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Alma Boliviana Dance Troupe to Light Up F.C. Parade Route

DianasDancersGroupAt the 29th Annual Falls Church Memorial Day Parade again this year crowd favorite Alma Boliviana, meaning Bolivian Soul, will be one of the colorful Bolivian dance troupes taking it to the streets on Monday, May 31 beginning at 2 p.m. along the Falls Church City Hall parade route.

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THE ALMA BOLIVIANA dance troupe readies for Monday’s parade in Falls Church. (Photo: News-Press)

 

At the 29th Annual Falls Church Memorial Day Parade again this year crowd favorite Alma Boliviana, meaning Bolivian Soul, will be one of the colorful Bolivian dance troupes taking it to the streets on Monday, May 31 beginning at 2 p.m. along the Falls Church City Hall parade route.

Founded in 1991, Alma Boliviana is a non-profit located in neighboring Arlington. Even though based on Bolivian culture, the group brings people of Bolivian-American descent together, but also unites Anglo-American, Mexican, Peruvian, Argentinean, African-American and many other ethnicities.

“It is not mandatory that you be Bolivian to join the group, but you must have the desire to learn the dance, respect the culture and enjoy the immersion in the Bolivian culture,” said Rita Argueta, the troupe’s Director of Events.

This immersion includes passing down the Quencha language of the Andes people, from elder to youth, which according to Argueta is mainly oral, has no official alphabet and lacks any written material to aid in education.

Revitalizing Quencha reflects Alma Bolivian’s most preeminent mission, to preserve Andean Bolivian culture. While consistently teaching, the group proudly provides young people with a network of support and education in a drug and alcohol-free environment.

“Alma instills a sense of responsibility. Participation in the dance group requires punctuality, a serious desire to learn the dance, pride for learning the dance steps and pride in their appearance and self-being,” said Argueta.

Dancers radiate that confidence as they twirl down the street inciting an audible increase in celebration, which quickly spreads throughout the crowd. Though dancers make moves appear spontaneous and easy, including the young girls in high heels, the routines take time and energy to master.

“We practice every Sunday. However if a parade or other performance is around the corner, we practice twice a week for three weeks,” said Argueta. Nela Villazon acts as the group Guia, or leader.

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RANGING IN AGE, Alma Boliviana dancers puts in hours of practice. It will all pay off, however, in Monday’s Memorial Day Parade, kicking off at 2 p.m. May 31 on Park Aevnue. (Photo: News-Press)

 

During the parade, Villazon keeps everyone in step by blowing her whistle marking the movements. Villazon said that while practice may begin at 2 p.m., it often ends later than 6 p.m., consisting of almost constant dancing.

Above and beyond high heels, the costumes are dazzling. Specific attire is required for and denotes certain dances. “In the caporales dance, the girl’s hats do not have feathers, but for the dance called the morenada, the hats do have feathers. Bolivia has over 100 folkloric dances and each dance has its own costume design and style,” said Argueta.

Every year the troupe decides upon their colors together. Jessica Baptista, the group’s Subguia, or assistant (she also gets a whistle) explained that this year’s colors are orange, black and gold, with some red and black from last year mixed throughout.

Alma’s dedicated seamstress resides in Bolivia and creates costumes for Alma Boliviana exclusively. The dancers enjoy participating in the costuming process. “The dancers design their costumes and color scheme, but our seamstress brings it to life using Alma’s designs and adding his flair to make it a beautiful costume any dancer would be proud to wear,” said Argueta. Even during practice the girls are adorned with beautifully layered and sequined skirts, which move around with them with life.

The dances are not only fun to watch, but also steeped in tradition. The three main Bolivian dances are the Caporales, the Tinkus and the Cueca; only the first two will be performed at the parade. The Caporales dance is a traditional Bolivian dance.

“The dance has a prominent religious aspect as one promises to dance for the Virgin of Socavon for three years. She is the patroness of miners,” said Argueta. Bolivia is predominantly a Roman Catholic country and also known for abundant reserves of silver.

For a dose of aggressive dancing, there is the Tinkus. “Its nature is much more festive than hostile and both women and men take part in these spectacular encounters. When Alma performs the Tinkus dance in a parade or stage performance, a mock fight scene is incorporated,” said Argueta. Not easily missed, the dance reveals the particularly belligerent movements and sounds made by male dancers.

Although the men might make more noise, women dancers hold the majority position in the group. Yet each person shines uniquely through the dances. “For Caporale, the girls’ most expressive body part is their arms, hip movements and smile, of course. For the guys, it is their legs, because the majority of the steps involve jumping and hopping,” said Argueta. The men’s steps require great physical endurance.

Stamina definitely plays a role in both competitions and parades, as the Alma performers are quite aware. This year around 60 to 70 dancers will perform on the  Falls Church parade route, with no time-outs. They will require the use of two separate sound systems. “The dancers like this parade because it has a small town feel and it’s in Virginia,” said Argueta.

As a bonus after the parade, the troupe usually gathers at a member’s house to celebrate the holiday together like a big family.

As for competition, a big one awaits Alma Boliviana. The Saya Caporal annual contest will be held on Sunday, June 27 at the Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. “There are various competitions nationwide. The most significant and popular competition, the annual Saya Caporal competition carries big bragging rights within the Bolivian community. This competition tests the endurance and interpretation of the Bolivian caporales dance and the costumes.

Dance groups from Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Florida and other states will compete,” said Argueta. Alma prevailed at the competition in the past, actually winning for three consecutive years.

Although the dancers perform in different venues, a parade, a 15th birthday party (Quinceañera), an International Day event at a high school or college, they remain mindful of one thing, their spectators. “Alma wants the audience to witness and appreciate their devotion and respect of the Bolivian folkloric roots, music and heritage,” said Argueta.

At Monday’s parade, as Alma dances down the street, onlookers will snap their fingers to the Bolivian beat. The dancer charisma is infectious and remains intact even in high heels, there is no doubt that spectator appreciation is sure to follow along.

For more information, visit www.almaboliviana.org.