Ela Mesma Company

Dispora Dance Theatre

An interview with Ella Mesma and artists on all things Roots of Rumba


Roots of Rumba (established 2013 at Richmix) began as a mission to create a platform for established professionals and emerging Latin dance artists to present Dance Theatre with Afro-Latin dance and themes at the heart.

I am super excited to announce that this year Roots of Rumba will be funded by Arts Council of England and will be touring the UK! This year Roots of Rumba will tour to 5 cities and will present 3 amazing UK based professional artists, One international act (NYC based) and two local artists from each touring city. Of different generations and genres within the diaspora, artists will be presenting very different work that truly showcases the potential and scope of diaspora dance theatre! The tour also includes workshops, an afterparty and more!

Why did you start Roots of Rumba?

“I LOVE Latin dance. Growing up on the salsa scene, I am naturally a huge fan of Eddie Torres, Yamulee, Swing Latino, Tropical Gem and all the others who tour the congress scenes worldwide. These dance shows are amazing: with impressive movements to showcase these beautiful dances. They are also often very ‘front facing’ and have similar teeny tiny costumes for the women and big big smiles (that often as a performer felt forced or that they didn’t convey what I was actually feeling and thinking).

Training as a contemporary dancer was hard at first, because I moved so differently and often latin dances are based on call and response or improvisation, so I felt that Contemporary Dance was a very different world: One where I was not sure I belonged. I began to that notice that my dance forms didn’t get the same respect and opportunity to shine as contemporary and ballet and to wish for them also to be put on the stage with a similar reverance. After touring with contemporary Companies like Russell Maliphant, and working with Jonzi D (Breakin’ Convention) who is one of the founders of Hip Hop Dance Theatre, I realised there is a huge potential for creating deeper work using latin dance forms.  I began to imagine the ‘what if’s!’: “What if we lit or staged it differently?” “What if we changed the costumes slightly?” “What if we looked at creating theme or issue based work?” “Or added technology?” The potentials are endless!

My piece Ladylike (which has received a Lukas award nomination)does just that: it uses Afro Cuban dance to talk about issues around sex, sexuality and the #metoo movement. I think that Latin dance styles lend themselves really well to creating theatre, because they are at a beautiful crossroads of different cultures to creating a dialogue: in particular around subjects about migration, identity and sexuality… but I am sure this list is also endless and I would love to support more artists on this journey!

And so, in 2013, with the help of Scannersinc, I set up the first Roots of Rumba: Creating a festival that gave Afro-Latin dance theatre a spotlight on the stage.

I continued the festival over the next few years in London, but this year I decided to invest more time into understanding what the scope of the festival was, what its remit was, and what and how it helped to enable the UK scene, and am delighted to have received an Arts Council of England grant to support that.

Why did you change the remit from Afro-Latin Dance Theatre?

Originally I created Roots of Rumba as a platform for dances from South America and the Caribbean, such as Rumba, Tango, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Samba, Salsa, Capoeira, Baile Funk, Kuduru, Bachata etc. I chose the title Roots of Rumba, because if we trace the journeys of these dances, all of them really originate in Africa.

The more I discussed, read and reflected on my creating an Afro-Latin festival, the more I understood the complexities of the definition and how political even the use of the word ‘Latin’ can be. Within my own personal practise I have come to realise that boxes and definitions can be so unhelpful, and that whilst they hep us to understand, they can also limit us. I began to wonder whether the definition of Afro-Latin dance theatre was unhelpful, and to wonder whether I should include different dances of the African Diaspora such as Hip Hop (Many forms were created by the Latin community in the USA, they also originate in Africa) and Caribbean dances including Haitian dance, Dance hall and of course African dances such as Sabar, Kizomba and Mapouka.

Seeing Germaine Acogny’s (the Mother of African Contemporary Dance) work at Southbank this year was very impactful this year: an amazing example of dance theatre which uses her  Germaine Acogny technique so powerfully…

Eventually, after talking to mentors, peers and family, I decided that because the Roots of all of these dances are in Africa, and that all Afro-Latin dance forms can be traced back to Africa in their roots, it felt right to define the festival as a festival celebrating diaspora dance theatre because all of these styles are dances of the African Diaspora at the heart.

Where is Roots of Rumba this year?

We will go to:






Who is involved?

Confirmed acts are:

Ffion Campbell Davies

Ffion will present a solo called ‘Womb Paves Way’ which is inspired by deity Ògún, Yoruban Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influence, through the marriage of contemporary and traditional forms. Taking fashion reference from African and Caribbean women of the Victorian and colonial era, the piece questions what being a woman means today? What is ‘her-story’?

Iris De Brito

Iris will present a piece centred around the bonds severed through migration & immigration which create new identities and cycles of trauma that reflect through generations in new movement vocabulary.

Myriam Gadri

Myriam has been commissioned to present a piece called ‘The lost Goddess’

Azara Rowena Meghie

DJ Lubi

“Looking forward to playing at Roots Of Rumba once again and working with Ella Mesma who I have a long and happy association with going right back to her forming Element Arts in Leeds in 2005. DJing at her events’ after-parties is so natural as we both share a common love of great Latin American, Caribbean, Afro-American and African music past, present and future – salsa, samba, timba, funk, soul, hip-hop, jazz, rumba, reggaeton, afrobeat and dancehall. I’ll be playing all these on the night and look forward to an amazing dancers jam across all the genres represented by Roots Of Rumba. Bring it on!”

Nandy Cabrera Capucho – Selectorchico TM

How can you get involved?

We would love to hear from artists interested in getting involved: from beginners to professionals there is something for you and we want to hear more! Have a look below for applications for the CPD programme and to perform. We will also be holding workshops in most cities and celebrating with an afterparty too! Tickets can be found at the individual websites linked above.


Are you an artist in one of the above styles? Are you based in Bristol/ Newcastle/ London? Would you like to build a long term relationship with the festival? Are you based in one of the above cities? Would you love to spend a day working with us on your newest piece? We would love to hear from you! Apply using the form below (Deadline June 15th) Thank you!



Are you a dance artist interested Afro-Latin dance? Are you based in Leeds/London/Newcastle/Bristol? Would you love to present your work in 2018? Do you have a show ready? Apply using the form below…. (Deadline June 15th) Thank you!


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