integrates with the mission to educate the city about its indigenous roots. The workshops have proven particularly influential among the youth, who find themselves drawn to a celebration of a culture they may not have learned about otherwise.

Jaguar extends his commitment beyond the weekly workshops, venturing into lower neighborhoods to distribute dances expressing gratitude to the Earth, clouds, rivers, water, and even mating rituals. The positive reception in these areas underscores the impact of this educational initiative.

The workshop’s success has led to its expansion into other cities throughout Valle and the capital of Cauca, Popayán, ensuring that the indigenous dance tradition continues to appeal to audiences, both local and global. For Jaguar, the mission is to spread the ceremony, the ritual, and ancient inheritance of dance, so as to save their heritage from the fate that has befallen many other indigenous groups: that of becoming obsolete