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The Latin Ballet of Virginia shares the story of South America through song and dance. 

Dancing through History

When Ana Ines King began teaching dance in the Richmond school system, she noticed a hole in the curriculum. "Students learn the history of North America," she says. "They learn about the history of Europe. But no one teaches about South America." King, who has lived in the Richmond area since leaving her native Columbia eight years ago, set out to fill in the educational gap. Today she does so not by standing in front of students and lecturing, but by teaching the dances and music indigenous to our neighbors in the southern half of this hemisphere. In 1997, King also established the Latin Ballet of Virginia to "spread joy and happiness through the joy of dance."

This past summer, King set into motion a long-hoped-for dream, the creation of "Amoramerica," a full-length evening of music and dance that presents the history of South America. The production, to occur at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen March 3-5, is an ambitious one. King has gathered together 55 dancers, musicians, singers and choreographers — professionals and children — from around the Richmond area. Participants include Pedro Szalay of Richmond Ballet, Tara Zafuto of Henrico Center for the Arts, Myra Daleng, head of the University of Richmond's dance department, and Ban Caribe Ensemble. Together, they'll present flamenco, salsa, tango, rhumba and more, as they tell the story of Latin-America's history.

The production will also be accompanied by the words, sung or recited in Spanish, of Chile's greatest poet, Pablo Neruda. King knew right away she wanted to use this Pulitzer-Prize winner's epic poem, "Canto General," which portrays the history of Latin America from a Marxist viewpoint. Each section of "Amoramerica" such as the Incas' demise, the arrival of the conquistadors and slaves, and the fight for independence, corresponds with a separate section of the poem. Many of these sections are set to music composed by David Robinson of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Educating local audiences about Latin-American history is only a part of King's dream. Another important component of "Amoramerica" is that all proceeds will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which grants children with life-threatening diseases the opportunity to fulfill a wish.

Since putting this production together, King has been invited to perform the work in Cartagena, Columbia, in June. With a dance degree from the Instituto de Bellas Artes of Columbia and a Best National Choreographer award from the country, audiences there are familiar with King's work. She originally hoped to bring the entire production crew to Columbia, but only the adults will make the trip because of political instability and the government's inability to guarantee the safety of the troupe's youngest members.

"Amoramerica" ends with Neruda's "Rain of Peace," a poem offering "paz para todas las tierras y las aguas" (peace for all lands and waters). King's own message of remembrance and inclusion is much the same. By drawing from so many different groups around Richmond, King sees "Amoramerica" as an exercise in community building.

"Children, parents, dancers — it's so amazing how many people have contributed their time," King says. She also mentions the many places, such as Henrico Center for the Arts and West End Academy of Dance, which have offered use of their space for rehearsals. "It's incredible," she says. "It's so good to see so many people who work for love."

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