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Dancing Beneath the Stars

As the orange summer sun began to fade into darkness, a string of twinkling lights radiated throughout the Skirball Cultural Center’s courtyard for the second performance of their annual Sunset Concert Series. On Thursday, July 30th, the Skirball hosted the talented Cuban group Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas. Standing from the balcony, I was able to get a great view of the entire audience sharing in this wonderful musical experience. Both young and old made up the group and I could tell right away that it was going to be a night with lots of dancing.

Skirball Cultural Center - Los Angeles - July 31, 2014

Women wore their twirling dresses and pumps for dancing. The men, on the other hand, impressed the crowd with their fashionable blazers and button-ups. Once the group finally made their appearance, the crowd cheered and eagerly searched for their soon-to-be dancing partner. Within a couple of minutes of the first song, we were informed the event was officially full and could not accept any more guests. It was definitely a blow-out show!

When I finally made my way to the dance floor, my obvious inexperience became apparent to me and I was frozen in awe. There were many couples who could have very well been professional salsa dancers. All of the spinning, stepping, stomping and quick movements made me dizzy. Their bodies moved so effortlessly to the beat of the drums and the whistle of the trumpet, that I could not help but feel a little envious. However, I spotted a neophyte dancer (about two or three years old) in the crowd dancing with his mother. His small legs could hardly keep up and he stumbled a few times. However, he and his mother laughed and smiled at one another clearly enjoying the music and ambiance, despite a few wrong steps.

After a few songs, the group needed a break (the dancers, too). During this time, the audience was introduced to the various members of the group that made all the musical magic happen (there were a lot, too!). However, this small interlude made me nostalgic for my own family dance parties. It rekindled my memories of my cousins or uncles playing the bongos while my grandmother rhythmically moved her body to the music. This moment was extremely intimate, and a special way to get to know the group.

When the music finally started again, I decided it was time to stop being a spectator and start being a dancer. After stepping on my partner’s feet a few times (sorry Marcel), I got the hang of it and enjoyed all of the spinning and stepping that intimidated me earlier in the night. When Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas’ set came to an end, the audience applauded appreciatively for a fun night. Walking off of the dance floor, I smiled. I thought about how wonderful it was to dance beneath the stars–spinning, stepping, and stomping like one of the experts.

All photos are courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center | Photo by Timothy Norris.

Skirball Cultural Center - Los Angeles - July 31, 2014

La Raza Meets Up at Coachella 2014

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is synonymous with intense heat, soreness, dehydration, and pain, and yet it never fails to sell out every year. It is recognized world-wide as the official opener for music festival season, and people from all over the world are willing to pay small fortunes just to be able to attend. The truth is that although Coachella might be one of the most uncomfortable and exhausting experiences, what it ultimately offers is a lifetime’s memories of a weekend filled with thrills and a whole lot of dancing and music. No one is impervious to the Coachella effect, including the Latino community.

It seems like Coachella has a special appeal to Latinos, as their presence is definitely apparent. If you’re camping on location, you’ll see several cars with car plates ranging from Baja California to Mexico D.F. As you make your way around, you will undoubtedly hear many a person speaking fluently in Spanish. And it all culminates when la raza comes all together in support of the few (and in this year’s case, only) Latino bands that play the festival, and the crowd turns into a passionate mass of people that whoops and shouts and dances nonstop. Last year’s Coachella saw a donkey-shaped piñata making its rounds at the Café Tacuba and 3Ball MTY shows, and this year, the Mexican flag was present at the show put on by Zoé at the Main Stage on Sunday afternoon, in which lead singer León Larregui even took the time to acknowledge it and comment on its beauty.

There’s even a group on Facebook called “Mexicanos en Coachella” which specializes on sharing the latest news regarding the festival, survival tips, and support for those in need of transportation or a place to stay. When the festival is actually ongoing, there is an appointed person from the group that carries with them the Mexican flag that lets others know of the Latino presence, and they even organize group meet-ups in which they give out free pins commemorating the event.

As it turns out, Coachella is a particularly memorable event for Latinos every year. Latinos are both represented by at least one musical act every year at the festival and, unofficially, by this Facebook group that seeks to help and prepare those who are about to set out on the phenomenon that is Coachella.

So if you are a Latino who is thinking or already planning on attending next year, never fear and know that you are not alone. La raza will come out and support you wholeheartedly.