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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Puerto Rican Native Gaspar Makes The Music Follow Her

November 23, 2003
Copyright ©2003
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.


Jessica Gaspar challenges the drum and the drum challenges her.

In the traditional dance she does for Call for Peace, the Puerto Rican native matches moves with the drum, shimmying her shoulders, tossing her head -- and her skirts. Hers is the sauciest section of the troupe's performance. As well it should be: Her dance is called "Bomba."

The Bomb.

"It's a challenge or a conversation between dancer and drum. The dance will ask the drum to change the rhythm with all the parts of the body and the skirt. I'm not following the music. In a way, the music is following me."

The music has had to keep up with Gaspar almost all her life. The granddaughter of a dancer, she has been performing professionally since age 8, much of that time with the folk-dance troupe Gibaro De Puerto Rico. "I've been breathing dance since I was little," she says.

Gaspar came to UW to take a master's degree in theater and drama; she is now a doctoral candidate. Since 1998, she has been collaborating with the university dance program as a lecturer, dancer and choreographer. She joined Call for Peace in 2000 when she met Dawn Shegonee while doing a theater outreach program.

"I thought it was so powerful, the energy of the drum. It moves you and it's healing, too. I had been sick with fever once and did the performance, and at the end of the performance I felt better. You receive the energy of the drums. It's the one I'm connected to."

What Gaspar hopes to show the Nobel laureates is a rehearsal for the real world, a drumbeat all nations can hear.

"I think that art is a powerful tool to transform. I hope that could happen especially in this moment of war and turmoil; many Puerto Ricans are fighting in this war. For me this is almost like an example of how all the cultures can come together, and send a message of peace. It's so powerful that different parts of the world come together in the same space and share memories in dance and music in a respectful way. If we can do that in dance, we might be able to take that back into real life."

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