‘NuYoRican’ tells overlooked story of migration

When most folks think of the Great Migration, they think of the six million African Americans who journeyed from the rural south to the industrial cities of the Northeast, West and Midwest beginning at the turn of the 20th century. But there was another Great Migration that took place during the 1950s that is not as well known.

It is the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States after their island was declared a U.S. protectorate following World War II. Many of them settled in New York, bringing their history and culture to a new land where they faced hardships and triumphs.

It is the story of these New York Puerto Ricans, or Nuyoricans that inspired the upcoming production of NuYoRican by the Latin Ballet of Virginia. Performances will be held Mar. 16-19 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.

“It’s very educational. It’s about real life,” states artistic director Ana Ines King, who originally staged NuYoRican in 2003.

The production is based on her talks with award-winning journalist and author Julia Barden Torres, who later went on to put her stories in a book titled, “Newyorican Girl, Surviving My Spanglish Life.” Torres will be on hand during one of the performances, speaking to the audience and signing copies of her book.

King said historical and cultural accuracy was very important in the production, which seeks to “capture the essence of the Puerto Ricans’ Spanish and African roots with dances like La Plena and La Bomba, as well as Mambos, Salsas, Latin Jazz and Sandungueo.”

For some Americans, their introduction to Puerto Rican culture came from the iconic musical “West Side Story.” But King cited that Oscar-winning production as not being culturally accurate because it utilized flamenco rhythms and dance, which comes from Spain.

“They never came to Puerto Rico to see how Puerto Ricans lived,” King said. “I’m not saying it was wrong. That was the easiest thing at that time to do.”

But in “NuYoRican” as presented by her company, King strives to present the beauty of the island via scenes of the people and the land being projected on stage while the dancers perform, something they weren’t able to do in the original production.

While she focuses on the decade of the 1950s, when the largest wave of migration took place, Puerto Ricans began migrating to the mainland in the early 1900s, especially after March 2, 1917 when Pres. Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. It granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans born on or after April 25,1898. Many of them settled in New York, in a section known as Spanish Harlem, later moving to other neighborhoods, including Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.

King, a native of Colombia in South America, founded The Latin Ballet of Virginia in 1997. She had been teaching Latin American dance and culture to Spanish language teachers and making presentations at schools. But as the demand grew, she decided it was time to establish a school. Classes range from classical ballet to salsa, flamenco and hip hop. Educational programs include Spanish through Dance, Dance as Therapy, English as a Second Language through Dance, Verde (teaches love of nature), EveryBody Reads! (a literacy program), as well as an Arts Education Summer Day Camp.

Classes are taught at two locations, The Cultural Arts Center in Glen Allen and The Dominion Center in downtown Richmond.
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Henrico Business Bulletin Board

August 2017

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The Richmond Chapter of USA Dance, a national ballroom dance organization, will provide a free ballroom dance exhibition at 1:30 p.m. at Regency Square Mall. The exhibition will be comprised of professional and social ballroom dancers performing ballroom dances from the waltz to the samba. The audience will have an opportunity to participate. Full text

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