CONTRA-TIEMPO: Hip-Hop with a side of Salsa

Can an Afro-Cuban, Salsa, and Hip-Hop dance troupe also be social activists? This visiting troupe believes so.

People sometimes think modern dance is a bit…out there. Like way out there. So out there that audiences don’t really know what the hell’s going on. LA-based dance company CONTRA-TIEMPO, which performs in Richmond next week, understands.

“Something that we feel very aware of, and critical of, is the tendency of modern or contemporary dance…to not be very communicative…to be very esoteric and abstract to the point that nobody knows what it’s about,” said Marina Magalhães, company member and program director for CONTRA-TIEMPO.1 “We’re actively working with that paradigm in our work to make sure that our work really, truly speaks to our audiences.”

The dance company was founded in 2005 by Ana Maria Alvarez and roots itself in traditional Salsa and Afro-Cuban music, yet also draws from Hip-Hop and contemporary dance. “A lot of our work is about social issues that pertain to black and hispanic people,” Magalhães said.

Whereas other performing companies dash from city to city during a tour, CONTRA-TIEMPO sticks around to do a full pirouette. The eight-member company has held workshops and classes for local students and the public in the days ahead of their November 19th concert at the Carpenter Theatre. “Central to our mission is definitely community building through dance.”

The company has been teaching Patrick Henry High School students about dance, notably the Salsa. “Salsa is kind of this global phenomenon that’s exploded in the past couple of decades,” Magalhães said. However, much of the Salsa phenomenon is “hyper-sexualized, hyper-spectacle.” She said the company is “taking it back to the roots” of its Cuban and Puerto Rican origins. “It was very much a social form representative of the masses, of the people,” she said. “It’s a form that’s meant for everybody. Everybody is supposed to dance to it.”

Not only is CONTRA-TIEMPO teaching Patrick Henry students the Salsa, they’re also upending the notion that the roles in Salsa are strictly male-female. Both roles, leader and follower, are vital and can interchange among boys and girls–girls can lead, boys can follow, girls can follow girls, and boys can follow boys.

That’s a social dynamic some high school boys are hesitant to embrace, especially during a recent class. “We were getting a lot of resistance from them,” Magalhães said. That’s largely because “the constraints of what a man is is really limited,” she said. The CONTRA-TIEMPO classes try and blow up that thinking to “step outside of your comfort zone to expand” your conceptions of dance and gender interactions.

In addition to the classes, CONTRA-TIEMPO’s upcoming performance will feature 16 local students. Some of the students have previous dancing experience. “Other students, it was the first time ever doing this,” Magalhães said. The students will train with CONTRA-TIEMPO six times before Tuesday’s performance.

Tuesday’s performance at the Carpenter Theatre will be of Full Still Hungry. “The show is really a wide spectrum of all the different connotations of those three words,” Magalhães said. “Grounded in the idea of food, but then we used that as a jumping off point” to discuss economics, equality, and “having a place at the table.” She added: “it’s a lot of different ideas and different metaphors.”

Here’s performance footage from about a year ago:

The performance may be an assortment of metaphors on food’s social and political ramifications, but the performance will also be fun to watch. “Really incredibly physical, really intense, and it’s really interesting,” Magalhães said. “Even if you’ve never seen dance, you absolutely walk away from CONTRA-TIEMPO feeling you had a really good time.”

CONTRA-TIEMPO performs on Tuesday, November 19th at 7:30 PM at the Carpenter Theatre. Tickets are available here.

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  1. Spanish for “against time.” 

photos courtesy of CONTRA-TIEMPO

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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