Celebrated in Valparaíso recently was the 15th annual Mil Tambores (a million drums)! And they’re not kidding. There was so much percussion you could feel the streets vibrating with ever step. Along with the drum tradition is Cuerpos Pintados, or painted bodies. Essentially, in this long parade with groups from all over the country playing music and dancing are the brave souls who go nude save for the beautiful artwork all over their bodies. It probably sounds a little strange from the outside but it’s truly a magical and even liberating site to see so much art and color in one of the most colorful, art-laden cities I know.
Well…some information that I have yet to disclose. Since being in Valpo, I have been a part of a community Samba group/school. There is a band of about 50 or more members and a dance group of about 30 who learn and practice the sounds and site of Carnival-Style Samba, with roots in Brazil. Practices were held every Sunday in a huge park right at the end of the city. I will say that it was not easy at first, taking directions in Spanish as well as trying to imitate the others whose hips and feet seemed to genetically move with more speed and flexibility than mine. I have danced for about 11 years, an array of styles and genres, but this was one of the hardest to pick up. Not only was it almost impossible to master the effortless-looking grace of simultaneous swinging hips and seductive arms, but also, the fundamental step of Carnival Samba takes repeated practice and a lot of time to even remotely do with ease. I did get the step, and after that, the arms, the core, and the confidence followed.
So why am I bringing this up? Well our group was one of the participants in the Mil Tambores parade. After practices along with sewing, by hand, my costume I took the streets not as a spectator but as a performer, and what an out-of-body experience that was. By the end of the parade I had to have been in about 150 cameras of strangers – people asking to take pictures with their kids, themselves, or just solo. This attention, in a place where I’m supposed to be the tourist, was such an experience. One that I will treasure and one that made me feel even closer, even more apart of the county and city I am falling in love with.