Born and raised in the San Fernando neighborhood on the outskirts of Masaya, Nicaragua, Yeinner Chicas grew up around gangs and danger.
By Genesis Hernandez Nunez (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES — The first time he performed on stage, he was 4 years old at a pre-school event where he used to study. He recited the poem “A Caupolican” and then danced the “quebradita” with a friend. Ever since then, his life has moved to the beat of music: merengue, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, Nicaraguan folk, ballet, jazz, contemporary dance.
Yeinner Chicas is now 27 years old and claims that he doesn’t know what his life would have been without dance because it saved him from the violence and crime in his neighborhood and has led him to win over audiences all over the world, from Costa Rica to Finland.
From student to teacher
Born and raised in the San Fernando neighborhood on the outskirts of Masaya, Yeinner Chicas grew up around gangs and danger. However, his mother, relatives and neighbors prevented his path to becoming a dancer from becoming the wrong path. That’s why, focused on his passion, encouraged by his friend Jordan Aburto, who is also a dancer, he visited the Mayasa Cultural Center when he was just 14 years old and joined the classes given by teacher Pedro Rene Gutierrez who took an interest in him because he was a quick learner and he invited him to dance professionally at the Danzas de mi Tierra Folk Ballet.
“At high school, I stopped going to class so I could go and rehearse, dancing was always my priority because it kept me in shape, I disconnected, however, I later went to study Forest Engineering at the National Agrarian University, although I left in my third year of studies because I wanted to help my mom out. I started giving private classes and I managed to get on my feet in a year, people wanted to work with me. That’s how I was able to go and study at the Nicaraguan Dance Academy and I’d only give classes to my classmates, I became a teacher from being a student.”
After having danced in the Danzas de mi Tierra Folk Ballet for seven years and completing his four years of studying to become a Contemporary Dance performer, he joined the Arte y Danza Contemporary Dance Company and that’s where borders stopped being an obstacle for taking his moves to other places in the world.
A Nicaraguan steps across Europe
While at the Arte y Danza Contemporary Dance Company, Chicas came into contact with choreographers who offered him a work exchange in Costa Rica and so he danced in the Tres Hermanos Company in this country, directed by Jose Andres Alvarez Sanou, and in 2015, he went on tour in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico. He also collaborated with the ANISDAN Company from Norway that same year and starred in a VideoDance movie “Donde estas” produced by Maja Annisdall which was then shown at European festivals.
“At that time, I received an offer from Tina Halford, a German girl who invited me to make another VideoDance movie, which we would use a 10 minute excerpt from to take part in the Solo dos en danza competition that takes place in Costa Rica and we won first place. I was the first Nicaraguan to do this. The prize was a two and a half months tour across Spain with the A Cielo Abierto network that brings together the best festivals in unconventional spaces such as streets, parks and squares. I was also the first Nicaraguan to go on this tour too. I was in Cadiz, Galicia, Zaragoza, Bilbao and Madrid and I showcased the name of Nicaragua.”
This dancer’s talent and his love for dance have attracted people who, just like his first teacher, connect immediately with him after seeing him dance. An example? Dancer and choreographer Alpo Aaltokoski, a legend in Finnish contemporary dance who he met during a festival organized in Nicaragua and in 2013, he decided to invite Chicas to Finland for the first time, “the corner of Europe, a totally different world, both socially, economically and educationally-speaking,” says Chicas.
“At the beginning of this year, Alpo was celebrating his 30th anniversary as a choreographer, he is an icon in Finland and he only chose two international artists for his celebration performance: an Iraqi musician and myself. He went back to a choreography called “From a seed” which had been created in 1995 and was inspired by Aaltokoski’s first trip to Nicaragua, as he has supported Nicaragua ever since the ‘90s and I performed this choreography in Helsinki, at the Alexander theater. People asked for the choreography, my performance was well received and I didn’t know what to think because it was my first time performing alone in such an important theater which was also crowded, there were critics, people from magazines, newspapers.” After his success in Finland, the adventure continued in Berlin and Barcelona with him giving classes and performing.
One life and two festivals
Based on the saying, “one life and a thousand errands,” we could say that Yeinner has “one life and two festivals” as this will be the third year that he will produce and direct the MARYLEY International Contemporary Dance Festival and the CALACHE Alternative Spaces Open Festival, both of which take place in Masaya thanks to them being self-managed projects.
“I’m a contemporary dance artist, but I asked myself what I was doing for my country, for my city and I said to myself that what I want is to spread my influence among youth here so that dance can continue to grow. In the first edition of this festival, there were local artists, artists from Mexico and El Salvador and I was very surprised because I didn’t expect so many people to be interested because it was a self-managed project. The first time I did it, I didn’t have anybody’s support, only contacts, a friend who gave me a hen, another friend gave me a piglet, I went to restaurants, to fried food stands to ask for money and I was able to raise what was needed. It was an intense week where I had to ensure accommodation, food, domestic transport, programs and publicity.”
