By Gabriela Shiroma
September 29, 2008

Master artist Nestor Ruiz (left) and apprentices Stephan Sestor (center) and Gabriela Shiroma.  Nestor holds the sombrero, Stephan wears the poncho, and Gabriela holds handkerchief; each one of these are important props in Marinera.My name is Gabriela Shiroma.  I am the artistic director of De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association, an Afro-Peruvian dance ensemble in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I am participating in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program this year as an apprentice working with San Carlos-based master artist Nestor Ruiz, alongside apprentice Stephan Sester.  Together, we are focusing on the Peruvian dance traditions of Marinera Norteña and Marinera Limeña, traditional couple dances between a man and woman.  (Please see A Brief History.)

Stephan is participating in the Apprenticeship Program to attain three basic goals: to obtain more technique in dance movement to achieve the championship, to develop specific skills of Marinera dance with props like the poncho and the sombrero, and to learn a different style of Marinera: the Marinera Limeña (the Marinera of Lima, the capital of Peru).  Currently 15-years old, Stephan has been competing for a long time and has won many tournaments within the United States.  He wants to obtain the Peruvian championship of the National Tournament of Marinera Norteña (the Concurso Nacional de Marinera), a competition which has been held there for almost 50 years.  This tournament happens every year in Trujillo, a northern city in Peru where the best Marinera Norteña dancers from all over the world congregate for this wonderful ritual.

I joined in the Apprenticeship Program as a companion apprentice because Stephan needed a partner to train, particularly while learning the Marinera Limeña.  I dance the Marinera Limeña, and joined this apprenticeship in order to learn the Marinera Norteña.  Together, under Nestor’s guidance as a master dancer and teacher versed in both forms, Stephan and I support and complement each other with our respective backgrounds in Marinera Norteña and Marinera Limeña.  As an Afro-Peruvian dance instructor, my goals in this project are to learn the traditional Marinera Norteña from Nestor and ultimately be able to teach children to pass this tradition on in our community.

Stephan and Gabriela circling around one another performing the flirtatious Marinera Norteña.Nestor explains that the Marinera is a passionate dance.  He tells us that when he dances Marinera, a transformation occurs in his mind, body and spirit.  A Marinera contest in San Francisco brought him from Peru as a judge back in 1997.  The demand for his skill and mastery was so strong from Marinera lovers and students that he could not go back home, and he has been teaching and training throughout the United States since then.

For Nestor, the Marinera Norteña has been his life.  He knew at young age that all he wanted to do was to dance Marinera.  He did not have an instructor, and he trained himself by closely observing other masters of the form.  Nestor also is one of the witnesses of the beginning of the Marinera Norteña tournaments which have been so instrumental in Marinera’s perpetuation.  In our home country of Peru, Nestor Ruiz is a legend. He is recognized as a key innovator at the Marinera Nortena tournaments in Trujillo, and is a four-time national champion of Marinera Norteña in Peru.

Once, Nestor shared a story with me: “I was on a plane coming back to the Bay Area and talking to another Peruvian by chance.  He introduced himself and I did too, but he did not believe I was Nestor Ruiz.  He said, ‘Nahhh,  you are not Nestor Ruiz.  You are kidding me.  I know Nestor Ruiz.  I have seen him dance many times… Nestor Ruiz is taller and bigger.  Nahhhh…’  We kept talking, but he never believed I was myself.  It’s because the Marinera brings you out, makes you bigger, transforms you.”

Ruiz demonstrates a specific movement to Gabriela as she tests the use of her skirt which apprentice Stephan’s mother Sonia Sester brought back from Peru.For Stephan, the Marinera has always been more than a hobby.  Stephan is of Peruvian-German descent, lives in San Carlos and has been a student of Nestor’s for the past ten years.  He grew up with Marinera thanks to his Peruvian mother Sonia Sester, a Marinera lover who supports him dearly next to Stephan’s father, Rolf Sester.  Sonia introduced Stephan into this dance discipline to involve Stephan in Peruvian arts and culture.

Stephan says, “The Marinera makes me multi-talented I love to dance for the Peruvian community. Nestor has been my mentor throughout my life and he has been a good instructor to me. I dance Marinera because I love to compete, and I want to win the Championship of the National Tournament in Peru.”  Thus far, he has obtained 3rd place in Peru.

As for me, my interest in Marinera Norteña has to do a lot more with beautiful choreographic figures, refined footwork techniques, and a lot of physical endurance and a competitive dance.  Totally different to the Marinera Limeña, which follows specific dance rules, lyrical cues and drumming calls, Marinera Norteña is an intellectual dance.  Both in their own way are beautiful, unique and incomparable.  When we raise our handkerchief we become Marinera, and when we dance Marinera we become Peru.