21 Beautiful Peruvian Dances That I Want the World to Know About

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Dance is not just an entertainment form, but a channel of cultural expression. Since the beginning, mankind has danced for religious, mystical and medicinal purposes. Dance is, foremost, a complex language. By making elaborate movements, people communicated with one another, conveying a statement to their offspring and even established a bond with their Gods.

Although we already discussed how Peruvian cuisine went global, dancing is also essential for many Peruvians. Our dances are a truthful reflection of our vast multiculturalism. If you really love dancing, there is no other place in the world like Peru. Inheritors of an extensive history, few countries can match the incredible range of autochthonous and regional dances of Peru. Assimilating African, French, Spanish, Amazonian and Andean styles, Peru boasts more than a hundred dances.

Here are just a few of them:

1. The Dance of Scissors-La Danza de las Tijeras

000084377WImage Source: Andina

As a child, you might have been told to never run with scissors. But what about dancing with scissors? The Dance of Scissors may be the most strange and fantastic of all Peruvian dances. But how did it develop?

After the Spanish Conquest, the well-respected Inca priests were ostracized. Spaniards commanded the natives to revile their priests with the label “supaywa wawan” (devil’s children). Since the orders were hard to enforce, colonists eventually embraced Inca priests with one condition. They had to take part of their catholic rituals.

Inca priests then learned the steps of the Spanish jota, Minue and contradanza. New songs were performed with the Spanish violin and the harp. This is how “Danzantes de las Tijeras” emerged around 1545. This dance is difficult and requires physical strength. The dancers hold a pair of scissors as percussion to mark their steps. During 1960’s, “The Scissors dance” was championed by indigenous Peruvian writer Jose Maria Arguedas. After that, Danza de las Tijeras turned mainstream.

Region: Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Junin and Apurimac.

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Gran Atipanacuy - Danza de tijeras con los Hermanos Chavez

2. Huayno-The Fingerprint of the Incas

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Since Huayno lyrics are sung in Quechua, many consider it to be one of the most authentic Peruvian dances. Huayno has been a vessel carrying the essence of Inca culture throughout various generations.

The first references of Huayno appeared in 1586. The book “Vocabulary of the Indians of Peru” mentioned the “Huayñucuni”, a music indigenous people danced behind closed doors. “Huayñucuni” translates as “dancing with a partner, with arms folded.” Under colonial rule, Huayñucuni was rarely danced in public. Its successor, the Huayno, is the root of most Andean dances.

Huaynos are danced in most Andean festivities. They could be classified by the region of origin. Northern Huayno is characterized by joyful steps. Southern Huayno, instead, has cadent rhythms. Central Huayno has animated swings but very tragic lyrics. Why tragic lyrics? Quechuas lived under the despotic rule of mining corporations. Quechuas sang to vent off their sorrows and seek consolation through Huayno.

Regions: Cusco, Huancavelica, Junin, and other Andean communities.

Related Content: Huayno: How Important Is The Old Inca Music To Peru’s History?

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Valicha - proyecto Nazca y Grupo de baile Amistad Criolla 千種文化小劇場

3. Sara Kutipay, a Portrait of Inca Values

Imagen2Image Source: Educacion Huaral

Sara Kutipay is one of the few dances that reflects the communitarian spirit Peruvians inherited from the Incas. It is a theatrical representation of Peruvian peasants tilling the land.

Danced in Vilcahuaman (Ayacucho), ‘Sara Kutipay’ translates as ‘Maize cultivation’. Sara Kutipay reflects the spirit of Ayni, the communitarian work under Inca rule. “Inka subjects were hardworking, disciplined, and placed the community first”, philosopher Jose Carlos Mariategui wrote. Solidarity: the way people think is the way people dance. In Sara Kutipay, peasants and their wives stage a choreography divided into eight acts. The main act recreates soil cultivation, under coordinated steps in a sequential manner.

Regions: Apurimac, Ayacucho

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4. Los Negritos – the Iconic Heritage of Central Peru

negritos-huanuco1Image Source: Danzas Junin

Los Negritos’ dance is part of the main feature of Christmas celebrations in Central Peru. This colorful spectacle is an institution with five centuries of existence. Although this dance may infer a racist tone, it is a respected regional tradition. In fact, most Peruvian dancers are now part of a new progressive generation that believes in human rights and racial equality.

Around the year 1550, many Africans were forcibly brought through the slave trade to the regions of Huanuco and Pasco, in Central Peru. They worked as servants for Spanish landowners. African servants enjoyed more liberties than those in Lima. On Christmas eve, Afro-Peruvians danced on the streets, moving to the tunes of a brass band, swinging a pair of bells. Somehow the dance became customary. Eventually, most Afro-Peruvians in the region emigrated. Nonetheless, Huanuquenos and Pasquenos put on black masks and kept the tradition.

