Fall 2021 In Dance

dance hierarchy with ballet and contemporary ranked at the very top. It was when I began to open myself up to the dances of Samba, Hip Hop, Vogue, House, and many other cultural dance styles and learn their histories that I began to decolonize my experiences with Western dance, challenging this hierarchy. For example, when I began to study Samba, I was first drawn to it for its gorgeous costumes and boisterous per- cussion music. As my relationship to the form and its communities deepened, I began to see and feel how deeply symbolic and ceremonial Samba was for the people of Brazil. Samba originates from African peoples who were brought to Brazil to work on the sugarcane plantations. It is a dance of celebration. Once slavery ended, Samba dancers migrated to the favelas, also known as the shan-

their histories along with their movements, spreading respect, love, and understanding of their origins. The knowledge that I have gained expanding my cultural dance repertoire has helped me peel away the parts of my Eurocentric dance training that I never questioned. Studying cultural dance is a practice of decolonization that inspires me to discover the roots of my ancestral dance lineages. My lineage is traced to the nomadic Chichimeca tribes from the Aguascalientes region in Mexico and the Mayans in the Yucatan, and I continue to try and find ways to translate this information into my dance. The research I have gath- ered has informed me that my ancestors were fierce war- riors, described by the Spanish as the most ferocious, the most valiant, and the most elusive of peoples. They were also fierce adorers of mother earth, known as people of the

wind. When I apply these bits of precious information to my dance, I am grounded. I have reached out to dance groups like Calpulli Tonalehqueh in San Jose, and Xitlalli and Mix- coatl in San Francisco, for guidance on how to even begin my journey in Aztec danza. After a 48-minute con- versation with one of the elders of


tytowns, outside of the city where these formerly enslaved individuals would put together dance troupes for Carni- val. These loud, unrestrained performances were at first frowned upon by Brazil’s Portuguese “upper class.” Over time the music and dance deeply affected the hearts and souls of all the people of Brazil, crossing classes and bor- ders. Learning this history of Samba allowed me to deepen my respect and love for the dance and gave me a profound appreciation for its origins and ancestry. You can feel the pride and joy that resonate throughout the Samba com- munity, and all who are invited into it, through the care each individual takes into telling Samba’s story. The other cultural dance forms I have practiced share similar backstories and ancestry as Samba. Hip Hop was birthed in New York in the 70s by rhythmically talented individuals and was shared amongst communities of cul- ture that didn’t have access to Western dance academies. Vogue dance evolved out of the Harlem ballroom scene of the 1960s, a dance and performance scene created by individuals from the LGBTQ community where they were safe to express their true, authentic selves. House dance was influenced by African dance, Tap, Latin dance, and martial arts, and is a dance about freedom, improvisation, and feeling the rhythm of the music. These styles of dance were born of struggle and fought to be established as legit- imate dance genres. Their histories deepened my engage- ment with dance, both physically and spiritually. I feel that as a dancer who has been privileged to study such a vast assortment of dance styles, I have a responsibility to share

the group Xitlalli, I felt overwhelmed. The amount of his- tory that was shared with me, the ceremonies, the prayers, the language with its sharp T’s and L’s with clicks of the tongue, left me feeling lost to an ancestry and culture that was historically mine to claim but absent from my upbringing. Parts of me felt so ashamed of how foreign it all was to me. I realized that this reclaiming process would be both joyous and painful. Joining one of these groups is a commitment to a lifestyle change, a complete baptism in the culture of my ancestors. I’m deeply committed to this journey into my past. Knowing my history has changed my approach to movement, making me conscious of the decisions I make in my dance career in ways that I never was before. Today, inspired by the movements of the many cultural dances I have practiced, and those of my own ancestry, I continue to search for ways that I can put the pieces of my story into my present dance life so that they can feed me and my loved ones now and in the future. BIANCA STEPHANIE MENDOZA was born and raised in the San Francis- co Bay Area where she began her training in classical ballet with Principal dancers of the San Francisco Ballet; Carmela Zegarelli Peter and Zoltan Peter. She was accepted into the BFA dance program at the California Institute of the Arts which was proclaimed the United States number one art school in 2012. Now Bianca is the artistic director, creator and choreog- rapher of her very own dance company entitled Binki Danz founded in 2013 which focuses on political, economic, racial, and gender subjects. Bianca is currently dancing and choreographing at Dance Mission Theater and with Krissy Keefer’s Dance Brigade Company. Bianca is a Latinx American femi- nist, choreographer, dancer, artist, and activist.


in dance FALL 2021 40

FALL 2021 in dance 41




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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