A crowd of people dance in a room.
Photo courtesy of Luis Becerra. Attendees of the cumbia fundraising event dance the night away on Friday, April 12. The event was dedicated to the late Latin pop singer Selena, and celebrated inclusivity within cumbia among people of color, LGBTQ+ folk and more.

The non-profit organization, Sylvia Rivera Center for Social Justice, hosted a Cumbia Dance Night fundraising event last Friday, April 12, at the Plaza Maya Lounge. Attendees shimmied and enjoyed a night of fun DJ mixes, a Selena lip-sync contest and live art display. 

This is not the first time the Sylvia Rivera Center has hosted a cumbia night, but it is the first time it honored one of the most iconic American singers during the early 1990s. The event combined the power of cumbia with the legacy of Latin pop singer Selena to raise money for the center’s social services for LGBTQ+ people of color.

During the event, DJs played old and new cumbia and even adapted songs from other genres into the four-beat combination of drums, flutes and accordion. They did what cumbia does best — break barriers and evolve. As the attendees flooded the dance floor, their love for cumbia reflected in their faces, and so did their feeling of camaraderie with everyone there. At Plaza Maya Lounge, people of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses gathered to not only support the Sylvia Rivera Center, but dance to music that embodied inclusivity.

Cumbia music represents the merging of African, European and American indigenous sounds during the time of Spanish conquest. As the music traveled historically throughout the Americas, it seemed to strike a chord with everyone who came in contact. Cumbia can be heard from the Southern tips of Argentina to the Southwest region of the United States. Regardless of the countless styles of cumbia, it continues to be the unbreakable bond between anyone whose ancestors played a vital role during the colonization of the New World. Cumbia is living proof that when people integrate parts of their culture, they give birth to something just as incredible.

As night fell, more Selena fans and admirers arrived at the lounge. Women wore Selena t-shirts, tied white-collar shirts with jeans or strutted shiny golden Selena-inspired boots. Others decided to personify her charisma and liveliness through song and dance. During the Selena lip-sync contest, the five contestants sang about infatuations (“El Chico del Apartamento 512”), falling in love (“Dreaming of You”) or falling out of it (“Si Una Vez”). They engaged with an audience who sang along and cheered on each lip-syncer. There were moments of laughter, applause and togetherness shared among everyone in the room. 

Throughout the night, Sharon Saldaña recreated a portrait of Selena using an airbrush. She chose a photo that emphasized the singer’s voluptuous lips and dark, thick hair. By the end of the night, Saldaña’s portrait of Selena captured the artist’s natural beauty and passionate soul. The local Reno artist also showcased some of her other work, including a portrait of Tupac and Drake. She also handed out Marilyn Monroe portrait stickers. 

Saldaña began airbrushing while working at Circus Circus. Her plan is to become well-known for her airbrushing portraits and illustrations. Her passion and motivation complemented the welcoming and energetic vibe felt throughout the lounge.

   Sylvia Rivera Center’s Cumbia Dance Night proved once more that Reno is becoming a more inclusive and accepting city, by embracing the catchy rhythms of cumbia and performing the songs of an icon. The event was a chance for one community to enjoy an event free from prejudice. 

There will be another Cumbia Dance Night and events like it for people to attend later this year. To learn more about what the Sylvia Rivera Center for Social Justice offers, visit their Facebook page Sylviariveracentereno or follow their Twitter account @SRCReno.