In New Jersey, Rosa Carhuallanqui Keeps Her Culture Alive By Teaching Children Peruvian Folkloric Dance

When Rosa Carhuallanqui imagines the day she was born, she pictures a party. In her childhood home in Huancayo, located in the highlands of Peru, her father was a musician who taught her how to dance. She says “naces bailando en mi pueblo,” you are born dancing in my town.

Carhuallanqui, 50, came to the United States 17 years ago, and her passion for dance traveled with her from South America to Clifton, New Jersey. In her neighboring town of Garfield, she opened Peru Inca Folk, a studio where she teaches children and adults Peruvian folkloric dance.

She noticed that first-generation children of Peruvian parents were losing touch with their heritage and felt a need to do something about it.

“There aren’t many after-school recreational programs in predominantly Latino neighborhoods of New Jersey, so I was looking to change that,” Carhuallanqui tells Fierce.

In her narrow studio decorated with photographs of Peruvian dancers, she teaches marinera, an elegant couple’s dance using handkerchiefs as props. She corrects her students’ footwork with her hands and offers them praises like “muy bien” (“very good”) as they attempt to imitate her swift steps.

Although she is of small stature, Carhuallanqui, dressed in workout leggings and a long-sleeve shirt, can be heard from all corners of the room. Her voice pounds louder than the booming music. Her long black hair is up in a high ponytail that sways from left to right as she demonstrates to the ladies of the class how to move their long colorful skirts while dancing.

(Courtesy of Rosa Carhuallanqui)

In her hometown of Huancayo, her father was the one who primarily raised her and her siblings. Although her dad only had an elementary level education, he made sure his children stayed in school.

“My father was the person who loved music,” she says, remembering her dad’s adoration of family parties. “He was so intense about dance and music in my home.”

At 20, Carhuallanqui enrolled in a dance school to learn Peruvian folkloric movements, while also finishing an anthropology degree at a nearby university. The dance school was in Lima, the capital, which was 12 hours away from her home by bus.

She tells me that women who traveled alone were vulnerable to abuse and theft because members of Sendero Luminoso, a militant group who terrorized small towns like hers in the ‘80s, boarded the buses.

“When I traveled to Lima to be a professional dancer, for me, it’s sometimes a sad moment,” she says, breaking eye contact. “Sometimes I don’t want to remember.”

She goes on, “I knew I had to leave the country if I wanted to make a career out of dancing.”

In 1997, she left with only a small suitcase and her 3-year-old daughter to start life in the U.S.

Rosita, as her students and their parents call her, teaches both children and adults with little to no experience. All of them are Peruvian or of some Peruvian heritage, the children of immigrants and adults who migrated themselves.

(Courtesy of Rosa Carhuallanqui)

Nearby, Paterson is the unofficial capital of the country’s Peruvian diaspora. She opened her studio in a suburb closeby after noticing young Peruvians were losing touch with their roots.

“Ideally what I want to do is expand our culture beyond the mainland, beyond our community. I want non-Peruvian Americans to learn about our culture,” she says.

That’s why Carhuallanqui also teaches elementary school students at a Clifton after-school program about Peruvian dance and instruments.

“Those students are non-Peruvian. I had to push for my program to make it into the after-school care curriculum,” she says.

But she has aspirations to do much more.

“My dream is to start a cultural center where children can learn Peruvian dances, instruments, singing, reading and arts. I want to invite other artists to come in and teach their craft, but I want to be able to pay them for their time so they feel better helping out,” she says. “A lot of these Peruvian artists work during the week doing unrelated jobs, but during the weekends they want to show their talents. They were successful artists in Peru, but the language barrier has stopped them from being artists in this country.”

(Courtesy of Rosa Carhuallanqui)

Carhullanqui is also looking for a bigger studio. On most Saturdays, as many as 20 students squeeze into the small Peru Inca Folk studio. For her, it’s not about the money but rather ensuring that the rich cultural traditions of her country aren’t lost on its progeny in the U.S.

“As an artist, I don’t like the pressure of business. I don’t want to be a money-making machine. I want this to be an art. The dancers have to feel the music, and I want to get my students there,” she said.

Read: A Group Of Women In Oaxaca, Mexico Are Empowering Women To Feel Proud Of Their African Roots Through Dance

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