Only one comparsa (street dancing group) graced the streets of downtown San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize on the first day of the island’s cultural celebration of Carnaval. Does this signal the start of a dying tradition? Many are afraid that it just might be, as the number of comparsas during the festivitiesl have dropped significantly throughout the years. Only a couple groups are holding on tight to the age-old tradition, not wanting to see it die out completely.
Doña Flora’s Comparsa Group
While the San Pedro Town Council is venturing into new ideas for Carnaval like extending the days of celebrations, bringing back the parade this year, organizing exhibits at the House of Culture, party at the sports complex and hosting foam and DJ parties for the children, the struggle to keep the comparsas going still remains. “I am old and tired,” commented Mrs. Flora Ancona. “I am looking for someone else to take my position, but will not let go of the tradition until someone replaces me.” Doña Flora has been in charge of her group for years says now; her group members travel to nearby Chetumal, Mexico, to purchase costume materials and writing songs for the group to sing and dance.
The comparsas are a lot of fun, but they are a lot of work. The group members tire out from dancing up to 5 hours for three consecutive days. All are volunteers who take time off from work to prepare and perform during Carnaval. Their slapstick comedy, vibrant costumes and wacky dancing is what makes the San Pedro Carnaval so unique. In years gone by, street-side spectators and residents on their verandahs were treated up to six or seven comparsas, each raising funds for a particular charity or school project.
What can be done to prevent one of our most unique, cultural and folkloric traditions from dying out? How about a Carnival Comparsa Committee in charge of creating incentives for more group to get organized? How about teaching the school children on the island about the history and cultural significance of Carnaval? How about working with the schools to have the children start dancing once again? We all LOVE to see the comparsas during Carnaval and would hate to see it die out; maybe it’s time to do a little more to help it come back to life.