What proceeds is a conversation with Nina a few days before the Cabarete Carnaval. We chat about her story as a dancer, how her African roots connect her love of Dominican culture, the importance of sisterhood and of course, her passion projects: the Alma Libre Dance School and all-girl troupe named after a Yoruba goddess, Yemayá Tribe.
Moraima: How did you arrive to Cabarete? What brought you here?
Nina: DR first, my cousin used to live in Santo Domingo and I came to visit her and I loved it. She talked to me about Cabarete, said I would love it…So we had the same dream, we loved to dance and we had this dream to open a dance school one day. And she was like it’s so much easier in DR and in Cabarete we can start to give classes together…What happened is that the moment I was supposed to come, my dad died. So I couldn’t come, I stayed a little bit longer in Europe… And a year after when I was supposed to come to Cabarete again, my mom died. Yes, life is like that, I don’t know, I can’t explain it, that’s my story. My story had to be like that. But it didn’t stop me. I don’t know some people will say wow it’s a sign, don’t go there like every time you want to go there, there is something happening, but I think the opposite. I think it is challenging me—
M: —It’s just a delay—
N: Yes, a delay. So my cousins started to give the classes and when I arrived we started together for two years. After that, she left so I was all by myself here. No family, nothing. And this is when I started to really build more classes and put all my 100 percent energy to do the maximum things I can do here with dance; the salsa, the bachata, cause I love the Dominican bachata and the Dominican culture too. Soon, I am going to even start to learn the dance Palo—
M: —I love Palos—
N: I love it. When I came here, it reminded me of Cameroon, of Africa so that’s what touched my heart. So yes, I started the classes but also I had a dream to start a dance troupe, but not whatever dance troupe. I wanted a dance troupe of women, focused on hermandad, sisterhood. Something that we would help each other, whatever happened in our lives, we would always be there for each other. Focused on this and to teach to some Dominican girls who have never danced, never do shows or stuff like that, that they can do it. They can do anything they want…they are capable of anything. In a year or two of the dance troupe, we started to do fire shows, dance shows and now we perform in so many places. Last year, we danced for the [Cabarete] carnaval and finally this year, they picked us as the first troupe to represent Cabarete for the carnaval. I talk a lot haha
M: That’s okay. So did you dance from a young age?
N: Yes, I always danced. When I was young my mom put me in Cameroon in classic dance class
M: Like ballet?
N: yes, ballet but I wasn’t into ballet. My problem in my life is that I love so much dance that I want to dance everything. Every time I see a dance I want to learn it. It’s good, sometimes it’s bad because you don’t push things to be a perfect dancer but that’s not my point in dance. I don’t wanna be the best dancer, I just wanna be able to share all those cultures through dance…at school I studied contemporary and jazz.
M: Where does the name Alma Libre Dance School come from? What does it mean to you?
N: When we started to think about the name for the school, before my cousin started to teach, at this moment I did not really speak Spanish. So we shared names and she said Alma Libre and I said, that’s it. Because this is exactly who we are, we are really a free soul. At sixteen years old, I left my house and I started to travel a bit around France and continue studying. I always never stop myself to do anything so for me that is really the definition of a free soul—
N: —Yes, and I never had money or something like that. I always worked to make the money to travel to this country and learn this dance or do that and do that. So with no money you can do so many things, it’s just you push yourself. And in anything you do, you gonna work in a bar? Be the best.
M: So I am sure that there were sacrifices to do the things that you wanted to, anything that stands out?
N: Yes, I was working in France as a dental hygienist for many years and I just stopped everything because I was just like I love dancing. Every job I did in my life, I am passionate about everything I do, I was a bartender in London, mixologist, I was passionate about cocktails. I wanted to be, not the best, but I really wanted the people to come and when they had one of my cocktails to say oh my god, its amazing. As a dental hygienist too, I was passionate about it. Sometimes the dentist I was working with, send me to some congress and I was the only assistant. I don’t see myself different than you. So I was really passionate but I was like, no, dance is my thing. I can’t explain, the only thing I can tell you is just watch me dance. And like I said, it’s not about being the best, it’s just this moment is my moment, it’s when I leave this world to enter somewhere else. Dancing is the best part of me.
M: That’s awesome. Growing up with the two cultures, Cameroonian and Russian, how was that? Did you grow up religious in any way?
N: First, it’s not jut two cultures; it’s two super opposite cultures. I realized, African and Russian have something in common. The way they treat the people when they invite you in their home, my mom she was really someone. She was the only white woman in Cameroon who was going to the village of my dad, a really retired village by herself, driving there to bring medication, she was a doctor. She was, I had a super, the name badass woman, super mega badass mom. Scared of nothing, when I say nothing, nothing. So yeah, I had a difficult childhood but I am not going to go more into that—
M: —That’s okay—
N: Yeah, I am not going to give details but really difficult childhood so it means that just to show to people that whatever happens, you don’t even imagine what my childhood was like, but whatever happens to you in life, I don’t want to say it’s nothing, of course it’s a part of you but oh my god, it’s easy to say I breathe, I am alive, I am healthy, I pass through that. Take that like a strength, take that as something to push you, stop complaining and living in the past and thinking oh I have that happen to me…you never know when you see me. You will never imagine what I went through but why? Not because I am hard but because that’s my story, don’t burn the only life you have at least on this earth because of what happened to you in the past. Just continue through. And everything is about your karma, everything you do if you do it right and you think in your heart that you trying to do it right and you give back to some people, help some people sometime, just one person maybe I can help you on this, little things like that . Every time it’s going to come back to you, every time. That’s the point on my childhood. For the culture, my parents divorce when I was two years old, and my mom, like I said badass but at the same time, super strong character, she had six children and she didn’t want any money from my dad, nothing. She was working, traveling and everything. Good point to be a strong woman but at the same time, strong woman in the fact that she said no you’re not going to see the kids, so I couldn’t see my dad for many years. We saw each other secretly, like hiding when we were with friends. And the moment, we were going to go to holidays and stay with him, he had this house built, he was waiting for us, like he died. It’s difficult because culturally it was difficult. But my mom, she loved Africa. It wasn’t a problem for her the culture, it was more her, she sometimes was the problem. She was kind of—
N: Yes, super strict. Old school. It wasn’t that much about the culture. I think it’s beautiful but it’s challenging. Already, in the same culture, it’s challenging women and men to understand each other. So when you have different culture, it’s even more challenging but it’s possible.