Dancing away the violence

November 13, 2012

Meta, Colombia

By John Vizcaino

The last time I was in Colombia’s Meta Province was to photograph 35 body bags containing the remains of rebels killed in clashes with the Army. That was last March, and for years before that nearly all the news we covered in Meta had to do with violence.

This time was different. What brought me to Meta was the Joropera dance festival in the village of Acacias. I wanted to show the cultural richness in this village affected by the conflict for so many years.

La Joropera is one of the most colorful festivals in Colombia. It is the positive changes in security that now bring more families than ever from all over Colombia, and a few from Venezuela, to dance here.

The importance of this event for the people of this region was obvious, especially for parents whose children were dancing. They were truly engaged in supporting their kids as the inheritors of this cultural tradition.

Created 11 years ago with the purpose of rescuing the roots and folklore of the Colombian llaneros, or plainsman, the Joropera began with 200 couples dancing in the Joropodromo, a kind of long stadium open at both ends. Such was the success of the first edition, that the next year more than 500 couples participated.

I met a 13-year-old girl from Cartagena named Daisy Alonso, who arrived with her family years ago due to her father’s job transfer. She participated in the Joropera this year with companion Juan Camilo. Their dance instructor, Ruth, told me, “The have very good chemistry. That’s why they dance together and Daisy has been very receptive even though she was born in another region.”

Along with the dancing many artisans also sold their crafts, in a way that encouraged others to learn of their culture and realize that Meta has more to offer than just violence. After so many years covering serious and unfortunate situations, I was thrilled to show the other side of Colombia, the cultural mix and an abundance of joy and good feelings.

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