Victoria Santa Cruz

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Victoria Santa Cruz
Born(1922-10-27)October 27, 1922
DiedAugust 30, 2014(2014-08-30) (aged 91)
OccupationChoreographer, composer, activist

Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra (27 October 1922 - August 30, 2014)[1] was an Afro-Peruvian choreographer, composer, and activist.

Victoria Santa Cruz would go on to be called "the mother of Afro Peruvian dance and theatre."[2] Along with her brother, Nicomedes Santa Cruz, she is credited as significant in a revival of Afro-Peruvian culture in the 1960s and 1970s. They both came from a long-line of artists and intellectuals. For her part she is said to have had "Afrocentrism" influences in her view of dance trying to discover "ancestral memory" of African forms. She helped to found the Cumanana company.[3]


Early life[edit]

Santa Cruz was born in Lima, Peru. Her father was Nicomedes Santa Cruz Aparicio and her mother was Victoria Gamarra. Her mother spoke only Spanish and loved to dance.[4] Cruz started working on stage with the group Cumanana (1958) where she worked with her younger brother Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra, another famous poet.

At an early age, Victoria Santa Cruz was introduced to the fine arts, having come from a household full of black artists and musicians. One of her earliest influences were her parents whom she first learned about Afro-Peruvian dance (marinera and other criollo dances) as well as poetry and music.[5] This early on exposure to the fine arts led Victoria Santa Cruz to create and participate in musicals like Malató,[6] which would later on embody one of her lifelong goals of "self-discovery and recuperation of culture based on internal rhythm and what she called ancestral memory."[7] Through this goal, Victoria sought to "awaken black consciousness and pride" in the Afro-Peruvian culture.[5] Her passion for dance and musical composition would continue to influence her throughout her life as she went on to study in Paris.

In an interview with Marcus D. Jones, Santa Cruz describes this moment in her childhood where she first experiences "sufferance."[8] In this scene, she describes how her friends rejected her because of her afro-Peruvian features. Out of this experience, the artist begins her long-lived exploration of self and recuperation. In this same interview, the artist demonstrates some of the internal dialogue that prompts her desire for self-discovery from a very young age, asking "what am I doing? What is to be black? What is to be white?"[8]


In 1966, Victoria Santa Cruz founded the group Teatro y Danzas del Perú,[9] which were group performances led by Cruz and other prominent Afro-Peruvian dancers that played a role in reclaiming lost heritages. Traditional, cultural, music played in the background as the dancers performed their pieces individually and as a group. The importance of these performances highlights the "recovery, creation, and recreation" of dying rhythms such as "the zamacueca, the landau and the alcatraz".[10] Her artistic career as a performer, choreographer, and composer took her to new heights like being televised on Peruvian Television and being visited on her international tours. But the biggest international milestone was perhaps the group's performance at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.[5] Recreations of such lost rhythms earned her a position amongst the Revolutionary Government of the Peruvian Military. Cruz was "appointed director of the newly established Escuela Nacional de Folklore" in 1969 and director of "the Conjunto Nacional de Folklore" in 1973.[11] She continued touring with the group through big nations like the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.[5]

Other accomplishments include her publication of the magazine Folklore, in which she describes the Conjunto's goal to "compile, preserve, research, and disseminate national folklore in the form of dance, music, songs, and musical instruments",[12] and her position as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University (1982-1999).[5]


In her last interview, Victoria Santa Cruz responds to the question "what has racism taught you?" by stating "in a little while, I will leave this life... and I want to leave in peace, with my conscience clean, and we'll see what happens here. But everything is weakened, dislocated in the entire world. And everyone is losing because really, this is not how you fight."[13]

She died on August 30, 2014 in Lima, Peru.


Victoria Santa Cruz first attended the Université du Théâtre des Nations École Supérieur des Études Chorégraphiques at the age of 42 (1961-1965), where she studied theater and choreography "with such distinguished professors as the actor Jean-Louis Barrault, the playwright Eugène Ionesco, and the choreographer Maurice Béjart."[5] While studying at the university in Paris, Cruz continued to demonstrate her interest to reclaim the loss of her cultural and ancestral memory by visiting Africa for the first time and creating the ballet La muñeca negra (The black doll, 1965)[14]

Artworks and Performances[edit]

Me gritaron negra (1978) - poem

She is known for her visual, lyrical poem Me gritaron negra,[15] show cased in the exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985[16] and at the Brooklyn Museum.[17] This piece became prominent because of its social commentary on race, racism, and prejudice amongst the Latinx community in regards to Afro-Peruvians.

The artist is also known for these lyrical and rhythmic performances/recreations:

La Magia del Ritmo (2004) - theater/play/musical performance

La Magia del Ritmo[18] is a performance and rhythmic song presented by Victoria Santa Cruz in 2004, as part of the Peruvian Japanese theatric play. The artist’s intent was to create a lively experience and connection amongst listeners/viewers[13] by infusing theatrics with cultural and rhythmic music.

Las Lavanderas (2015) - song

Las Lavanderas[19] is rhythmic and cultural song from her album Victoria Santa Cruz y Gente Morena released in 2015 as part of a collective. This song reveals some of the social commentaries around Afro-Peruvians that Victoria recognizes as struggles for many Afro-Latinos. In the song, dialogue includes an exchange between two individuals pointing out the neighborhood’s Afro-Peruvian woman, calling her “Negra sucia” and “Negra idiota” which translates into dirty and idiot.