Five centuries later, the tradition lives on. Los Negritos was declared a keystone of Cultural Peruvian heritage in 2005.

Regions: Huanuco, Pasco

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Cofradía De Negritos Niño Jesús de la Amistad 2014 - Huánuco - Perú

5. La Diablada-the Dance of “Virgen de la Candelaria”

diabladaImage Source: Puno Turistico

Considered a bastion of the cultural heritage of Puno, La Diablada is a dance that displays the most exotic customs of all Peruvian dances. Performers wear striking yet fascinating vests and devil masks.

La Diablada flourished in the Chilean, Bolivian and the Peruvian Altiplano. Each country has its own version of its creation. For Peru, the Diablada first appeared in Juli, Puno, in 1576. It stemmed from the Aymaran myth of Supay (the Devil). Supay wandered at night, taunting men, seeking veneration and punishing those who disrespected him.

In 1675, Spaniard Jose Salcedo cruelly mistreated his workers at Laikakota mine, Puno. The legend goes that one day Salcedo saw a fire inside the mine, and the effigy of Virgen Mary fighting the Devil. Shaken by this vision, Salcedo softened his attitude towards his workers. Since then, the Diablada was performed in “Virgen de la Candelaria Feast” around Puno towns.

Region: Puno

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6. Festejo-Eroticism at its Finest

ica_festejo004Image Source: Trajes Tipicos del Peru

Festejo is the Peruvian dance that has the most strong erotic content. The Festejo steps convey a seductive narrative, with graphic movements delivering an explicit message. But before getting any further, let’s review some history.

In 1529, Conquistador Francisco Pizarro granted permission to bring Africans to Lima. Until the year 1850, 95,000 Africans were brought by the slave trade. Most of them were not sent to the mines, but were employed in Spanish households as servants. Afro-Peruvians were thus above Quechuas on the hierarchical ladder. However, their prerogatives ended after Peruvian independence. Criollos employed Afro-Peruvians in the farming towns of Ica, Lambayeque and Piura. Such jurisdictions thus became the source of Afro-Peruvian rhythms.

The Festejo was interpreted with instruments like the Cajon Peruano (Peruvian Box) and the Quijada (Jawbone). The most erotic content is depicted in the song “El Alcatraz”. In this theme, the couple seems obsessed in admiring each other’s behinds.  They even hold a lit candle right below the dancer’s behind.

Regions: Lima, Ica

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Festejo (Alcatraz) - Peru; & Mapalé- Columbia

7. The Cilulo Dance-The Song of ‘Festival Cajamarquino’

Carnaval-cajarmarquinoImage Source: Universidad Esan

The Cilulo is one of the most exhilarating dances in Cajamarca. Its upbeat melodies are contagious, and the fame of Cilulo has traveled all the way down to Lima. Many Limeños know this dance by heart, and public schools perform it to get more acquainted with Cajamarquino culture.

Cajamarquinos perform “El baile del Cilulo” during the ‘Cajamarca Festival’. Campesinos wearing ponchos twist and jump with the melodic “Cilulo Gavilan”, a song that goes “Arriba caballo blanco, Cilulo, Arriba Caballo blanco, Cilulo, Sacame de este arenal, Huaylulo.” (Let’s ride the white horse, Cilulo, ….., take me away from these plains, Huaylulo)

Celebrated in February, Festival Cajamarquino is the most exuberant carnival in Peru. In fact, their regional motto is “Cajamarca, the capital of the Peruvian Carnival festivities”

Region: Cajamarca

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El Cilulo - Carnaval Cajamarquino 2014 - |HD|

8. Los Abuelitos- the Mystical Dance of Quipan

abuellImage Source: Canta Danza Blog

Practiced by the first settlers, ‘Los Abuelitos’ is part of the historical legacy of Quipan. The dance has acquired a mystical meaning, since Quipan residents believe that misfortunes may fall upon them if they stop enacting it.

Every July, the town of Quipan (Canta) celebrates the ‘Virgen del Carmen’ feast. This is a suited occasion for Quipan residents to perform ‘Los Abuelitos’. A group of masked men in suits dance along the melodies played by a harp.

This representation may be a parody of the old Spanish governors of Quipan. Although others affirm the grandfathers personify the mountains (Apus) surrounding this town.

