It’s safe to say that there are a lot of cultural differences between Nicaragua and the UK. Their vast array of festivals put us to shame, the climate is tropical in contrast to England’s dreary winter months and, the food, let’s just say they’re mega fans of their carbohydrates. But there’s one thing in particular that you simply can’t escape, music. Every day without fail, the radio accompanies the frustratingly loud rooster at 4 am in the morning. During construction music will always be playing and in the evenings the night is simply buzzing. whether in the street or in central Park. Music really is everywhere and where there’s music, there is dance. We have all discovered that dancing out here is very different to home and it’s certainly something that took a bit of getting used to.

Boys - forget awkwardly clicking your fingers and side stepping in the corner of the room, out here it’s close, physical and intimate. There is no room for shyness or self-consciousness, in Nicaragua, everyone has natural rhythm and just loves to dance. One particularly popular type of music out here is the marimba, which as I understand is an ensemble of music featuring the national instrument of Nicaragua, the marimba, along with various other percussion.  In one of our skills share sessions, one of our volunteers Raul, along with the facilitator Carlos Lacayo, attempted to teach us a simple style of marimba dance. The women and the men were split into two groups to learn their specific steps. The women were taught three steps, paso sencillo, cruzado and zapateado. I wish I could explain exactly what each step entailed, but in all honesty we all found it incredibly difficult. Despite enthusiasm and there being a few keen and able dancers amongst us, most of us looked slightly like Bambi trying to skate for the first time. We did manage a few demonstrations from the likes of Karishma and David, Sophie and Said, Steph and Ryan and my personal favorites - Jamie and Shyle, but it’s safe to say we left it to the professionals in the end.

Despite our questionable marimba skills we were keen to find out more about the origins of this type of music and how exactly they made it look so easy. Carlos told us that the marimba is a particularly popular type of music in Masaya because of the festival Saint Jeronimo. From the months of April through to June, keen new recruits learn to dance the steps and in July the groups are selected and they decide when and whose house they are going to dance at.  Every Sunday, starting on the 20th Sept through to the first Sunday in December, groups of marimba dancers, dressed in their colourful traditional costumes, fill the local houses in Masaya and dance through the evening. It’s a truly spectacular thing to watch, and a custom they are very proud of out here -and so they should be. Children learn from as young as 5 or 6 from friends or family wishing to pass on the tradition to future generations, so they’ve clearly got a bit of a head start on us. Regardless of whether we manage to grasp the BASIC steps to marimba, we all thoroughly enjoyed trying to learn and have another 3 Sundays left to watch the locals dress up in all their attire and do their thing. 

Written by ICS volunteer Clementine Parker