Local Colombian dance group up for national award

Floor-length skirts hemmed with ruffles, upbeat music, and a tight-knit community — it's all part of what goes into connecting people to the joy of Colombian folkloric dance.

Ballet Esmeraldas de Colombia has been sharing the joy of traditional dance in Ottawa for approximately four decades.

The dances they perform are all considered folkloric, but each can vary greatly depending on the location and culture they originate from.

The group has been nominated for a Canadian Latin Award in the folk-cultural dance category, and expects to find out Saturday if they've taken home the prize.

Bridging cultural divides

Socorro Vasquez, the group's director and founder, said each performance provides an opportunity to share Colombian culture with the rest of Canada.

She said that Esmeraldas — which translates to English as "emeralds" — serves as a message to the world that Colombia is more than just its reputation for drug trafficking.

"People ignore that the emeralds come from Colombia are the best in the world," she said, adding that the gemstone also represents love and peace.

For her, dance is a way of sharing love and joy.

"It's a bridge, here in Canada, for us to give something back to the community," she said.

Socorro Vasquez, pictured here on June 19, 2024, has been dancing for more than four decades.
Socorro Vasquez is the director of the Ballet Esmeraldas de Colombia. She said one of her favourite ways to spread joy and light with dance is to celebrate Colombian carnival in the middle of a harsh Canadian winter. (CBC)

A multigenerational community

The mostly volunteer-based group performs at fundraisers and events in Ottawa and beyond, and offers free dance classes every Thursday evening at the Bronson Centre.

Members of the group range in age, from toddlers to seniors. Vasquez said people who started with the group as kids now bring their own children to learn.

Mariana Neyens, 21, started as a child and has been dancing with the troupe for more than a decade.

"One of the reasons why I keep coming back is there's a very strong community in the dance group," Neyens said. She added she uses rehearsals as an opportunity to practice Spanish with her co-performers.

Dancers perform a traditional folkloric dance on June 19, 2024.
Ballet Esmeraldas de Colombia, pictured here on June 19, 2024, has been been sharing Colombian traditional dance for approximately four decades. (CBC)

Michèle Jacquart, 65, said she finally found time to devote to dance after she retired from her career as a lawyer.

"Dance was always so big for me, but I couldn't devote the time to it," she said.

Now, it's one of her passions to share  Colombian folkloric dance with others.

"So many communities and cultures are fading away," Jacquart said. "I think it's very important to keep the culture. It's what defines us."