Party with a Purpose: an Interview with Rosa Jiménez Cornejo

Rosa Jimenez has built a career out of challenging and preserving cultural traditions, while trying to make music and dance education more democratic and accessible to all. Trained as a dancer and social worker, she is a professor and a founding member of several important dance groups in Santiago, and has been active in some of the social movements that bring vibrance to Santiago's urban cultural landscape.

 Photo by Pablo Reyes
Photo by Pablo Reyes

I first met Rosa Jiménez just after sunset in Plaza Brasil, across the street from the Centro de Danza Espiral, which was central to her formation as a dancer and just steps away from where she attended college. Although she lives in a different part of town, Jimenez works in Barrio Brasil and seems to have become somewhat of a fixture in that community. Her dancing and activism have also brought her a degree of prominence within the larger cultural scene in Santiago.

It's no surprise that Rosa Jiménez is well-known in the community, considering how many projects she devotes her time to. She is one of the founders of the carnival dance school Escuela Carnavalera Chinchintirapié and the Comparsa Juan y Rosa, a cueca group. Jiménez is also active at the Centro Espiral, she's a professor of Folklore at the Universidad de Chile, works at a high school and teaches modern dance. Commenting on her busy schedule, she jokes, "I don't have kids [laughs]... when I do it's going to change my story a little bit."

Rosa Jiménez grew up dancing. As a child, she danced cueca and cumbia, and in high school she took folk-dancing workshops and ballet classes. When she started studying Social Work at her university, she took dance classes for fun alongside her studies.

Also during her time as a Social Work student, Jiménez did an internship in La Pincoya, an area in the comuna of Huechuraba that according to Rosa is "historically marginalized." Working there made her see much more clearly the links--or bridges, as she says-- between what she was studying at university and the dance activities that she did for fun. "One of the first bridges I observed...were street festivals, urban carnivals, where they dance in the street as a form of reaffirming a communal social fabric through art," she added.

 Photo courtesy of Chinchintirapié on Facebook
Photo courtesy of Chinchintirapié on Facebook

Carnivals continued to interest Jiménez, and she attended and participated in them over the next several years. In 2003, she attended the Fiesta de La Tirana, a religious festival devoted to the Virgin Mary. "What surprised me was the strength that the community had to keep the party going," Rosa said. Inspired by this strength, she and some others began the Comparsa, a carnival dance group with the goal of bringing the party to the people.

Between 2004 and 2006, the Comparsa attended carnivals, and also began to support communities that wanted to have parades. For Rosa, the Comparsa was a part of a sort of Carnival movement; it was "supporting this process of reaffirmation, with respect to the use of public space, to the right to happiness, to our right to be protagonists of our own culture." The group wanted to break with academic and capitalist logic that says people must pay to learn. During a march or carnival parade, the Comparsa's goal was to get everyone standing on the sidelines to dance along with them as they passed.

 Photo courtesy of Chinchintirapié on Facebook
Photo courtesy of Chinchintirapié on Facebook

The Comparsa is an example of Jiménez's conviction that traditions should not be put on a pedestal. They played music with traditional instruments, but used them in a way that they never would have been in the past, playing completely different types of music than the instruments were meant for. "For a folklore purist, what we were doing was killing tradition," she said. However, it wasn't necessarily out of disrespect for tradition--the Comparsa was simply using the resources they had to pursue a creative impulse and create something new and different from the component parts of the tradition.

 Chinchinero; Photo by Marcos S. Gonzáles Valdés on Flickr
Chinchinero; Photo by Marcos S. Gonzáles Valdés on Flickr

On the other hand, one of Rosa Jiménez's other major projects, the Escuela Carnavalera Chinchintirapié, was created out of a desire to preserve a tradition. Rosa told me a story about how, on September 18, 2005 during the celebrations, the police stopped a Chinchinero from performing in the Plaza de Armas. "It was completely unfair and undignified that someone who was playing traditional Chilean music on the day of such an important festival in our culture was not allowed to play...It was in that moment that we realized this drum needed to be rescued."

However, even this act of teaching people this style of music, the Escuela Carnavalera Chinchintirapié was breaking with tradition; Chinchineros are normally taught at home, by family members. Like the Comparsa, Chinchintirapié's goal is to teach music and dance for free, and to include everyone in this environment of "armando la fiesta" (getting the party going).

Rosa says that her hope is to say to people "You are a creator! It doesn't matter if you aren't good at dancing, it doesn't matter! Dare to dance! It doesn't matter that you don't sing, sing anyway!" She wants to include everyone in this process of "approaching culture in a more everyday manner."

As I talked with her, Rosa's passion and dedication to dance as a means of activating social change came through clearly. All of her various dance projects, her job as a folklore professor, her previous studies as a social worker, are related to this theme. We create our own culture. While we are always informed by our traditions and cultural heritage, we should follow our own desires and creative impulses and make something new. And as culture is a collective process, it shouldn't be controlled by an elite.

"I started to feel almost guilty for dancing," she recalls feeling as she realized not everyone had the opportunity to dance in a studio with teachers. "Damn it, art is a right, it can't just be a privilege!"

For more information on Rosa's current projects:

Comparsa Juan y Rosa

Escuela Carnavalera Chinchintirapié

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