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Two Left Tongues

The Latin Ballet's “NuYoRican” dances through cultures lost and found.



Here's a recipe for identity crisis: Imagine your Puerto Rican grandparents had moved to New York after World War II. Because Puerto Rico by then was a U.S. protectorate, they were considered Americans, not immigrants. After they moved, your grandparents didn't let their kids speak Spanish to help them fit in. Following in this tradition, your parents didn't teach you Spanish. And so you are a third-generation New Yorker with a Latino name who's taking a Spanish class. Who are you?

You're NuYoRican, and you're in luck. Ana King, artistic director of the Latin Ballet of Virginia, wants to tell your story. Four years ago she made a dance work titled “NuYoRican,” based on the stories of families whose connection to Puerto Rico is real but feels tenuous, a couple of generations removed. This weekend she's bringing it back.

King was startled when, through one of her company's outreach programs, she met some NuYoRicans, as they called themselves. They were trying to learn Spanish. While talking with them she realized they had many stories to tell about their complex cultural background, and that she wanted to help them be heard.

It just was taboo for them to speak Spanish at the time while trying to fit in, King says. “If they spoke Spanish, people automatically knew they were Puerto Rican and they weren't going to be treated well.”

Through dance, music and images of daily life — many drawn from actual family photographs shared with King during her research — the piece celebrates this special corner of the Puerto Rican diaspora.

In keeping with the Latin Ballet's mission “to preserve and promote the Latin American and Spanish cultures,” “NuYoRican” digs into Puerto Rico's Spanish and African roots through dances such as La Plena y La Bomba, as well as mambos, salsas, Latin jazz and reggaeton.
With her vivacious personality and her passionate devotion to education about and celebration of Latino culture, King's enthusiasm is impossible to resist. And why would you want to? Amidst all its vibrant color and thoughtful storytelling, “NuYoRican” also offers Frances Wessells, the grande dame of Richmond dance, playing the abuela (grandmother) in a number titled “Even My Grandma Dances the Mambo.” S

The Latin Ballet of Virginia presents “NuYoRican” at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen Oct. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. with 3 p.m. matinees. Tickets are $15-$20. Call 379-2555 or visit

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