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Migrant Dancer Who Defies Stigma Through an Afro-Colombian Rhythm

Karina Bossa is a Colombian folkloric rhythms dancer, who migrated to ​​Spain and founded her champeta teaching project with her partner Elvis.

The Woman Post | Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

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What started as a job became a cultural project through which she speaks about race, gender, identity, and class issues, while bringing to Barcelona this lively Afro-Caribbean dance. 

Karina decided to teach this Afro-Caribbean rhythm because several people were more interested in learning Cuban salsa or Zumba than Colombian salsa. It was then that she had the idea of ​​teaching Champeta, a genre that has roots in African rhythms and Colombian bullerengues. Karina had been dancing it since she was 15 years old.

Initially teaching champeta started as a job, but then she realized that there were many people who were interested in the history behind this rhythm. She decided to create a complement between teaching how to dance and helping people connect with the history of the music, and fall in love with champeta. “When I start to explain what it was like to live in a racist and elitist city like Cartagena, in the years when I grew up listening to champeta, people began to feel more interested. "

Karina wants the attendees to know through her classes that there is a region in the north of Colombia that is the Caribbean region. She considers that there is an under-representation abroad of people from the Colombian coast, unlike people from Medellín or Bogotá. “Normally when they ask me where I am from, they assume that I am Dominican, Cuban, or Venezuelan. They tell me that I am not Colombian or that I do not look Colombian because I am not white with straight hair like the people from the interior. It happens to many of us.”

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In her youth, there was a social ban on champeta because it had a bad image. “My dad and mom didn't want their daughter to dance champeta. Champeta was danced close together and tight, so people would make up stories. However, the fact that I danced champeta did not mean that I was going to end up pregnant.”

They even criticized her way of speaking for being too loud. "You speak champetúo" they told her. Karina says that there were people who came out of Cartagena and automatically changed their accent because they felt singled out and threatened. "As if everything that came from us was ‘champetúo‘, that is to say, bad or ugly". What she seeks today is to break that stigma and say "yes, I am Champetúa, this is my essence, I am Champetúa and with great honor."

In the past, stereotypes affected her much more and this was also the case with gender roles. According to her, a woman could not ask a man for a dance. Likewise, although men were also called champetúos, no one pointed out that they were “easy” and that they were doing bad things, as they did with women. Also, due to the fact that she was tall, fewer men took her out to dance, which Karina explains as "society tells you that you have to be shorter than men, that is imposed on you and it doesn't have to be that way."

Another instilled belief that she questioned through the dance was racism. From the obligation to straighten her afro hair to ‘look more beautiful’ to the pressure to get a lighter-skinned partner so that “your children will come out clearer,” says Karina, who experienced them a lot while living in Cartagena. "They told me, ‘You travel so much that you should marry a foreigner so that your children turn out blonde’". According to her, the problem is that comments that are racist are normalized under the thought that blonde hair is pretty but not Afro hair. "They told me that I was too white to be from Cartagena and then I went to Bogotá and they said "Hello black", which created an identity crisis for me.

Afro Caribe Barcelona started with a small group of Colombians dancing champeta in Spain. Then they received a great boost thanks to the boom of the champeta dance by Shakira during the Super Bowl. Today, people from Germany, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Argentina, Spain, France, England, and Colombia have passed through the classes. 

Despite the creative challenge of teaching a single rhythm and the difficulty of continuing to create new steps, Karina and her partner Elvis, also a dancer, dream of building an academy of Afro-Caribbean rhythms with a café space for gatherings and a stage for Champeta demonstrations. Here, other migrants and lovers of Afro-Colombian music will sit down from the land where they have found new opportunities and remember their countries of origin with a nostalgic bliss.