Kebrina Josefina De Jesús encourages the room of dancers to breathe, to inhale deeply, exhale and connect to their bodies.
“How can you be the most authentic, true self in your dance?” she says. It’s not about nailing the fast-moving samba steps she’s asked them to perform, but about showing up and being present.
“This is beyond step, touch, step, touch, pirouette, down. This is an experience.”
As the dancers cool down at the end of class, De Jesús asks them to circle up and reflect on the past hour. Marian Baena, who comes to De Jesús’ samba class every Tuesday night and helps with social media for the artist, goes first.
“I’m thankful to be alive and I can dance,” Baena says. “There are many things going on in life right now. But just having this moment to dance, and connect to my body, connect to my ancestors, connect to you guys. It’s beautiful.”
For De Jesús, this is what dance is all about: embodiment, healing and community.
A decade of dance flows to a free daylong event
That’s in the ethos of the company and school she founded about a decade ago, Samba Colorado. These convictions are also the driving force behind a new local dance festival De Jesús has organized called Dancetopia, running 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at The People’s Building at East Colfax Avenue and Florence Street in Aurora.
The daylong global dance event, featuring a lineup of all Colorado artists, kicks off with a brief opening ceremony and then launches into its first workshop, a session for attendees to learn belly dance from the founder and owner of Basma Dance & Fitness in Aurora. Other workshop offerings include Polynesian dance, West African dance, courtesy of Boulder-based Logo Ligi, and Afro-Brazilian dance. The classes culminate in a performance by the participating dance companies.
De Jesús says she wanted to bring all of these styles, these “dances of the diaspora,” into one space to build stronger community among the dance groups, as well as showcase their artistry to the broader community.
“We can take a moment to appreciate and see all of these dances … share their talents and show the community we can all come together and don’t have to stay in our comfort zones,” she says.
Jontae Piper called Dancetopia a brilliant idea.
“And that is just like Kebrina, looking to bring the dance community together, specifically people of color and their cultures,” Piper says. “It’s right on brand for her. And I’ve always appreciated that she’s very dedicated to perpetuating culture.”
Piper dances with Hālau Kalama in Aurora and the organization’s professional company, Kalama Polynesian Dance. With a background in musical theater and hip-hop, she fell in love with the Polynesian art of dance during a 2012 trip to Hawaii. She began taking classes at Hālau Kalama after returning home to Colorado and says she connected with the movement in ways she hadn’t with other dance styles.
“I think it provides me a really healthy balance of being able to express grace and strength at the same time,” she says. “I get to show a little bit more of a vulnerable side, but also being able to balance that with being strong as a woman, it’s just very powerful for me.”
Piper will lead the Polynesian dance workshop during Dancetopia, specifically a lesson in Tahitian dance. She understands that learning any form of dance might be intimidating. But she hopes people’s curiosity will drive them to the event, in part because she wants Coloradans to see that the state has a robust world dance scene.
Ninaad Nariani with Mudra Dance Studio in Centennial also hopes people won’t let nerves keep them away. She’ll lead a workshop teaching the “Mudra-style” on Saturday. Created by Mudra Dance Studio’s founder, it’s based in the story-driven classical Indian dance form of Kathak, infused with other Indian folk and contemporary dances.
“We will all be dancing together,” Nariani says, directing her message to the dance-reluctant. “The whole idea is to come and dance, and even me, as a teacher, I will be taking all of the other classes. So I will be there trying out things that I am not used to, and we’re all kind of in this [together].”
For Mudra, it made sense to take part in Dancetopia. The organization has collaborated with Samba Colorado in the past, and the festival aligns what the dance studio was built on, Nariani says.
“You don’t have to understand what they’re saying in songs to get the beat, you don’t have to be speaking the same language to be able to move together,” she says. “So when the idea of Dancetopia came together, for all cultures to come together and connect on the idea of dance and music, it’s exactly what we’re about.”
For Samba Colorado’s De Jesús, dancing is a part of her biology — she describes dancing as every cell in her body lighting up with every sway of the hip or extension of the arm. She believes dancing is inherent to people’s humanity, and she created Dancetopia to help others rediscover that in themselves when they dance to music with others. And like her regular samba and African Brazilian dance classes, those at the festival will also have an opportunity to share how it feels to try these different styles.
“Everyone can join. Everyone is welcome,” she says.
Dancetopia is free to the public with help from support of a $3,000 Denver Arts & Venues grant through the agency’s EDI Arts and Culture Fund.
De Jesús would like to see Dancetopia become an annual event. She also hopes it can inspire herself and her fellow artists to keep the momentum going when it comes to collaboration on this scale.