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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Preserving Traditions: Dance and Memories in Nicaragua

Eduardo Hislop dances every week to remember good times among the hardships of a Nicaragua that endured earthquakes, hurricanes, a long dictatorship, a revolution and a war encouraged by the United States.

Hislop, 70 years old and with a slim figure crowned by a trilby hat, wears a vest and black pants, a white shirt and black shoes, which allow him to move to the rhythm of his partner Isolda, with whom he shares 30 years of passion for the music of memory.

Hislop said that he is trying to explain to young people “how they used to dress in the old days, well dressed, well perfumed, with good shoes, with a good shirt”.

Hundreds of retirees and seniors dance to remember the parties that were held in numerous halls in Managua until December 1972, when a powerful earthquake destroyed most of the city, leaving thousands of victims and victims, but also to remember the music that made them dance between political upheavals.

“I knew that, I saw it, I learned it before the earthquake, I lived those moments and those people who walked and danced well, and I loved it and today I imitate them,” says Hislop in the dance hall of the Sandinista Workers Central, where music from the 1950s to the 1980s is played.

The building was built around 1940 under dictator Anastasio Somoza García, who in 1937 began a dynasty that lasted until a popular insurrection led by the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1979 overthrew his son Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

Under the first FSLN government, which in the 1980s confronted U.S.-sponsored right-wing “contra” rebels, the Casa del Obrero adopted the name Central Sandinista de Trabajadores (Sandinista Workers’ Central).

No quarrels or politics

At the other end of the hall, María Haydée Arias, 73, said that “at this age of ours, the third age, we come to have a good time and that is what I like because here there are no fights, there are no arguments, everything is brotherhood”.

The music echoes from sones and rumbas to boleros, cumbias, classic rock and disco in two large dance halls that seem to have survived the 1972 earthquake in Reparto El Carmen, in the northwest part of the capital: the Casa del Obrero and the Centro El Ateneo.

In addition to enjoying dancing, meeting friends and combating work stress, some meet their future partners, said Orlando Narvaez, a 67-year-old watchmaker who is a regular at El Ateneo.

“It is one of the best experiences because we both enjoy the same thing: dancing, without liquor, without smoking (…), today we have five years of living, of living together, together,” says Narvaez, one of the outstanding dancers who is even invited to television programs.

“Here there is no distinction of any kind, here we are all equal, we all dance, we all talk, we all know each other, nothing more (…). There are no politics, there is nothing, not even the police come here because they know there is no fighting here,” says Narváez.

Veronica Mendoza, 33, Narvaez’s partner, says she has spent her life in “los bailongos” since her mother took her to parties when she was only 40 days old. “Until God sends me back, I keep coming to dance,” she says.

Echoes from Matanzas

In Nicaragua, the Cuban Sonora Matancera, which in 1954 performed with its vocalist Celia Cruz, has left a deep mark, to the point that there are several clubs and associations of “matanceros” that maintain the fondness for the music of that era.

Even the government of President Daniel Ortega, in power since 2007 and reelected three times in elections questioned by opponents, promotes matanceros festivals and contests every year to the delight of retirees.

The first matancero club emerged in the 1990s. “We formed a club of 500 people and they are the ones who come to dance. Here they have met, here they have fallen in love, here we celebrate their birthdays,” said Osman Balmaceda, 54, president of the Association of Artists of Nicaragua.

Marta Gutiérrez, 58, president of the Matancero Club of El Ateneo, says that dancing helps against stress.

“If I want to get out of the routine of my house, my grandchildren, my children, I come 4 or 5 hours and I arrive healthy and I arrive ready to spend a week of hard work at home again,” she explains.

Hislop, for her part, affirms that dancing is fundamental for a healthy life.

“Of course, man, I’m 70 years old! Can you imagine coming to dance on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, going for a run, exercising (…), my passion is for health, coming to refresh myself: I de-stress and sleep happily,” adds Hislop.

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