Pa' Goza Con el Ritmo del Tambo (2014) - song

Pa' Goza Con el Ritmo del Tambo[20] is another rhythmic, cultural song by the artist that highlights the pride of being Afro-Peruvian while showing appreciation towards el Tambo. This song is from her album Somos de Ébano y No de Marfíl published in 2014.[20]

Cumanana (1970) - song

Cumanana (Kumanana) [1970][21] is the name of one of her more prominent songs because it evokes her past in the band with her brother Nicomedes. The term, as described by Victoria Santa Cruz, means "mix of Spanish and black things,"[8] which makes reference to her identity.

La Buñolera (2016) - song

La Buñolera[22] is another example of the artist's taken pride for her identity as an Afro-Peruvian woman. This song is specifically geared towards "Afro Peruvanas," Afro-Peruvian women.


  • Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985[23]
  • Brooklyn Museum: Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985[17]
  • Primer Festival y Seminario Latinoamericano de Televisión in 1970[24]
  • Cali Festival, 1971[24]


Many of the artist's pieces were original or remade songs that now live as collections in CD's or online-accessible music. Access to her musical collections can be streamed through major platforms like Apple music and Amazon. Her collections include:

- Victoria Santa Cruz: Orgullosa Afro Peruvana (released May 11, 2016) and includes her biggest hits like Cumanana, La Buñolera, and Pa' Goza Con el Ritmo del Tambo.

- Poemas y Pregones Afro Peruanos (released) April 2, 2013) and includes her famous poem Me Gritaron Negra.

- Con Victoria Santa Cruz y Gente Morena (released October 2, 2015), includes her song Las Lavanderas.

Awards and Honors[edit]

  • She received a scholarship by the French government and traveled to Paris to study choreography. Here, she succeeded as the creator and designer of the wardrobe for the play El Retablo de Don Cristóbal by Federico García Lorca.
  • Best Folklorist, 1970[24]
  • Appointed Director of the National Folklore Ensemble of the National Institute of Culture in 1973[24]


  1. ^ Obituary in El Comercio
  2. ^ SFIAF
  3. ^ Heidi Carolyn Feldman (2006). Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific. Wesleyan University Press. pp. 49–62. ISBN 978-0-8195-6814-4.
  4. ^ "An Interview with Victoria Santa Cruz" From "Callaloo" Volume 34, Number 2, Spring 2011 via Project Muse
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 - Hammer Museum". The Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  6. ^ Feldman, Heidi (2006). Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819568151.
  7. ^ Santa Cruz, José (July 2011). "El rostro cinematográfico". Aisthesis (49): 131–144. doi:10.4067/s0718-71812011000100008. ISSN 0718-7181.
  8. ^ a b c Jones, Marcus D., et al. “AN INTERVIEW WITH VICTORIA SANTA CRUZ.” Callaloo, vol. 34, no. 2, 2011, pp. 304–308. JSTOR,
  9. ^ lalitocy, Formación de Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú de Victoria Santa Cruz, retrieved 2019-02-04
  10. ^ "Así fue el debut de Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú de Victoria Santa Cruz". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  11. ^ "Murió Victoria Santa Cruz, emblema de la cultura afroperuana". (in Spanish). 2014-08-30. Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  12. ^ Feldman, Heidi Carolyn (2006). Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819568144.
  13. ^ a b Jones, M., Carrillo, M., & CRUZ, V. (2011). AN INTERVIEW WITH VICTORIA SANTA CRUZ. Callaloo, 34(2), 304-308. Retrieved from
  14. ^ Feldman, Heidi Carolyn (2006). Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819568144.
  15. ^ Music MGP, Me Gritaron Negra, Victoria Santa Cruz, retrieved 2019-02-04
  16. ^ Vargas, Daisy. "La Gente Newsmagazine - University of California, Los Angeles | Radical Women at the Hammer Museum". Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  17. ^ a b "Brooklyn Museum: Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985". Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  18. ^ Ingenio Comunicaciones (2015-04-13), La Magia del Ritmo - Victoria Santa Cruz, Eva Ayllón y Bartola, retrieved 2019-02-27
  19. ^ Miriam Milagros Ching Valdelomar (2015-01-02), LAS LAVANDERAS VICTORIA SANTA CRUZ, retrieved 2019-02-27
  20. ^ a b Music MGP (2016-09-05), 6. Pa' Goza Con el Ritmo del Tambo - Victoria Santa Cruz - Somos de Ebano y no de Marfíl, Vol. 2, retrieved 2019-02-27
  21. ^ Music MGP (2016-12-12), 13. Cumanana - Victoria Santa Cruz - Orgullosa Afro Peruana, retrieved 2019-02-27
  22. ^ Music MGP (2016-12-12), 5. La Buñolera - Victoria Santa Cruz - Orgullosa Afro Peruana, retrieved 2019-02-27
  23. ^ "Defying Expectations in Radical Women - Hammer Museum". The Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  24. ^ a b c d, Redacción (2014-08-30). "Victoria Santa Cruz, una heroína del arte negro peruano". El Comercio (in Spanish). Retrieved 2019-02-27.