Las Bellezas Panameñas troupe to bring Tamborito dance to Carnaval
By Paulette Greenhouse
The beats of drums, the tapping of feet, the clapping of hands, and the calling out of symphonic poems can be heard during a traditional Panamanian Tamborito dance. Tamborito, Panama’s national dance, is an expression of the country’s people’s hopes, desires, spirit, and soul.
A female lead singer known as the cantalante leads the group by calling out various lyrical lines that often speak of pleasure and anguish due to the attraction amongst the men and women. The rest of the group, the estribillo, then respond by singing four-line stanzas of copla, a lyrical form of poetry originally from Spain. They are joined by many dancers and drummers; the females wear the traditional Panamanian dresses polleras, while the men are dressed in montunos. This passionate and expressive dance can be seen at San Francisco’s Carnaval, performed by the Panamanian group known as Las Bellezas Panameñas.
As one of the two groups representing Panama in this year’s Carnaval parade, Las Bellezas Panameñas is making sure to do its best at exciting the crowds and representing its country. Group leader Brenda Bethancourt enthusiastically explains, “Our primary motive is to make our audience happy to make everyone aware of our country that we exist geographically, and that we are of all races- Black, Asian, Indian, White, and Indigenous.”
Bethancourt became involved in Las Bellezas Panameñas when the group began three years ago. Her daughter Love was invited to participate as a dancer and then she decided to become active. The group began losing support by the local Panamanian population, so she stepped up and took the position as leader of the group in order to make sure it survived.
Las Bellezas Panameñas hopes to excite audiences through their authentic representation of their culture, music, and dancing. Their theme this year is “100 Polleras.” 11-year old Love explains that, “all the dresses we’re wearing this year were made in Panama.”
An authentic representation is important in order to stand out amongst the large crowd. Due to the large media coverage of Brazil’s Carnaval and the scantily-dressed Brazilian groups that participate in San Francisco’s Carnaval, much of the attention often is directed towards them. Although some might think this may make groups such as Las Bellezas Panameñas feel like their contributions are minor, but Carnaval’s participants have come together as one strong influence.
“We have really god communication with the rest of the groups. We’re like family; we plan together at a table of more than 50 people it’s a really well planned and organized event,” Bethancourt said.
San Francisco State professor Carlos Cordova has been an active participant in San Francisco’s Carnaval since the 1970s working building floats, photographing the event, and acting as a judge in the King and Queen contest. Cordova agrees with Bethancourt on the unity amongst the groups, as well as diversity, “I think the people are very well represented. There’s also belly dancers children’s groups from the schools, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Central Americans who all also participate in the parade.”
As a whole, all the participants simply want to excite the crowd and represent their country. Bethancourt explained her reasons for participating, “I think that every group has their own objective but the main goal is that the public enjoys the variety of participants. For us, (Las Bellezas Panameñas,) it’s nice to show our children the beauty of our country. We want them to know about their culture and to show them how to appreciate it without comparing to any other countries. We want them to feel so deeply proud of being Panamanian, from the bottom of their hearts.”
You can look out for Las Bellezas Panameñas, as well as the 62 other groups participating in this year’s San Francisco Carnaval. Carnaval will be held on May 24th and 25. A map of the parade’s route and Carnaval’s set-up can be found at www.carnavalsf.com.