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New in Town: Raizes Portuguesas dance group keeps tradition alive (10 photos)

The first in a regular series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at businesses and clubs in Bradford West Gwillimbury from the perspective of a person new to town. Want to be featured? Email [email protected].

Dancing — and I mean good dancing — is not my strong suit.

If you want wild freestyling, with moves such as The Shopping Cart or a wonky hands-on-knees Charleston, I’m your girl.

If you want co-ordinated, professional level dancing, I am not.

When I was invited to join the dance group Raizes Portuguesas, which means Portuguese roots, for a practice, I was excited but nervous to try some new steps.

What I found was a welcoming troupe of dancers just looking to keep their cultural traditions alive and have fun doing it.

“There was an interest within the parent community to have their kids involved in something traditional and Portuguese,” said Luisa Coquim, director of Raizes Portuguesas. “Canada is our home, but part of us longs for our other home, which is also beautiful.”

The group started two years ago, with practices once a week on Fridays, alternating between Fred C. Cook Public School and St. Angela Merici Catholic School in Bradford West Gwillimbury.

In the gym at St. Angela, the youngest dancers practiced first.

They all walked in a large circle, with the boys stopping to kneel down as their partners raised their hands in the area and danced around them.

The choreography was simple and repetitive, but the kids were focused and trying their best to master each move.

Adults mingled with the kids, making sure everyone had a partner to participate in the dancing.

When it came time for the adult group, which included a few of the older children, that is when my time to shine or fail arrived.

The group of about 20 dancers lined up in four, spread-out rows. Some of them wore red-and-green cowboy hats for the colours of Portugal’s flag.

Putting on a cowboy hat borrowed from one of the other dancers, I got in one of the lines and prepared myself to start dancing — or at least try my best to do something resembling dancing.

As the rhythmic, upbeat music began, every single person started swaying their hips.

Then the moves really got going, with hands moving from hips, to head, back to hips, down to thighs, then thrown up in the air a couple times before doing the grapevine to the right and to the left.

I have never found myself particularly co-ordinated, so I surprised myself by adjusting to these moves fairly easily.

A sudden pivot front and then back threw me off, though, and I was never able to master that part during the dance.

But even with my awkward attempts at pivoting in a circle, I was having a lot of fun.

In reality, the moves are not that complicated, and with some practice (OK, lots of it) I am sure I could pivot and dance with the best of them.

The group is always looking for new members, and it can start young, shy participants off by letting them carry props instead of dancing to ease them into it, so they can see if they want to pursue it further, said Coquim.

Raizes Portuguesas has done performances in BWG, Toronto, Oshawa and Keswick, as well as at baptisms and weddings — “anywhere people have that desire to show their roots,” she said.

The group has also performed during the local Santa Claus Parade, and it joins the annual Portugal Day parade in Toronto every year.

On June 10, the group, dressed in red skirts or jeans, white T-shirts, and red-and-green cowboy hats marched through Toronto for the parade.

At each outing, the group tries to introduce a new character from Portuguese folklore, such as a fisherman, fisher wife, wool spinner, farm girl, or lupini bean seller, Coquim said.

To join, it costs each participant $50 per year to cover the cost of insurance to use the school gyms as practice spaces.

Costumes are also provided for performances, although the group is now fundraising to buy authentic, handmade costumes from Portugal.

Typical costumes include white shirts with blue or red embroidery, black hats, red waist sashes for the boys, blue floral sashes for the girls, and blue-and-white skirts with colourful embroidery for the girls.

For many participants, Raizes Portuguesas is a family affair.

Bradford’s Ana Fernandes and her nine-year-old son, Nicholas Garcia, joined the group together.

“He loves the Portuguese culture. He wanted to learn to dance. He can’t wait for Fridays,” she said. “I’m so proud because, especially when you have children born in another country, it’s like he was born there. It makes me very happy and proud.”

Being able to interact with other people of Portuguese heritage is a great benefit to joining the group, she said, adding many of the women also get together for paint nights.

“It’s fun. I get to see some of my friends who go to my school,” said Nicholas, adding his real favourite part about the Portuguese culture is “the food — steak.”

Celina Medeiros, 10, also joined Raízes Portuguesas with her mom, Sandra Silva.

“I like that I get to help people, and it’s fun, and we get to go places. I help them do the steps. It’s 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, kick!” she said. “I have a partner named Dante. We just do a good job together. It’s very interesting, and you get snacks after.”

Schomberg’s Ana Bucciante participates in the dance group with her daughter, Maia, 17.

“To keep the culture and introduce my daughter to the culture,” she said. “I love it. It keeps me connected to the culture and the language.”

Want to join?

Contact Sandra Silva at 416-939-1519.