Martha Nora Zarante, 51, the artistic director of the dance company, teaches audience members a traditional Mexican dance Photo: Jesse Vad

Brook Park hosts Stage, Garden, Rumba

Martha Nora Zarante, 51, artistic director of the Mazarte Dance Company, teaches audience members a traditional Mexican dance. Photo: Jesse Vad

Artists and activists filled the Brook Park community garden on Sept. 7 for Stage, Garden, Rumba, a free program of dancing, music, poetry and community building. The event was held by Pregones, the Bronx-based Puerto Rican Traveling Theater company to create an intimate gathering for artists, activists and Bronxites to learn from each other. Pregones has been presenting the Stage, Garden, Rumba program for about a year at different locations.

Jorge Merced, 54, the associate artistic director of Pregones, explained that this community event is important for the South Bronx because of its history of oppression and high levels of poverty. “This has been a community that really has experienced what it means to be the invisible place,” said Merced. “So we’re going back to the basics of community organizing.”

Activists at Stage, Garden, Rumba educated the crowd about current issues within the area such as access to housing. In 2018, Community District 1, which comprises Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris, identified affordable housing as the number one issue in the community. Speakers urged the crowd to rely on each other for support to resist development and neighborhood change.   

Even the musical performances provided an opportunity for the community to learn. The Mazarte Dance Company, for example, consisted of three women who showcased traditional Mexican dance.

Martha Nora Zarante, 51, the artistic director of the dance company, explained that performing traditional dance can help to give context and understanding to immigrant children who don’t know much about their country of origin.

After Mazarte performed they invited the audience up to the stage to teach them the basics of traditional Mexican dance. Children held hands with the dancers and followed their steps to the music’s rhythm.

Rabih Ahmed, 24, a poet and entrepreneur, said that community events like Stage, Garden, Rumba are important. “I feel like I’m learning new stuff about the Bronx every day,” said Ahmed. “We’ve always been artistic, we’ve always been creative, we’re reclaiming space, we’re getting together and we want you to know that you don’t have to leave your borough.” 

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