In the colonial era, Quipan community fiercely opposed Spanish rule. General Jose de San Martin visited Quipan during his liberation campaign, in 1821. Quipan residents welcomed him and performed the Abuelitos dance for him. This was a strike of luck for San Martin. Three months later, he declared the Independence of Peru, on July 28, 1821.

Region: Lima

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9. The ‘Inga’- a Festejo featuring a Doll

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 9.38.40 AMImage Source: Johnny Baubi

A Festejo dance, the Inga is a performance in which participants take turns dancing with a doll. It is also a manifestation of Afro-Peruvian culture in which the care of a newborn is done collectively.

The Inga emerged in Lima and Cañete in 1900′. In the performance, a group of men and women danced around a circle. In the center, a dancer holds a doll representing a newborn (who is crying). Every dancer takes turns holding the doll. Why is it called Inga? Because the Onomatopeia Inga (or Unga) denotes the sound of a crying baby.

Most Afro-Peruvians have ‘West African’ roots. Specifically, from the ‘Mandinga’ ethnic tribe. Eventually, these mandingas mixed with Spaniards, creoles and indigenous people. Thus the use of the phrase ‘El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga‘. (Roughly translated as “He who doesn’t have indigenous blood has African’s)

Regions: Lima, Ica

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Elenco de Danzas Afroperuanas de la UP ( Eva Ayllón - INGA )

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10. Pozuzo Dance-a European and “Deeply Peruvian” Dance

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A fabulous fact about Peru is that we have happily assimilated several cultural influences. This cultural fusion has made us become richer and more interesting to global audiences. For example, it is natural for Peruvians to admire (and celebrate) the dances of Oxapampa.

In 1853, a wave of German immigrants settled in Oxapampa, Pasco. These poor Tyrolean and Prussian families cultivated coffee, rice and sugar cane.

More than a century later, Peruvian Oxapampinos still preserve their heritage. They speak Spanish and German and, in their parties, they do Tyrolean dances. A Pozuzo resident said: “We do respect our heritage, but deep inside we feel one hundred percent Peruvian.”

Region: Pasco

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Oxapampa-Danzas Típicas

11. Danza de la Boa, a Way to Worship the Spirit Mother of the Jungle

boa-iquitosImage Source: Full viajes

A snake may be lethal for most of us. But for Amazonians, a snake is the spirit mother of the jungle. Danza de la Boa is the most famous and exotic of all Amazonian dances.

The Amazonians of Upper Ucayali perform the Boa Constrictor dance. A woman mimics the twists of a snake while grabbing a live boa constrictor. Amazonians believe this dance will avoid curses to befall on their crops. This does not only apply to Amazonians. Natives worldwide respect wild animals, since animals have a deeper knowledge and connection with the soil. For Amazonians, the Boa dance is a sort of communion with nature. By preserving Nature, they are also preserving themselves. ¡De la Selva su cultura, púshale!

Region: Ucayali

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Danza de la Boa Corso Wong 2013 - Danzas Folclóricas de la Selva

12. Danza Lando-the Heritage of Angolans


The Lando has the purest form of African music in Peru. Unlike most African dances which have mixed with other Peruvian influences, Lando’s rhythms remain intact.

Nicomedes Santa Cruz, one of the greatest Peruvian intellectuals, said that ‘Lando’ stemmed from ‘Lundu.’ This African dance was performed during Angolan nuptial ceremonies. Among all Afro-Peruvian rhythms, Lando is quite distinctive due to its slower tempo. The music compilated by Santa Cruz made the basis for the two most popular Lando songs today: “Toro Mata” and “Samba Malato” The chorus of the latter is in an Angolese dialect: ‘Samba Malato, Lando, Samba Malato, Lando’, which means “Back in our village, we dance Lando”

Regions: Lima, Ica

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13. “La Pitita”-the Favorite Polka of Peruvian Parents

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If there is a dance song especially suited for Peruvian children, that is the polka “La Pitita”.

Massively popular in colonial times, Polka music is practically extinct in Peru. Nonetheless, a few songs have survived until today. “La Pitita” (My little cord) is one of them. For some strange reason, an overwhelming amount of Peruvian parents make their children dance “La Pitita” in kindergarten. In fact, Peruvian parents seem to enjoy it a lot more than their children. Many children look confused while their parents are really having a blast.

This polka song went mainstream during the 1950’s. It has a hilarious and catchy stanza: “Jalame la pitita, pitita, pitita…no me la jales mas, hey!” (Pull my little cord, little cord, little cord, little cord.. don’t pull it anymore, hey!) Funny.

