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Meet Marina Magalhães of Dancing Diaspora Founder & Teacher

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marina Magalhães.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Marina. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I was born in Brasília, Brazil. My parents are Brazilian diplomats whose jobs required our family to move to a new country every two or three years. I grew up dancing in each of these places—taking classical Ballet classes as a six-year-old in Buenos Aires, Argentina, dancing Cumbia at middle school parties in La Paz, Bolivia, and being introduced to Modern dance at my high school in Chicago, IL.

My first memory of ever dancing was at a family barbecue when I was eight years old, proving to my older cousin, Camila, that I knew how to dance Samba after she challenged me with, “I bet you don’t know how.” I did.

In the absence of a stable physical home, or even a consistent country or language, dance became my home. But not without its own kind of fragmentation. Growing up, I knew there were two kinds of dancing in my life—the kind I did in studios or onstage, and the kind I did with family and friends.

The former consisted of mostly white Western practices, like classical Ballet, and the latter were Latin social dances, like Samba, Forró, and Cumbia. I also knew these did not exist on a level playing field, that one was considered a prestigious career and the others were meant for parties on the weekend.

My journey as a mover has been to interrogate and subvert this hierarchy. To integrate these seemingly disparate sides of myself and to live at the crossroads, forging new possibilities from their points of tension, convergence, and divergence.

Has it been a smooth road?
My Ballet teacher in Buenos Aires told my mom when I was six years old that I was “special.” That I was meant to be a dancer and for her to never let me quit. That was a blessing, and to this day I want to thank that teacher for setting me on this path. But it was also not without its challenges. I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t have the right body for a classical Ballet dancer. I began developing at a young age. I had hips and curves, a body that didn’t fit European standards.

As much as I enjoyed dancing, I felt like I was constantly fighting against my body to try and be accepted in that world. My poor mother tried her best to keep her word and not let me quit, but I put up a tough battle. I would quit dance and then restart it again, and quit and restart… I did that for several years until I let myself stray from Ballet and experiment with other forms. Modern dance. Jazz dance. Hip Hop. These forms taught me to work with my body rather than fight it.

And as I grew older and more confident in my voice, I saw how interconnected these forms were ancestrally, and how that understanding allowed me to integrate these diverse aspects of myself, and more importantly, validate the rich Latinx culture I did come from. Moving around as a kid was also pretty hard. Until I was 18 years old, I had never lived in one country for longer than four years. This sounds like it would be quite an adventurous and exciting lifestyle, and I suppose in some ways it was, but it was also deeply destabilizing.

My whole family was back in Brazil, where they still are. Most of them didn’t (don’t) speak English and had no idea what my family’s life was like. Both my parents came from humble backgrounds and supported much of their family the whole time I was growing up. To try and keep our schooling consistent, they chose to put my sister and I in American International Schools. But that meant that I was being conditioned for a system and a country that I had no ties to.

I didn’t move to the United States until I was 14, and by then I knew much more about the history and geography of the United States than I did of my own country. And when my parents inevitably left the US for their next post, I remained behind with an expired visa and deeply afraid of what would happen to me. My path to citizenship wasn’t easy– it took many years, and it made me grow up faster than many of my peers, and yet, I know I had it easy compared to so many other immigrants that arrived here in infinitely more dire conditions than mine.

Understanding the global and historical context for such issues has deeply informed my politics and values as an artist. That is why so much of my work tackles ideas of belonging and agency, because they are at the heart of larger social issues like xenophobia, racism, and (ongoing) colonization, struggles that are shared by Latinx people like me.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I began the weekly Dancing Diaspora community class in January 2017 with the vision of holding a dance class that would honor ancestral dances of the Latinx & Afro-Latin diaspora while exploring their capacity for creativity, open expression, and freedom. I had no idea that the class would grow to be the force it is today.

Nowadays, between 25-35 people attend class each week. In partnership with Pieter Performance Space, I received a grant from the California Arts Council to provide the class free of charge to the community. This has made the class accessible to so many folks who would otherwise struggle to come.

The vast majority of students are women of color, many of them Latinx women living/working in the East Side of Los Angeles, who are hungry to be in their bodies freely and unapologetically, to learn about their ancestral rhythms, and to connect with one another. The class is open to everyone, but it is important to me that it serves the historically Latinx community of Lincoln Heights. Otherwise, it becomes another gentrifying force in the city that is displacing people of color away from the neighborhoods they have built up for so many generations.

I like to say that Dancing Diaspora is a space where we experience, create, and share radical joy. Bodies in movement and rhythm as a form of profound social resistance. A legacy we have inherited from our African, indigenous, queer and poor ancestors who found creative, resilient, subversive ways of being free in the face of deep repression. It is a space where we celebrate the body as a crossroads– where the ancestral meets the individual, memory meets futurity, and divinity meets flesh. From this crossroads, infinite possibilities can arise.

I am proud that the class is continuing to grow month after month, and that we are now gearing up for our first ever Dancing Diaspora Festival on June 1-2, 2019 at the Pieter Space. The program will include an evening of performances, a panel, a day of classes, and an Open Jam, all free to the public thanks to the support of California Arts Council. More info to come… save the date!! It’s going to be FIRE!

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
In the last five to ten years Los Angeles has been growing exponentially in opportunities for dance-makers of all kinds. It may feel like the dance scene here is saturated with the “commercial industry” (dance for music videos, film, tv, etc.), but that’s only on the surface.

I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to pursue a Dance degree at UCLA, graduated in 2010 and have made LA my home base since then. It has been truly exciting to see other kinds of dance flourish in LA these past years; contemporary artists are reclaiming and redefining what it means to be a part of the African and Latinx diaspora. These include organizations like Viver Brasil Dance Company, CONTRA-TIEMPO Urban Latin Dance Theater, Extra Ancestral, Primera Generación Dance Collective, MAPS LA, and No) One Arthouse.

I see my own Dancing Diaspora class and upcoming Festival as part of this growing community that is only getting stronger and more full of possibility. For dancers interested in connecting with this kind of work, I would recommend diving right in. Go take a class, meet people, follow these artists on social media, go to their events, and don’t be shy. At the heart of so much of this work is community-building, centered on ancestral practice as radical resistance. All are welcome who are willing to listen, learn, and join the movement.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Bobby Gordon

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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