Founded by Jose Rivera, who has over 30 years of dance experience, the cultural center’s general mission is to promote and educate the Queens community on Ecuadorian culture through the arts. While their main offices are based in Long Island City, the center hosts a number of musical, dance and art programs throughout the borough.
The Ayazamana Dance Group, led by Rivera, has been the biggest achievement so far. According to Esau Chauca, the center’s executive director, the dance program is opened to anyone in the community; the only requirement “is to have an interest in learning how to dance and Ecuadorian culture.”
The dance group performs all year long at community centers, churches, libraries and so on, but it’s main performance is at the “Ayazamana: Traditional Music and Dances from Ecuador” show. Most of the performers are local, hailing from Queens and Brooklyn, while some come from as far as New Jersey.
The dance group features a repertoire of over fifteen choreographies and more than ten sets of wardrobe. The dances performed are from the three main regions in Ecuador: the coast, the Andes and the Amazon rainforest regions. Dances featured included the folk dances from Cayambe within the Pichincha province in the northern sierra region, as well as the Pujili from near the Cotopaxi stratovolcano, which is right next to the Andes Mountain range and the Saraguro, which can be seen in the southern province of Loja.
Dancers wore elaborate masks, headpieces and colorful clothing to give the audience a glimpse into traditional garments throughout the country. Often times, people can figure out what dance represents what part of the country based on the clothing worn during the performance. Wardrobe Manager, Justo Santos, wanted to make sure that certain clothes reflected the uniqueness of each area.
For example, people living in the coastal region are likely to wear lighter clothing. Women wear light dresses while men don guayaberas, loose fitting shirts distinguished by two vertical rows of closely sewn pleats that runs down of the front and back of the shirt. The traditional dress for women within the the famous and mostly indigenous town of Otavalo consists of a long dark skirt with pale underskirt, complete with a woven belt, and an embroidered white blouse with full, lacy sleeves.
Because the land surrounding the Andes Mountains is so cold, it is typical to see traditional outfits such as heavy pochos and full skirt. Women from the highlands wear the full pleated skirts in bright colours, often with embroidery around the hem, which dancers wore at the show to the merriment of the crowd.
Music was performed by upstate New York group, Andes Manta. The group, who have performed at places such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, is known for their traditional Andes music. They carry out the sounds using 35 instruments, including the quena, or Andean Flute, and six-foot long panpipes.
According to Chauca, “the show serves as a fun and educational experience.” While it has attracted many from its own community, one of the largest latino groups within the city, the show has reached beyond Ecuadorian crowds to send a message about culture and diversity within the borough.
“The Ecuadorian community has shown a lot of support, but we have a bigger support from various American communities,” Chauca said. “We’ve started to get support from the city and the local council members which have been very instrumental for us to continue what we’re doing.”