During the second year, the event took place at the Cultural Center at the Old Masaya Market which is better known as the Old Market. “Performances only lasted a day, it was two hours long, but there were 32 dancers, when I saw them I thought, what am I doing with so many dancers here? And I don’t know how I did it, but it’s all about sharing for me, I don’t pay them, they even pay for their ticket, but of course, in their countries they have the possibility of receiving funding from their government or other institutions and I’m trying to do the same here, but it’s extremely difficult.”
However, nothing has stopped Yeinner who is already involved in organizing the third edition of the MARYLEY International Contemporary Dance Festival, where dancers from Finland, Spain, Mexico and Central America will take part from August 28th until September 2nd in Masaya. On September 1st and 2nd, there will be an international gala event at the Cultural Center at 7 PM which will cost 100 Cordoba’s and there will also be workshops, VideoDance screenings, Afro and Contemporary dance.
“There is also a festival in Leon and it would be interesting to create a network and that’s my intention, that other artists are influenced because there is a lot of talent here in Nicaragua, young people who want to showcase their work, but they lack the initiative to create spaces, to manage. That’s why I encourage them to find these spaces, that they manage themselves, if they really want to do it then they should approach dance places. You have to think out your objective, the mission and vision of your project and the need for people to come into contact with art.”
The same thing happened with the CALACHE Alternative Spaces Open Festival, which appeared as a result of Chicas’ experience in Spain. “I began with people here, friends. I used to go to the street, I used to take a little box, I used to go to a fried food place and began to speak about how the festival was completely independent, with independent artists and that I only needed to cover food, water, accommodation costs with what you donate and I used to give them my little box. I used to feel embarrassed at the beginning because I had never done this before, but people reacted well because seeing a dance performance of this quality, on the street and for free was a very good offer. That time, the festival lasted only one day and I collected 1,500 Cordobas (US $50).”
But, there was more. In 2016, artists from the United States, Mozambique and Chile took part in the CALACHE festival and this year Yeinner wants it “to be explosive.” “The first year, it took place in the main park, the second year in the main park, Monimbo square and the pier and this year I want it to be really explosive, a carnival and I want it to take place in different places over different days because there’s nothing, if there isn’t art in a country. Art is something whole, values are passed on, emotions are stirred, information is presented to the audience and they interpret it in their own way, proposals are made to educate people.”
Yeinner’s slim and tanned body moves from one side to the other of the Chicas Studio, which he founded and has managed for six years and it’s located a block away from Masaya’s main park. Sitting on the floor, he talks while moving his arms or his head. In the adjoining room, there is a zumba class and there will soon be a belly dancing class in the room we’re sitting in.
He complains about stereotypes: “they say that whoever is a dancer is gay, ever since I started dancing folklore, I received a lot of insults even from people I considered to be my friends. The local community in Masaya abused me a lot and there are times when I get harassed in the street because I have long hair and wear a sleeveless top.”
He talks about his health: “I have scoliosis in the lower part of my back ever since I began as a professional. I spent a week with a very serious crisis and the doctor told me that I had to stop dancing otherwise I would end up disabled, but I continued to dance and if I’m going to end up disabled, it’ll be on a stage” and he gets in touch with his sensitive side when talking about his late mother: “The studio is called Chicas Studio because that was her surname and I want to lift it up. She was my inspiration, my drive and she still is.”
At a certain point, Chicas talks about his “Metamorfosis”, a contemporary dance piece he created that stems from some trousers he bought at a second-hand clothes shop, which he has performed in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Germany and Spain. “Part of the madness I had, I found a pair of trousers in a bundle, with a rip down to the ankle, I put it on a few times to walk down the street, but I felt a bit embarrassed. One day, I tried to put them on in my room, then I tried to get out of them. It’s called Metamorfosis because there are a lot of things on a personal level, those who see it will relate to being human, to evolution and other people will relate to the birth of a plant or animal. There are people who have told me that they have felt fear, disgust, or like they are on another planet watching me dance, I like receiving different opinions.”
Then, he talks about his future plans: “a girl in Finland called Kati Kallio offered me a job in August in the production and shooting of a project about dance in Masaya, both popular dance, as well as urban and folk dance. We are also going to make a VideoDance movie for Metamorfosis, it’ll only be movement, without text.” His words keep on flowing. He tells me that it’s been three weeks since he’s come back from Europe, that he is going to Leon this weekend with some friends from Slovakia who are giving workshops in this city and that he will only return to Masaya to pick up his things to go to Costa Rica, and then from there to Germany. Sigh. He excuses himself for the avalanche of information. “I’m like this, I always thinking about movement, creating. I relate everything in daily life with dance, everything is dance to me, I can’t help it, it’s my daily bread.”