‘Art Can Transform the World’

‘Art Can Transform the World’

Mayan dance group presents message of strength and unity.

One of the dancers portrayed an angry, snarling animal.

One of the dancers portrayed an angry, snarling animal. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.


The Piscataway Singers perform Guatemala’s national anthem.


Juanita Cabrera Lopez, executive director of the International Mayan League.


During this dance, people littered, but the boy in the white shirt picked it all up.


Maria Castillo explains the dance group’s background and purpose.


This Mayan dancer is dressed as an eagle.

On Sunday evening, Sept. 10, some 60 area residents got a chance to see an international dance group perform in Centreville’s Historic District, outside St. John’s Episcopal Church. Sponsored by the Centreville Immigration Forum (CIF) and the International Mayan League, the Grupo Sotz'il performed “Uk’u’x Ulew: Heart of the Earth.” This was a preview of the show it’ll do next week at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

But before taking the stage in the nation’s capital, this professional Mayan dance team from Guatemala spent a week in Centreville with youth and young adults, providing cultural and dance education. Said CIF President Alice Foltz: “We are very fortunate to have this program for our community, strengthening roots and hope for young people and giving us an amazing opportunity to learn about Mayan history and tradition.”

The Piscataway [Nation] Singers opened the show with the Guatemalan national anthem, plus a prayer song relaying the message, “We are all one people; we are all related.” The colorful, dance-and-music performance also had political overtones.

Noting the threat of deportation that so many young people in America face today, the group wrote in its program: “On the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we honor our histories of struggle and resilience while building new strategies to defend our families and human rights.”

“There’s a balance between night and morning,” said Juanita Cabrera Lopez, executive director of the International Mayan League. “And with everything happening now, we’re searching for the dawn. We can find ourselves by remembering our history and culture, and we’re looking toward the wisdom of our ancestors [to guide us].”

“We need to remember who we are and be proud,” she continued. “So we’re restoring our ancestral knowledge, regardless of where we live. At this time of difficulty in our countries, we need to find balance in nature. Destruction of nature leads to loss of our homes and is why so many of us are here.”

Cabrera Lopez noted that Sunday’s dance performance, featuring original choreography, was rooted in 1,000 years of ancient Mayan history. “[It’s] to remind us that we’ve lost our connection with Mother Earth,” she said. “So this is a celebration of what our youth have to teach us. The eagle flies, the earth protects, man threatens, and balance brings life and fruits. [But] does chaos come when we forget the balance of life and the Creator?”

The group’s tour coordinator, Maria Firmino-Castillo, called the event “an offering for the earth [intended to] open up our hearts. The group was founded in Guatemala in 2000 and has practiced its art for 17 years, but at great sacrifice – its founder was assassinated.

“Because art can transform the world — and this group is fundamentally political — there are some interests who don’t want things to change. But these transformations begin in the body, heart and mind and have repercussions throughout society.”