Region: Lima

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14. Vals-The Symbol of Peruvian Criollismo

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Vals is the most valuable cultural expression of Peruvian criollismo. Due to its multiple cultural influences, Vals is an iconic dance encompassing our vast Peruvian diversity.

Dancing is not an activity disassociated with the world. Every dance is a living entity shaped by both historical and daily events. A minor change in the flow of events can provoke repercussions in the fate of any particular dance. This is how dances are developed, grow or simply decay.

In the late 1890’s, the fusion of African tunes, the French Minuet, the Polish Mazurka, the Viennese waltz and the Spanish jota produced the Peruvian Vals. Most Limeños, who loved Opera, didn’t pay attention to it. Gradually, fabulous performers as Felipe Pinglo and Chabuca Granda brought Vals to great acclaim. If a Limeño from Colonial times would materialize today, he would be astonished to see that Vals, a music generally despised then, is now the main symbol of Peruvian criollismo.

Vals, with slight steps and cadent tempo, is the most conventional of Peruvian dances.

Region: Lima

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Campeones Nacionales de "La Triple 2011" (Vals, Polka y Marinera Limeña) - I

15. Marinera Norteña-A Romantic Coastal Dance

base_imageImage Source: El Comercio

Hands down, Marinera is the most iconic of Peruvian coastal dances. Along with Vals, Marinera also imbibed a manifold of cultural currents. Therefore, any serious exhibition of Peruvian dances would be incomplete without Marinera.

Despite multiple theories, Marinera probably arose from Zamacueca. There is a striking resemblance in the steps of both typical dances.

While men danced Marinera wearing shoes, women did so barefooted. Proud of their fortitude, women even sought coarser grounds to dance on. Hence, they created the motto: “the coarser the ground, the greater the dancer.” Women then exhibited their calloused soles to earn the respect of skillful dancers. Some women also danced Marinera holding a Chicha bottle on their heads.

Although we also have ‘Marinera Limeña’, ‘Marinera Norteña’ surpassed the former in popularity. The Norteño dance exudes joy, energy and speed. “La Concheperla” is the most popular Marinera song.

Region: La Libertad

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16. Marinera Norteña con Chalan-A Masterpiece of Peruvian Chalanes

4299790564_9a7e6d77da_bImage Source: Flickr

This is the most famous dance in Northern Peru. It is a cultural masterpiece and a portrait of the cowboy lifestyle in Northern Peru.

As seen above, Marinera can also be danced with a Chalan (a Peruvian cowboy). The Chalan dances while riding his gaited horse (Caballo de Paso Peruano). This is not difficult to do since Peruvian gaited horses give a smooth ride. In the dance, the Peruvian Chalan is trying to seduce a lady by displaying his skills as a “‘horseman”. It is the elegance of his pirouettes and his firm advances which finally arouse the interest of the lady.

Why was it named Marinera (Sea dance)? Nobody knows. The swings and swirls of ‘Marinera’ assimilate those of sea waves. And some say Trujillano seamen may have baptized it so. Others assert that Trujillano writer Abelardo Gamarra picked that term in 1879.

Region: La Libertad

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Marinera a Caballo HD

17. Tondero-The Contribution of Spanish Gypsies

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Tondero was a dance practiced for centuries by the coastal communities of both Lambayeque and Piura. It is now part of their cultural heritage, being an indispensable performance in their regional festivities.

In colonial times, droves of Spanish gypsies immigrated to Piura and Lambayeque. Peruvians labeled gypsies as ‘Volanderos’. The ‘Volandero dance’ then gradually combined with African rhythms. Somehow, the gypsy sounds “Ton Ton Tun, Ton Ton Tun” in their songs made people baptize the ‘Volandero’ dance as ‘Tondero’. In Tondero tragic lyrics, the protagonists make fun of their own suffering.

Tonderos were played in “Chinganas”(bars), where people enjoyed “Chicha de Jora” (fermented corn drink). The Tondero dance illustrates a story of two errant birds falling in love. Dancers holding handkerchiefs is a symbol “relating to the flying of errant birds”. Movement is language, and Tondero steps depict a range of human emotions. Now enjoy this Tondero Piurano. ¡Guá, paisano!

Region: Piura, Lambayeque.

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18. Hatajo de Negritos-A Marvelous Display of Zapateo and ‘Villancicos’ 

img0151_0Image Source: Ministerio de Cultura

Hatajo de Negritos is an Afro-Peruvian dance in which dancers celebrate the birth of Christ. It is a testament of the religious indoctrination imposed on the first Afro-Peruvians.

