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Nicaragua’s rich mix of cultures is evident when you come face to face with the locals. Fair hair, blue eyes, Afro curls and pale freckles mix beautifully with indigenous deep brown eyes, maroon skin and thick black hair.



The Nicaraguans have seen many foreigners come for a piece of their country in the past centuries. This fact is reflected in the fine Nicaraguan mix of folk dances, celebrations that brim with flavor and influence from all over the world. Each region of the country has its own historic dance with a unique story. This is the result of fertile land and a central position between the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean that made the country a prime target for early Spanish conquests and European settlers. Europeans went to the northern provinces to set up coffee plantations while Africans were brought to the Atlantic coast by the English to work as slaves.



All of these groups brought customs and traditions from their lands, and working closely with the indigenous people, practices were taken up and adapted by locals who developed their own versions of traditional dances such as the Mazkura, the Polka and the Waltz. Jeymi is a dance teacher with the charitable organization CESESMA, based in Matagalpa in the North of Nicaragua. At times she must walk for up to two hours after a long bus journey to reach remote schools for morning class. She gets paid a small wage, but her enthusiasm shines as she gives children in rural communities the opportunity to experience and learn about this rich aspect of their culture.



The children pad their feet in time with the traditional glockenspiel music and once they have the basic steps, Jeymi hands out the long skirts and frilled blouses. The girls aim for a snug fit, the boys looking like farmers in their straw hats and loose trousers. By the end of the class, the girls are floating across the floor, tilting their bodies and shuffling their feet while holding out their big skirts and the boys come weaving in and out without a bump, each using the simple scuffing step and twirl as they tip their hats to their partners.



This is the Nicaraguan Polka, specific to the Northern region, a dance that has its roots in Poland. Every folk dance is complemented by bright and intricate costumes that express strong hints of their origin and local influence. The Dance of the Cutter Ants celebrates Saint Diego and tells the story of a remote village set to lose all their crops due to the threat of destructive ants. The saga goes that the whole village put their faith in the saint and set out armed with wooden branches to bash and batter the ants until nearly all were dead. The dance is a slow, deliberate set of movements that can be seen in the town’s yearly procession.



After a turbulent history in which much of the indigenous population was wiped out and few details of their historic rituals remained, Nicaragua was left to adopt a wide variety of styles and influences. It is these characteristics that make the country so distinct, not only in its dance, but in its open acceptance of outside cultures.



It is easy to overlook a country’s dance and theatre culture in favor of historic buildings, museums, and famous art galleries. Yet, take the time to explore some of the active arts in a foreign place and you receive some of the most rewarding and entertaining lessons available, along with the opportunity to see locals perform traditional practices and customs in their home land.

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