June 14, 2023
Volume 4 Issue 3
By: Julie Galle Baggenstoss
Marie Andrea Cruzado Jeanneau dances to share the beauty of the place where she was born, Peru. In turn, her passion for the art form has become a way for her to learn about her heritage and connect with Peruvian culture in metro Atlanta. Along with Mayra Suarez, Marie Cruzado Jeanneau established Asociación Cultural Peruana Aklla Sumaq in 2015 as a dance company of women. Now an official non-profit, the company includes men and women, as well as children. They study and perform regularly throughout Georgia and neighboring states.
Their presence on performance stages is the result of decades of determination to strengthen ties to home as a young immigrant. Marie recalls how she felt when she moved to Gwinnett County at 10 years old, “It is hard to reshape your present and your future as an immigrant child, and so the first thing you want to do is try to blend it.” Marie remembers trying to do just that while attending school in Georgia, with new American friends, and then turning to Spanish language and Peruvian ballads at home as remedies for nostalgia. “My mother knew that something was missing so she would look for opportunities to find the roots of who we are.” In their search, they found a group of people who were interested in Peruvian folk dance. “I learned about myself and my heritage.”
A short time later, Cruzado met Suarez, and they began dreaming. “We had a vision of being very active in the community and sharing what Peruvian folklore is – expression, dance, attire.” They established Aklla Sumaq as a passion project. They sought out dancers through social media and word-of-mouth. Though it began as a recreational hobby, the dancers soon planned to become a nonprofit and offer workshops. These milestones guided them through growth. Throughout the lifespan of the organization, they remained dedicated to integrity in their practice and respectful performance. “We research how to portray the dance in a manner that is true to its roots. We want our choreography to truly show the history of Peru.”
Another mission of Aklla Sumaq is to educate its audience by showing that Peru is a nation of many histories and dances. “There are 24 states. Each state has a different history that shows what Peru is,” says Cruzado. The group intentionally selects dances from various regions to demonstrate the diversity within Peru, including indigenous, African and colonial styles. Perhaps one of the gems in their repertoire is the Marinera Norteña, an exhibition of elegant, controlled flirtation. Suarez is an accomplished dancer in this form, and took the title of first place in the national competition for this dance in 2019.
While titles at competitions may reflect their excellence in dance in a showcase to the public, Aklla Sumaq is equally dedicated to the quiet, unseen, steady work of education through the arts. The company directors are always learning while also teaching and performing. “The repertoire is so rich; we are still navigating it and learning what we can bring to the community,” explains Cruzado. By rooting themselves in history, Aklla Sumaq changes lives by offering a means of connection to personal heritage and taking people halfway around the world through the arts.
Aklla Sumaq is a quechua phrase that means “chosen by beauty.” Cruzado wants to show the rich beauty of Peru to the world through movement. With every step, she hopes the company will spark curiosity about personal heritage, and inspire all people to explore their roots, Peruvian or otherwise. With that outlook, something transformational is happening in her dance life. People who are not Peruvian have joined Aklla Sumaq. “For me, it is so beautiful to see the community outside of Peruvians wanting to know more about Peru. For me it brings unity.”
Julie Galle Baggenstoss is a scholar and frequent lecturer in the field of flamenco history and culture. She has an M.A. in Spanish from Georgia State University, where she analyzed flamenco through the lens of Spanish history, literature, and linguistics. She is the Executive Director of A Través, 501c3, dedicated to flamenco arts in the state of Georgia, and she is a founder of the Atlanta Flamenco Festival. In addition to performing and working with students in grades K-12 as a teaching artist, Julie teaches flamenco at Emory University.
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