SAN DIEGO — Immigrants have embarked on long journeys to build new lives in America, but it’s the steps they take today that help them get into a good rhythm and carry on tradition wherever they go.

Members of the House of Peru in San Diego are continuing a long-celebrated tradition of Peruvian dancing, performing as a non-profit group for events year round. 

“I have two kids, so it’s very important for me to promote that same love to our culture with both of them,” said Claudia Newkirk, president of the House of Peru. “They are two boys, but they know every time they listen to music and say, ‘OK, mom is ready to dance!’”

Newkirk’s passion for Peru is what led her to take on a leadership role and connect her with dancer Coni Tenorio. Both were looking to find a Peruvian community in Southern California.

“I was in the Navy, they sent me here. I was looking for something with Peruvian roots. I couldn’t find a group who dances,” said Coni Tenorio, the associate director of dances for the House of Peru.

“I met Claudia, who is the president of the House of Peru, and I mentioned to her ‘If you want, I can start a group and I can start teaching, I’m not a teacher, but I dance,’” Tenorio added. “She said ‘Yeah, why not?’ So I started in the parking lot and then one Peruvian told another Peruvian who told another Peruvian and now we have a bunch of people.”

Together they pioneered the house’s first dance group known as “Elenco,” which has been running here in San Diego for nearly three years. However, some of the dancers involved have been partaking in traditional Peruvian dance since they were old enough to walk.

“I started in kindergarten all the way to high school and that was something that was part of the curriculum there — to learn Peruvian dances, boys and girls. Everyone has to learn,” Newkirk said.

They’d learn dances like the huayno, also called the “valicha.” The huayno comes from the mountain town of Cuzco, which is known as the home to one of the seven wonders of the world: Machu Picchu.

“It’s kind of like a national anthem for Peruvians, the valicha, it represents true love,” Tenorio explained.

The festejo, a dance from the coast, is a high-energy festive form of Afro-Peruvian music. The rhythm was influenced by the culture brought to Peru by Africans in the 17th century.

“We try to be very true to the culture so people know what it is,” Tenorio said. “We have a lot of outfits with skirts, because it’s cold. The shoes are from tires from the car, in Peru they create that. In the mountains, they recycle tires. The hat is very colorful. I don’t know if you go one day to Peru and you go to the mountains, they love to use very colorful textiles and that is their characteristic.”

These are the ambassadors of culture, honoring ancestors and teaching future generations the rhythm of Peru.

“Meeting these beautiful people gives me the opportunity to say, ‘I’m far away from Peru, but I am here with people who share the same love for our culture and that is beautiful,” Newkirk said.

The dancers want to share Peruvian culture and invite anyone to try one of their weekend lessons. They especially encourage more men to try it!

The House of Peru is located within the House of Pacific Relations of International Cottages in Balboa Park. The organization is prepping for a big fundraising event in October so they can upgrade outfits and learn more dances for performances.