Contrapunto. The living footprints of Afro-Peruvian zapateo

BY Juan Felipe Miranda Medina, Walter Manrique Cervantes, POSTED IN All Projects, Andes

The Afro-Peruvian zapateo is a dance that is practiced in various areas of coastal Peru. It combines steps from step dance and corporal percussion with jumps and acrobatics to demonstrate the skill of the dancer. Zapateo is part of the cultural heritage of Peruvians with African descent. It has been a tradition in many families since the Afro-Peruvian cultural revitalisation in the 1960s. It is also part of the heritage of rural communities that congregate for Christmas celebrations in the city of Chincha, where zapateo dance and song are performed. Although there are several academic studies about Afro-Peruvian zapateo, there is an absence of works that prioritise the actual practice of this dance.

This project will provide a bridge to connect artists/dancers and researchers. It links academic research to a specific result: the ‘A pie rajado’ documentary. The documentary includes the experiences and movement styles of several masters of zapateo dance in the towns of Lima and Chincha.

In Lima we will focus on the LimaZap festival, a meeting of step dancers and zapateo dancers. In Chincha we will work with the traditional zapateo dancers who perform during Christmas to show reverence to the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

This documentary explores zapateo as an element of intangible cultural heritage, focusing on the variety of styles and forms of the dance. Likewise, we will explore the different contexts in which zapateo is practiced, keeping in mind the socio-cultural context of blackness as something relevant in contemporary Peruvian music and dance. Although zapateo was traditionally associated exclusively with Peruvians of African descent, today there is a wider spectrum of people interested in this dance and in contemporary Afro-Peruvian culture in general. For example, new generations of dancers perform dance in unconventional ways. For example, it is used as a music-dance communication code for theatre or as a form of step dance that resembles the “tap” dance of the United States. Others continue dancing zapateo in a traditional way to guarantee its continuity and transmission to future generations. We will also examine how changes in zapateo styles are related to the socio-cultural contexts where they occur. We have found that in Chincha the dancers move vigorously using the entire foot, while in Lima the ball of the foot and the heel move independently producing another type of sound. In addition, although there are certain standardised movements for the dance, dancers have freedom of movement for the upper body and arms. This is how each dancer marks his own style by generating unexpected effects in each performance. 

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The documentary will be disseminated among zapateo practitioners and public and private institutions, hoping to raise awareness about the dance and the different projects in which the zapateo dancers participate. We will also organise projections of the documentary in primary and secondary schools in Peru. We hope to encourage the learning of zapateo and its associated traditions. We aim to communicate the importance of African heritage and history in Peru, as well as across the Americas. 

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank wholeheartedly the collaboration of:

Luis Sandoval. Director of the dance-theater group “Teatro del Milenio”.
Antonio Vilchez. Dancer and teacher at dance academy D1, organizer of the LimaZap Festival.
José Orlando Izquierdo Fune (“Lalo Izquierdo”). Co-founder of the music-dance-theater group Perú Negro in 1969, director of the Afro-Peruvian group “Kumaco – Escuela de Expresiones Afroperuanas.
Eder Campos. Musician, dancer, performer, and artistic director of Perú Negro.

Rony Campos. Former musician, dancer, performer and artistic director of Perú Negro.
Pablo Ataucuri. Dancer and director of the dance group Balet Folklórico del Sur del Perú (BAFOSUR).
Jose Luis Saldamando Salas (“Cochicho”). Dancer and percussionist at Perkutao: Artistas Peruanos, and Perú Negro.
Caterine Pacheco Cornejo. Dancer and director of Ballet Afroperuano Palenque.