July 6—Eight teenage girls and their teacher traveled to Santa Fe this week from their small town in Chile to showcase their unique dance styles to the city and the world.
Aged 14 to 19, the members of Semillas del Orolonco performed their first local show on Monday at the annual Pancakes on the Plaza fundraiser. They are also among dozens of artists and performers from around the world who will take part in the International Folk Art Market this week, with several performances scheduled on Museum Hill.
“It was really an amazing experience,” cast member Valentina Triviño, 17, said in Spanish in an interview on Tuesday. “We’ve been to neighboring countries, but dancing in the United States is a whole other level.”
Semillas del Orolonco hails from Putaendo, a small town about 60 miles north of Santiago. The troupe combines traditional Latin American and modern dance moves to share teen culture and keep it alive for future generations. Patricio Ordóñez, the group’s instructor, said the girls have dedicated themselves to dancing – some having studied for more than a decade after starting at the age of 7.
Traditional Latin American folk dances originated from indigenous, European and African traditions that made their way to South America and merged to form new traditions, Ordóñez said. The combination of traditional and contemporary dance has become popular in Latin America for dancers hoping to reconnect with their roots, while having more freedom to express themselves, he added.
“Traditional folk dancing is limited by the types of steps and movements it can do,” Ordóñez said in Spanish. “For example, there is no dance from Chile where the dancers throw themselves on the ground, twirl or pirouette.”
The International Folk Art Market, featuring 164 artists from 49 countries, will kick off Wednesday evening with a community celebration in the Plaza, followed by a private gala for artists on Museum Hill.
The market opens to the public on Thursday morning at Milner Plaza on Museum Hill and runs until Sunday afternoon, with timed ticket entries.
Last year, the event was limited to just 200 attendees at a time due to COVID-19 issues. This year, the limit has been increased to 500 people.
Marketplace CEO Melissa Mann said the limitations serve as a precaution but also provide customers with a better experience.
“We found last year that when we had fewer people in the market, the people who were there really had time to talk to the artists, to really understand the context and understand the art,” Mann said.
The annual market provides an important part of income for folk artists throughout the year.
“Given all the madness in the world with the pandemic, with inflationary costs, you know, a lot of artists have been going through very tough times financially and emotionally,” Mann said. “It’s a chance to bring them all together…and celebrate what they do.”
Natalia Aguilera, 17, a member of Semillas del Orolonco, noted that she saw a love for art in Santa Fe. “People here really appreciate art, something that doesn’t happen a lot in Chile.” , she said. “It’s really exciting to know that people really like what you do.”
When the girls aren’t training or performing in the city, they explore a local culture that reminds them of home as well as new experiences – like a 4th of July fireworks display and getting caught under a hot summer rain.
“In some ways it’s very similar to where we live in Putaendo, and the people are very friendly,” Aguilera said.
Bringing Semillas del Orolonco to Santa Fe was a multi-year process that began more than two years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic halted international travel. Claudia Vargas-Gerst, a member of the Rotary Club of Santa Fe Centro and originally from Chile, said she has known Ordóñez for many years and wanted to help share the work of the troupe.
Vergsa-Gersta offered the Rotary Club to invite the troupe and worked with the government of Putaendo to bring the girls to the United States.
Putaendo has agreed to fly members of Semillas del Orolonco to New Mexico as Chile’s cultural ambassadors, she said, and the Rotary Club provides lodging, meals and anything else the girls need. during their stay in Santa Fe.
Vergsa-Gersta said she hopes people leave the group’s performances with empathy and an understanding of another culture.
“We get to know each other better and understand that people [are] just like you and me. … We are human beings [who want] the same no matter what part of the world you’re from,” she said.