Dance Group Promotes Nicaraguan Culture in San Francisco

A dance couple from the San Francisco-based group “Chavalos Danzas por Nicaragua” interpret the traditional Nicaraguan folklore dance “El viejo y la vieja” [“The old man and the old woman”].  Photo courtesy of “Chavalos de Aqui y de Alla.

By Niu / Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan folk dance and music can be heard and appreciated from Wednesday to Sunday at Aura Studio, 2141 Mission Street in San Francisco, California. During those five days, children, teens, and adults attend classes regarding aspects of Nicaraguan culture – the youngest ones to learn about it, and the older ones to remember it.

The dance classes are organized by the NGO Chavalos de Aqui y Alla [“Kids from Here and There”[, founded in 2010 by Erick Leiva, a US citizen of Nicaraguan origin living in San Francisco.

Carnival dance, basic Nicaraguan folkdance and traditional Masaya dances are taught free of charge by Nicaraguan teachers who make up the group “Chavalos Danzas por Nicaragua,” a project of the NGO.

“It is important to instill our Nicaraguan traditions, customs, and idiosyncrasies in our youth. Sometimes they’re kids who were born here, but their parents want them to have this experience,” says Erick Leiva, 43 years old.

The dance group has been around since 2016 and has six teachers, four of whom were born in Nicaragua. The other two were born in the US but have Nicaraguan roots. They currently have 15 children and 24 adults in their classes. On Wednesday, they teach the traditional folkdances from Masaya; on Saturdays, the classes teach basic Nicaraguan dance; and Sundays they give lessons in carnival style presentations.

Presentation of the Nicaraguan musical group “La Cuneta Son Machin” organized by “Chavalos de Aqui y Alla. Courtesy photo

“Kids from here helping kids from there”

The group Chavalos de Aqui y Alla began as a website, where Erick Leiva would post photos of events and concerts taking place in San Francisco that involved Nicaraguans. With the passage of time, it became an NGO that promotes and organizes cultural activities for Nicaraguans living in the northern California.

“I used to take photos and post them on a website I called “” Later, I made friends with many of the Nicaraguan artists and performers. In 2009, I was chatting with Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy and he said: “Hey, Man, why don’t we do a concert?” That’s where the interest in cultural activities was born,” Leiva recalls. Erick Leiva’s parents are Nicaraguan, although he’s a US citizen.

“We saw that we could raise money by holding these activities. The plan has never been to get rich, but to help Nicaragua in some way. First, it was simply to promote the culture by bringing over performers from there. But over time, we began to organize different activities,” says Leiva, who spent a majority of his elementary school years in Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan public attending the organization’s “El Güegüense” Gala. Photo from “Chavalos de Aqui y Alla.”

Besides the dance school and groups, Chavalos de Aqui y Alla promotes activities for Nicaraguan artists in San Francisco. They’ve organized concerts of the Nicaraguan music group Cuneta Son Machin, plus poetry nights, an event they call the Güegüense Gala, songs and activities for the Nicaraguan Purisima celebration, and cultural presentations where the dancers perform in the dance studio.

Ten Nicaraguans make up the organization’s Board of Directors, although they also have members working within Nicaragua, delivering donations and baskets of basic necessities in low-income communities throughout the country.

“Since 2010, we’ve had a project to distribute Christmas baskets containing basic grains, soap and kitchen utensils to families all around the country,” states the director of the organization.

“When the hurricanes happened in 2020 and 2021, we were able to organize and bring help to the Atlantic Coast,” he adds.

“Bringing Nicaragua closer to those who are far away”

Chavalos Danzas por Nicaragua” is the NGO’s flagship program. It is the only dance school that promotes traditional Nicaraguan culture and dance in Northern California, specifically in San Francisco.

The sets and costumes of the dances are made by Nicaraguan artisans. The hair ornaments and the hand-painted details on the traditional huipiles, or dresses, are touches that form part of the organization’s mission to “bring Nicaragua closer to those who are far away.”

Members of the dance troupe from “Chavalos Danzas por Nicaragua” won third place for the Best Float in the San Francisco Carnival. Photo from “Chavalos de Aqui y Alla”

In 2023, Chavalos Danzas por Nicaragua won third place in a contest for the best float in the San Francisco Carnival. The dance troupe competed against 59 other groups from Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Bolivia, and El Salvador.

The group and the dance presentations are the organization’s chief means of raising money. Throughout the year, the students learn the traditional dances of Nicaragua, in order to present them in the cultural activities offered during the year.

Another of the activities is the “Güegüense Gala” where the dance students have their debut. This event is the one that raises money for the NGOs social activities. “Through culture, kids from here can help the kids from there. That’s always been our focus,” Erick Leiva underlines.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.