Dancing Towards Integration: An Unforgettable Experience in Cajamarca

By Adam Riley (PCV in Cajamarca, Peru)
Feb. 23, 2024

Looking back on Pre-Service Training, the importance of integration into our host families and host communities was continually emphasized. However, as a trainee, I recall feeling uneasy about how the integration process would unfold in my host community in Cajamarca region. Pretty quickly, I discovered how important dance is to my host family, and how traditional dance could be my gateway to building relationships and understanding with my host family and others in the community.

My host family, as well as many young people in my neighborhood, are part of a cultural folk dance group called “Asociación Cultural Orígenes”. One initiative of the regional government is to spread the spirit of Carnival to all parts of the Cajamarca region and, as such, this group was invited to take part in a performance and parade that was happening in Jaén, about eight hours away by bus. With one seat remaining on the bus, the group graciously offered me the opportunity to join them. Just a few hours later, I was on the bus with them and, traveling overnight, we arrived in Jaén as the sun was rising.

After a quick breakfast, we headed over to the plaza to prepare for the parade. After helping others get their costumes on, I quickly discovered that the group had other plans for me. Rather than supporting the group as a spectator, they had, unbeknown to me, brought a costume for me to participate. Due to my height, the pants unsurprisingly did not fit. However, I was assured that this was not a problem, and, after a quick dance lesson, we were on our way to begin the parade.

carnival dancers

Although my dance skills were basic at best, I realized the key was to embrace the joy of the moment and to have a smile. As we paraded through the streets, my ability to dance mattered less than simply immersing myself and making the most of the experience. As I danced alongside my host family and new friends, I couldn’t help but recognize the power of traditions to connect people. Through this unexpected and last-minute experience, I gained more than just a glimpse of the cultural richness that Cajamarca is known for; I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance with others in my host family. True integration isn't just adapting to local customs, but rather actively participating and embracing the spirit of community celebrations and traditions. As I reflect on this experience, I not only bring with me these memories but also a deeper appreciation for cultural exchange. All in all, it wasn’t just about learning the steps of a dance: it was about stepping into a community and forging bonds that will last far beyond service.