Isabel Estrada-Jamison ’06


“I think I’ve always been a dancer at heart,” says Isabel Estrada-Jamison ’06. She grew up practicing ballet and modern dance, but it was an early connection to Afro-Cuban dance that led to her current passion for performing and teaching in NYC.

Estrada-Jamison visited Cuba with her mother, a dancer and writer who worked throughout the Spanish-speaking world, in her early teens. She saw a performance by the traditional Afro-Cuban folkloric dance company Raíces Profundas and was struck by the experience. “I don’t remember which dance they were doing, but I remember seeing such power in the singers, the drummers and especially the female dancers,” she says.

Afro-Cuban folkloric dances developed in Cuba as a result of the combination of diverse traditions brought to the Caribbean by enslaved peoples from different parts of Africa; it is typically accompanied by live drumming and singing. Estrada-Jamison uses live drumming in the Monday night classes she teaches at the Rod Rodgers Dance Company & Studios in the East Village, warming up with modern Afro- Cuban dance and then teaching traditional folkloric routines. “I think what draws me to Afro-Cuban dance is how it represents the turning of pain, anger and sorrow into art. I grew up pretty disconnected from much of my family and I think there is something about Afro-Cuban dance, which is passed down through families as part of a traditional culture that emphasizes community, that really drew me in. Like it almost gave me a tribe when I felt I didn’t have one.”

Estrada-Jamison loves performing (she also practices traditional flamenco dancing) but says that teaching gives her a different perspective in her approach to dance. “You have to give to others; you’re not the primary focus,” she says. “It’s not about you; it’s about your students.”

Anne-Ryan Sirju JRN’09