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Balé Folclórico da Bahia: Honoring Heritage through Dance

By Donte Kirby

galeria14-artur IkishimaPhoto courtesy of Balé Folclórico da Bahia

Brazil’s only professional folk dance company Balé Folclórico da Bahia just completed their North America tour celebrating nearly 30 years of dance. This year’s performance displayed never before seen sacred rituals of Candomblé.  Walson Botelho, founder of Balé Folclórico da Bahia, talked about the oldest black professional folk dance company in Brazil, prior to the their February 17, 2017 performance at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Brazil is home to the largest black population outside of Africa with 97 million people who define themselves as black according to the most recent census by The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Balé Folclórico da Bahia showcases the culture and tradition of the state of Bahia in Northeastern Brazil, near the Atlantic coast, where 80% of the population is of African descent.brazilproperty

For Botelho, showcasing the culture, inherited 500 years ago from ancestors that survived the voyage through the middle passage from Africa to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, is the show’s main purpose. Each section of Balé Folclórico da Bahia’s performance is crafted to highlight a different section of the legacy of Bahia’s ancestors.  “Dance is a universal language,” said Botelho.  “It’s different from plays and music where you have to understand the words, in dance you use just the movement, so it’s very easy to understand, even for those not linked with African culture.”

With dance, Botelho believes he can explain how the Candomblé religion was kept alive and used during the slavery period.  Through singing, percussion, classical ballet, and Afro-Brazilian dance forms, he can show how the folkloric practices passed down for generations are still sung on the beaches of Bahia before fisherman head out to sea. Botelho seeks to culturally exchange with the world through this art form. “The goal is not just to preserve, but show the world that Brazil is not just about samba, football and coffee,” said José Carlos Arandiba, Balé Folclórico da Bahia’s Artistic Director.

“This is a very important legacy left to us,” said Botelho. “The heritage they left to us are responsible for the Brazilian culture for the whole country. Everything we have in Brazil was made by the mix of the Indigenous, Portuguese and especially from the African people.”

galeria19- marisa vianaPhoto courtesy of Balé Folclórico da Bahia

Arandiba, whose stage name is Zebrinha, trains the next generation of Balé Folclórico da Bahia dancers and for 24 years has made sure dancers from the company achieve a world-class standard. One of the main tenets Arandiba teaches his students, who normally train with the company for two years, is “that we open doors for the other kids that are coming behind us.” He understands that his students act as ambassadors of art and dance for not just the company but all of Brazil.

“This show is a class in art and anthropology,” said Arandiba about this year’s tour. The show for those of the African Diaspora is a chance to recognize the connective tissue in the shared history.

galeria20-marisa vianaPhoto courtesy of Balé Folclórico da Bahia

For more information about  Balé Folclórico da Bahia and future shows, visit http://www.balefolcloricodabahia.com.br/eng and follow Balé Folclórico da Bahia on https://twitter.com/BFBahia

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