By Joseluis Franco
Cynthia Paniagua is a dancer, choreographer, and educator whose work reflects her Peruvian and Nuyorican heritage. She was raised in New York City where she earned a B.A. in Dance at Hunter College and an M.A in Performance Studies at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Shortly after graduating from Hunter, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to study traditional dance in Peru to “quench a burning desire to know the real Peru, my ancestral truth through movement and unearth the mystery of the dances.” She studied at Peru’s two leading folk dance institutions Jose Maria Arguedas and Universidad de San Marcos – but that was only the beginning. She then journeyed up and down the Peruvian coast, Andes and Amazon studying and living with many of the living masters of Peruvian dance. Her experience was filmed as part of the documentary “Soy Andina” which premiered at Lincoln Center and later received several film festival awards. Cynthia was then invited by the U.S. Embassy to return to Peru with the movie, dance performances and workshops as part of the biggest cultural exchange tour ever organized by the U.S. Embassy. In 2006 – 2008 she then became the choreographer and a performer for “El Vuelo Del Cóndor” a Peruvian based circus dance theater spectacular in Lima where Cynthia choreographed and performed with local and international artists including seasoned Cirque Du Soleil artists. It was here that she grew into her choreographic style, which interweaves contemporary movement and Peruvian traditional dance.
Her dance language aims to go beyond traditional boundaries and explore the heart of her ancestral past and its relationship with present day U.S. and Latin American cultural realities. In 2009 Cynthia choreographed, directed and performed for Kusikay Theater’s show “Paukartanpu”, an homage to Andean ritual dance and collective spirituality. To prepare for this she did extensive research on Andean dances within the towns of Cusco. The show was a success as it was the first of its kind in Cusco city. Cynthia was commissioned to restage “Paukartanpu” in Lima and Cuzco for several seasons where she trained members of the Escuela Nacional de Folklore Jose Maria Arguedas to perform it for the last time in Peru in 2006.
Between researching, performing and choreographing Andean and Coastal dance, she returned to New York City upon acceptance into NYU’s Performance Studies program where she completed her M.A. in 2010. Her focus of study, dance and politics in Peru, led her back to the Amazon where she worked with local native leaders to perform resistance through the arts. She documented environmental atrocities in order to bring awareness to the systematic contamination of their sacred lands and achieve territorial sovereignty. Dance as a form of resistance within ritual dance became a life-changing experience for Cynthia and continues to be her motivation within her craft. Her experiences in the Amazon and the Andes continues to inform her choreography. Cultural identity, Andean cosmology, spiritual practice and Latin local reality as a first generation New Yorker are all themes that are at the crux of her work. Her lens is specifically focused on uplifting indigenous women and the crucial role they play in our cultural, spiritual and social survival.
Here in the U.S., Cynthia divides her time between New York City and Peru, where she teaches Peruvian dance workshops at various universities and cultural events across the U.S. and continues to research traditional dance in Peru. In NY, she has created works which also reflect her experience as a Latina, an Andean descendant, and a New Yorker. As a Pepatian artist, she was given the opportunity to perform and choreograph in an all-Latina collaborative dance theater show “BX Rated: La Mezclatina Rising Vol.1” and later co-create “Shadowlands” a deeper look into second-generation Latina social realities here in the U.S.
Cynthia is presently the Dance Education Coordinator for AATT ACADEMY at the Bronx Academy for Arts and Dance. She has worked as a Teaching Artist for Ballet Hispanico and is a current member of Bombazo Dance Company. She is also featured in the movie “ In the Heights”, created by Lin Manuel and directed by Jon. M. Chu, set to premiere in the theaters in June 2021. She was recently commissioned by the United Nations Symphony Orchestra and composer Dante Valdez to choreograph the musical ‘El Condor Pasa- Andean Hope’(2019). This work commemorated the 18th Forum on Indigenous Issues, making Cynthia the first choreographer commissioned for the UNSO. Cynthia is now embarking on a new journey of starting her dance company Kaypacha Dance. Kaypacha is a Quechua word meaning: the realm of action here on earth, the power of now and manifestation. As part of her Andean spiritual and cultural practice, the mission is to express the legacy of her ancestors through dance. Kaypacha Dance will also visit the cultural realities of indigenous identity within the Latinx community, a voice that is rarely acknowledged. Cynthia’s work seeks to actively decolonize the dance stage to create visibility for indigenous artists and voices while celebrating her Andean roots and multicultural identity.
“The wisdom is actually in your body. Your body is connected to an abundant amount of intelligence passed through the elders. DANCE and it will come. Go get your birthright.”