Smiling with plenty of Panamanian pride, the dancers twirled in unison with vibrant swirls of red, purple, green and white folds of their skirts seamlessly flowing from one formation into the next. It was another crowd-pleasing performance by Grupo Folklorico Estrellas de Panama at the Killeen Sister Cities Osan Korea International Festival on Oct. 1.
Killeen has a large Panamanian community, according to Prudencia Lozano, director of public relations and special events. “Many people from Panama live here, and a lot have been there, so we love to share our culture with everyone,” Lozano said. Some of the dancers, like Lozano, come from Colon, Panama.
These sisters of dance consist of 10 women of various ages who love to promote their culture, something they’ve done since 2009. “We needed a group to represent our country, because the previous group dissolved and we restarted this group with different people,” said Angie McNeal, group director. McNeal learned how to dance with the other group and does it for the joy of it. “These dances are so much fun,” she said.
During October, which is National Hispanic Heritage Month, the group is busier than usual performing at several local events, such the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Festival. But they have literally danced across Texas, and the U.S., in Austin, Dallas, and New York City and Washington D.C., and in California and Florida, entertaining crowds from around the world.
Depending on the event, the group features a variety of traditional folk dances, from fast to slow and a more elegant dance performed at weddings. Twice a week, the group rehearses with Maria Harvey, director of choreography, saying she makes the routines easy. “If you put your heart into, and you like it, that makes it easier to learn,” said Harvey. No dance experience is necessary and most of the members learn as from practicing and watching. A group member for three years, Tanya Williams said dancing was something she always wanted to do since she was a child in Colon, Panama, as a way to share the heritage of her homeland. “Through our dances, we bring a little bit of Panama to people everywhere we go,” Williams said.
The closeness and togetherness of the ladies is evident while they danced with the smooth transitions from a single line to groups of two and then formed a circle with ease. But learning the steps is only part of the dancing requirements since the members must also pay for their beautiful, custom-made outfits, eight to 10, that come directly from Panama. “Sometimes we have people that want to join the group, but you have to buy everything and the outfits are very expensive,” said McNeal.
The newest dancer is Yira Barron, a fitness and dance instructor, who joined in Feb. 2016. She watched the folk dancing growing up in Colon, and stepped into the spotlight out of respect for her country. “What fills me with pride the most, is representing our culture as correctly as possible.”