As the brilliant Afroperuvian Victoria Santa Cruz said: “Culture comes from ‘cultivation’, and if people does not cultivate themselves through its manifestations, their existence is useless.”

Hatajo de Negritos is a product of such ‘cultivation.’ El Hatajo was performed in Caporales (plantations) during Christmas season. The performance also entailed the singing of Christmas carols. The dancers perform zapateo, ringing some bells as a counterpoint to the melodies of a violin.

Regions: Lima, Ica

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PANALIVIO del Hatajo de Negritos de Chincha (Ica, Perú) Grupo CEMDUC

19. Zamacueca-The Most Primordial of Peruvian Dances

9da284f0-dd57-4683-a011-ac6cd14b0d56Image Source: La Mula

Although largely forgotten, Zamacueca is one of the oldest and most primordial of Peruvian dances. It laid the roots for the development of other dances, such as the Peruvian Marinera and the Cueca.

For some, Zamacueca originated in colonial Lima, being a variation from the French Minuet or the Gavota. Others validate its African influence, stating that ‘Zamacueca’ stems from “Zamba Cueca.” Zamba (a black woman) and Clueca from ‘gallina culeca’ (broody hen), since its steps imitate a ‘broody hen’.

Event though this dance is extinct, many Peruvian organizations practice, teach and offer Zamacueca performances to preserve its historical legacy.

Regions: Lima, Ica

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ZAMACUECA Danza costeña 2015 COLORES PATRIOS Conjunto Nacional de Folklore

20. Huaylarsh, the dance of Andean Peasants

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Huaylarsh is my personal favorite. More than a dance, Huaylarsh is a poetic rebellion of the soul. It has quite an energetic and fast-paced tempo, and people display a lot of vitality while dancing it. The ground usually rumbles due to their thunderous Zapateo.

The Quechua ‘Huaylarsh’ comes from Huaylla (green field) or Huayllu (love or caress). Huaylarsh was created by agrarian communities in the Andes. Interpreted during harvesting season, its lyrics evoke soil fertility and love. What differentiates Huaylarsh from Huayno? Huaylarsh was mainly danced by indigenous peasants. Huayno, instead, was danced by all Quechuas in general.

Huaylarsh dancers absolutely love whistling and shrieking very loud. As a child, I was thrilled of hearing my parents, uncles and cousins shrieking like raving lunatics while dancing Huaylarsh. I was insanely proud of my indigenous blood, and I wanted to do it too.

Regions: Cusco, Huancavelica, Junin and other Andean communities.

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21.The Beautiful Zapateo AfroPeruano (Afro-Peruvian Step dance)

ZAPATImage Source: The Great Amador Vallumbrosio

Afroperuvian rhythms also emerged through “Zapateo Peruano”. Zapateo was first practiced in the jurisdictions of ‘El Carmen’ and ‘Tambo de Mora’ in Ica. Relegated to the lowest levels of Peruvian society, Afro-Peruvians made Zapateo a genuine channel of expression. For most oppressed ethnicities, dance was a more effective form of communication than spoken language. Almost every single step materializes a word, a feeling, an emotion within a very complex narrative. Using their body, Afro-Peruvians communicated all the sorrows, emotions and joys they could not loudly proclaim with words.

In Zapateo, the dancer moves following the sounds of Cajon Peruano. Peruvian dancer Antonio Vilchez said: “We do Zapateo because the pace is immersed in our hands, feet and body. Over time, cajon and zapateo have been dissociated from each other..This is wrong. Zapateo and Cajon are one and the same thing.”

Regions: Lima, Ica

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Side Note: “¡Vamo’ Pa’ Chincha, Familia!”

doa-esther-cartagena(1)Image Source: Le Cordon Bleu

Chincha is the center of Afro-Peruvian culture. Therefore the phrase ‘¡Vamo’ Pa’ Chincha, familia!’ (Let’s go to Chincha, family!) But how did this catchword emerge? Let’s go back to the 1950’s. In order to work, many Afro-Peruvians who lived in Chincha traveled to Lima during the week. On their days off, Chinchanos rushed to Jiron Miraflores to board a bus back home. Valerio, the bus driver, was a happy-go-lucky Chinchano who always said: ¡Vamo’ pa’ Chincha, Familia! This eventually turned into a motto to promote Chincha among tourists.

One of Chincha’s greatest figures is the magnificent Chef Esther Cartagena, also known as “Mamainé.” (picture above). This phenomenal Peruvian is an oracle of Chinchano cuisine. She has contributed to Peru’s endless list of flavors with two Chinchano inventions: “Carapulcra Chinchana” and the dessert “Raspadilla de Zambo.”

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