Fanny Smedile is not a professional dancer. But at last year’s Cville Sabroso, she put on a colorful dancing dress and found herself transformed.
“When I wore the costume, I felt my folklore,” she said. “When I listened to the music, it took me back to my country. In that moment, I felt it in my blood.”
Born in Riobamba, Chimborazo, Ecuador and living in Charlottesville for the last eight years, Smedile handles community outreach for Sin Barreras, a nonprofit group that provides support services for local immigrants and partners with cultural arts project Luminaria Cville to produce Cville Sabroso, a Latin American dance and music festival.
Founded by musician and teacher Estela Knott, who described music and dance as “part of our natural way of communicating with each other and part of our heritage as human beings, ” Cville Sabroso’s inaugural event drew 500 people despite consistent rain.
“It was beautiful,” Knott said. “There were kids from different cultural backgrounds dancing. This little Latino boy, maybe 7 years old, was sitting on the ground with his sister when the Chinelos, a style of Mexican dance where they dress up in costumes with masks and sort of like bishops’ hats on, they were coming through. The boy, who’d grown up in Charlottesville his whole life, had this look on his face as if he was recognizing something he’d never actually seen before.”
This Saturday marks the second installment of the festival, which features authentic Latin food, kids’ activities, and live traditional music and folk dances.
Smedile choked up over the city’s 2013 proclamation of the day as one of annual celebration. “I was very excited and emotional, very happy and thankful that our mini dream came true,” she said. “I love this country, but in my heart my country is Ecuador. I want to show the richness of our traditions, our music, and our folklore.”
Building connection across cultures comes naturally to Knott, who calls herself Mex-alachian. “My mother is from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and my father is from the Shenandoah Valley, just over the mountain in Luray.”
Her mother’s annual Mexican fiestas had Knott performing for weddings and corporate events by age 10. Wider explorations began after she moved to Charlottesville and met her husband (Olivarez Trio bassist Dave Berzonsky) while playing African creole music.
After traveling through Latin America, Knott decided to create a casa de la cultura, a ‘house of culture’ akin to those she’d seen in Mexico, and from this Luminaria Cville was born.
Knott met Smedile at a Luminaria event and found they shared a common vision “of wanting to bring all of the cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean together, not just to celebrate in private communities, in churches and neighborhoods, but to actually come out into the community and show the rest of Charlottesville their culture.”
The fruit of their efforts is the increased confidence and trust from the local Latino community and the attendees from across the region.
“We had a Son Jarocho group from Veracruz, Mexico,” said Knott. “This little man came out..and he just started flatfooting, a Mexican style of clogging. He came out and danced for that song and then disappeared back into the audience, and I almost lost it,” she said. “It was exactly what I’d been hoping for.”
The Cville Sabroso Festival will be held on the McGuffey Art Center lawn on September 20.