Dance troupe lights up festival MetaMovements a perfect fit for Festival Betances

Yawu Miller | 7/23/2014, 12:01 p.m.
Members of the MetaMovements dance troupe brought their emphasis on audience, community participation to the Festival Betances in the Villa ...

As a young girl, Eli Pabon watched the performers on stage at Festival Betances singing salsa tunes and dancing to bomba — traditional Puerto Rican music and dance commonly featured at the festival in the South End’s Villa Victoria housing development.

It wasn’t until she was 15 that she was able to get onstage, singing in her uncle’s band. But since then, she’s been a regular, playing congas in a salsa band, rapping as a hip hop artist and, most recently, dancing.

This year, Pabon and the dance company she is now performing with, MetaMovements, once again captivated the audience in the Plaza Betances, the public square in the development named for 19th century Puerto Rican independence fighter Ramon Emeterio Betances.

By the end of their performance, Pabon and the other dancers had enlisted the crowd in their infectious Latin music dancing, sharing the stage in the middle of the plaza with dancers young and old.

“We use dance as a platform to get youth excited about doing positive things in the community,” she said.

“We show people how dance and movement can be a mechanism to bring community together, to build community and to build bridges,” added MetaMovements instructor Sandra Marcelino.

The performance was a perfect fit for the Festival Betances, which celebrates the music and culture of the mostly Puerto Rican population in the Villa Victoria. Like Pabon, many of the other MetaMovements members have been performing at the festival for years.

“We have a lot of history in this plaza,” said Marcelino, who began performing at the festival as a backup singer and bomba dancer. “We know every year in the third week of July this community, this extended family is going to come together. It’s a big, extended family.”

The festival drew a mostly Latino crowd from across the city for three days of music and entertainment, traditional Puerto Rican food and arts and crafts. Elected officials including Mayor Martin Walsh, state Rep. Byron Rushing and City Councilor Ayanna Pressley attended the event, as did several candidates including Maura Healey, a candidate for attorney general and Felix D. Arroyo, who is running for Registrar of the Probate and Family Court.

First held in 1973, the festival celebrates the culture of the majority Puerto Rican population of Villa Victoria, and dates back to the era when the neighborhood was the center of the city’s Puerto Rican community.

This year’s performances included local salsa band leader Gilberto Rivera and Puerto Rico-based bandleader Moncho Rivera and Hector Trioche.

While many of the acts at the festival perform on the main stage in the plaza, which faces West Dedham Street, MetaMovements and other dance acts performed on a specially-assembled dance floor in the middle of the plaza to encourage audience participation.

The MetaMovements performance included elements of Latin music, hip hop and Trinidadian soca music and was modeled after the groups Salsa in the Park program, during which MetaMovements volunteers give free dance lessons and organize dance parties in public parks.

Choreographer Luis Sanchez says the company’s dance programs help build cohesiveness in Boston neighborhoods.

“It’s a great way to bring people together,” he said.