Solace in Dance
Fanny Olaya is a salsa instructor in Buffalo, NY who uses dance as a medium to share Peruvian culture.
Fanny Olaya currently lives and works in Buffalo as a salsa instructor. Nevertheless, she refuses to forget her birthplace of Lima, Peru. Life in Peru was exciting. With her father’s career as a journalist, Fanny had the chance to travel more than most, oftentimes to unusual places. As a bustling, cosmopolitan capital, Lima itself was full of endless adventure for a young girl like Fanny. In those early years, Lima was home, but after 18 years in Buffalo, she has a new city to call her home.
Despite the love she has for Buffalo, moving here was far from easy, or even expected. Fanny had decided to remain in the U.S. while visiting her sister in Florida. She wanted a fresh start, a chance to live independently. Then, the hurricane came. The winds and the waves were relentless, battering her sister’s house without restraint. During the peak of the storm, Fanny, fearing for her life, prayed for salvation. The hurricane spared Fanny’s life, but not her sister’s home. With everything destroyed including much of her belongings, Fanny moved to Buffalo to stay with relatives.
Throughout this transition, Fanny felt lucky in many ways, but the adjustment was still difficult. Lacking experience and sources of advice, immigration process was extremely stressful. Even worse was the loneliness. She missed her family. She missed the Peruvian customs that she grew up with. In Buffalo, she was miles away from her sister, and the holidays, normally a time of family traditions, were another reminder that she wasn’t in Lima anymore.
Despite these struggles, Fanny found a way to find joy in this experience. Peru had always been an extremely multicultural place, allowing Fanny to embrace Buffalo’s own multiculturalism. It was this multicultural, artistic spirit embedded throughout the city that truly made Fanny feel welcome. Then, she became an American citizen, and like many immigrants, the lingering uncertainty she felt was finally washed away. The city that had accepted her as a Buffalonian had finally become her home.
Still, Fanny strives to maintain her identity as a Peruvian. In Peru, culture was embedded in every aspect of her life, and this culture remains present in everything Fanny does. She cooks with traditional Peruvian seasonings, listens to Afro-Peruvian music, and takes the time to celebrate each holiday in both the Peruvian and American way.
From Fanny’s perspective, being Peruvian “is my essence. It’s the way I speak, what I eat, the music I listen to, the way I dance.”
Dance remains Fanny’s main connection to Peru, but it has also taken on a greater role in Fanny’s life. Back in Peru, Fanny had always loved to dance, but she was never the most confident child. Thus, dance remained an unspoken interest, a fleeting wish that was never fully formed. In Buffalo, Fanny decided to learn to dance during her days off of work. Over time, she danced more and more until she was offered a position as a dance instructor and achieved a dream she never knew that she had.
For Fanny, dance is a way to persevere through family tragedy, and the early days of back-breaking work and social isolation that mark the life of an immigrant. Dance is a relief from the stresses of life, a moment that Fanny can take for herself. At the same time, dance is a way for Fanny to connect with those around her. Teaching salsa has enabled her to meet other Peruvians and find a place within the larger Latinx community. That is what makes dance so meaningful to Fanny.
Speaking about the connections she builds through dance, “It brings everybody together. That’s one of the things that I love the most about my job. We get to share each other’s cultures.”
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