It’s rare to be genuinely immersed in another culture without actually being in another country. Thanks to Marsea Marquis’ passion for music and dance, the community can experience the vibrant spirit of Brazil without ever leaving Santa Cruz.
Marquis is a dancer and instructor bringing 25 years of diverse cultural experience to this area and beyond. Her work reflects dedicated studies of movement with native masters from Brazil, as well as Cuba, Haiti, Trinidad, Tobago, and West and South Africa. She has participated in renowned international events and traveled extensively to keep current with the lively rhythms of samba, salsa/folklorico, and other dance styles.
To share her vast knowledge and appreciation for these traditions locally, Marquis founded Dances of Brazil in Santa Cruz in 1995. Since then, she has been offering ongoing cultural classes, workshops, and performances. She was also an Instructor/Performance Artist (’90-’97) in Spectra – the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County’s school-based program, has been honored by the Calabash Awards for Excellence in the Ethnic Arts in ’96 and ’02, produced by the Santa Cruz Ethnic Arts Network, and is the founder and director of the performance company, “Tropicalismo~Latin Dance Cabaret”.
As a teacher and artist, Marquis transmits the healing, empowering, and celebratory nature of music and movement. Her work highlights how drums and dance bring people from around the world together and offer a profound connection between body, mind, and spirit.
Local Santa Cruz: What does Brazilian dance mean to you, and what inspired you to form Dances of Brazil?
Marsea Marquis: Being a non-brazilian, it is important to first speak to what dance means to me. I have been drawn to music from around the world, since I was a child. I simply loved rhythm. I would make breath patterns in beats to lull myself to sleep in my crib. And I have always been a free spirit.
Dance has provided for me the discipline to explore what freedom of spirit really means. To unfold all that I was struggling to become and shed it as though a birth rite was now mine to have. To explore the wilderness between my head and feet, that beckoned me to connect to deeper parts not yet known. To be a part of something larger than myself and connected more firmly to my root on this earth and the importance of my part in the intricate whole. A place to celebrate my human body and shuck off the inertia of existence. I simply found my way back home with the drums.
Dance found me later in life. I started with West African dance when I was 23. I studied with master teachers from 1981 until 1993 here in Santa Cruz, and the greater bay area and Mexico. My passion for the drum and the rhythms of it’s ancestors introduced me to many continents across the dance floor. Senegal, Congo, Guinea, South Africa, and then over to the islands of Trinidad, Tobago and Cuba. I came upon the culture of Brazil as expressed through music and dance first through Capoeira. Though I never did Capoeira, I met individuals in Santa Cruz who studied and taught here in the late 80’s. From there I started listening to Brazilian music and one thing led to another. I was introduced to Brazilian artists, dancers and musicians that came to Santa Cruz around 1991, and the rest was history.
Brazilian rhythm spoke to my spirit in a very personal way. Brazilian culture encouraged me to dig deep into my feminine nature and pull up and out of my own social conditioning that had confined me and twisted my sense of self esteem. Brazilian women that I have had the honor to dance with have taught me that to move sensually and with conviction, was indeed a celebration of life and perfectly in balance with our divine nature. Brazilian dance and music gave me permission to find my power and express myself joyously and without shame. It helped me find my self confidence and connect to joy in myself and others. It inspired me to become body-centric and take pride in my strength and healthy beauty.
Dressing in the colorful and elaborate costuming and experiencing many of the different styles of dance that Brazil possesses was so inspiring. Experiencing the deep spiritual tie to the traditional rhythms and dance of the deities gave me a passport into another way of thinking about myself, nature and the spirit of all things. The ancient ties to Africa and actual indigenous cultures in the different regions of Brazil, with their own mythologies and expressions of their world through the rhythm and movement to this day, humble me. Brazilian culture possesses a wealth of richness, that cannot be defined. But it can be felt in the music, dance and essence of its people. Pure beauty, with richness of heart.
I have had the great honor of studying and performing with many masterful teachers from Brazil. Many of whom I have become friends with. These individuals continue to be my support and inspiration.
My teachers and mentors were very influential in my segue into teaching, choreographing, producing and directing shows as well as creating my own dance companies. It was a part of my destiny to expand into a creative leader. It was a natural fit to bring others together and promote the culture of Brazil even further as an art form. It has been a way to keep the community growing and the flow of new teachers and information coming through.
What is most rewarding/challenging about learning and teaching Brazilian dance styles?
I have experienced that learning dance is challenging and rewarding all at once. Dance is a language of the soul of a culture. Each place on the map offers a different dance and musical style in Brazil. Including many different types of Samba and Samba music. All with its’ own sense of nuance and musicality. The biggest responsibility is to be able to connect deeply enough to the individual expressions to be authentic and able to individuate in its physical representation. To know enough about each style to teach a bit about its’ origin and history. One must make this a practice and then be able to say that they have never learned it all.
What do you do to keep current with the movement and stay connected to the culture?
Brazilian dance has really become popular and much more accessible than when I began my studies in the early 90’s. There are artists coming to the area on a regular basis these days from Brazil. Many living in the states that teach as well. I host artists and provide the Santa Cruz community with workshops that I sponsor through my regular, on-going class times. I attend Brazil Camp as often as I can. This is a two week retreat that takes place annually in Northern CA. This opportunity to study with masters of various music and dance forms from Brazil is an epic way to immerse yourself in learning and connecting to Brazil, without actually traveling there. I highly recommend it. This year in Los Angeles will be the first International Samba Congress, which I have the distinct honor of being asked to be on faculty as an instructor.
I have traveled to Brazil and have paraded in the Sambadromo, Rio de Janeiro’s premier Samba parade that is held annually. I have also paraded in Salvador, Bahia’s Carnaval parade. As well I have participated for many years in San Francisco’s annual Carnaval parade.
How has Santa Cruz and the local community influenced your work and experience as a dancer and instructor?
The local community has taught me what was appreciated by showing up and participating in the years of classes, workshops and events. I began teaching Brazilian dance in 1994 and have seen two generations of dancers grow into their own as dancers. It has been a big influence and inspiration, that has allowed me to continue to hold space for this growth and experience of self expression through Brazilian music and dance.
Please tell us what classes and events you’re currently offering that people can be aware of?
Currently I teach one community class a week at The 418 Project at 6PM. This is an intermediate to advanced class, but all levels are welcome. The class has live drumming. You can see my dance schedule of special workshops and artists on my FB page, Marsea Marquis – Dance of Brazil.
“Sambaret” – a show Marquis choreographed, produced and designed at The 418 Project in 2012: