In its thirtieth year, Cuzco’s main private University–the Universidad Andina del Cusco, takes over the plaza today to show its stuff. The various majors made decisions about which dance they would like to perform, sought out a good dance instructor, and then chose dancers from among their number. For a month now they have been practicing most every day.
The rest of the major supported with food and on performance day organized themselves as fans. They prepared cheers, designated a mascot to lead them, and gathered balloons and color to support their group. The barra, as it is called, or group of fans, also competed to be recognized as the best.
Before coming into the Plaza de Armas today and dancing and cheering their hearts out, the students first performed yesterday in Cuzco’s Coliseum. Though dancing on a basketball court seemed both strange and yet appropriate, given the focus on groups of fans along with competition, the groups performed for the university and, most importantly, for the judges.
Students, more used to lifting heavy ideas and books, than dancing full bore for ten or fifteen minutes, still performed with everything they had for the honor of their major, their university, and to salute the City of Cuzco.
After almost ever dance one or more students would collapse on the edge of the field of play. Paramedics would run to attend them, while the next troupe (major) would set itself up to enter, and broom clad staff swept the floor.
Here are students who can afford a private education, studying the best of Western education in technical fields, taking on identities that encode Cuzco and its official culture that celebrates its rural past and its Indigenous origins.
Of course the dances are changed. Though they have roots in Indigenous communities where they were connected with seasons and with agriculture and social life, the dances lost that context to take on the task of representing this official culture that elites wish to inculcate in students, the next generation. The dances become more couple oriented, more choreographed, and more focused on being typical than on changing seasons or changing lives.
Today the same dances take to the Plaza, where they will be joined by the professors of each major. They will march dressed in ponchos, whether they are male or female. This stereotypical male dress has been adopted to refer to social position and tradition rather than to gender per se. Each major’s professors and authorities will march before the dancers perform, while their barra cheers. The rector (president) of the university along with the other main administrators will be on the reviewing stand, above all, and receiving the greetings of their majors, at the same time they stand next to Cuzco’s authorities who are also honored in this event.
The culture of types, represented in the dances, stretches from elementary school through university and on into public life. it is there whenever institutions or organizations wish to stand before public life.
Fiestas have been transformed into a tableau of types, not unlike those of saints that will appear on tiered altars in the streets for Corpus Christi next week. People take on those types. Increasingly, the types of saints and their stories, is for private life, while this display of types from folk culture–i,e provinces, stages of life, types of people, -periods of agriculture, and seasons of the year. Together they make a mural of idealized, romanticized, traditional life.
The dances also set up a set of tunes, melodies and rhythms, that are immediately recognizable, and set up the backdrop of life in Cuzco, that is very different from the use of music as a backdrop or promoter of consumerism and commerce.
Finally, students who practice the dances, or the barras, learn to come together as a corporate group, a body, and move uniformly, something that is the counterpart of the individualism that otherwise motivates modern life. This corporate-ness performs many roles in their day to day life, as does individual identity and individualism.
In any case, today will be a day of drama and passion, as the students give their all, to dance their hearts out before the city, their professors, and their peers.