21st annual ‘Luz de las Naciones’ performance to highlight Latin American lands

Efrain Villalobos dancing in Luz de las Naciones in 2015. He is dancing a Mexican dance from the state of Jalisco wearing a traditional “charro” outfit. (Photo courtesy of Efrain Villalobos)

“Luz de las Naciones,” or “Light of the Nations,” is an annual Latin American celebration hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This year’s performance centers on the theme of “Nuestra Tierra,” or “Our Land.”

One thousand participants, young and old, learn about and celebrate their cultures through dance and music. The wide array of dances and songs this year comes from Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Panama and Brazil.

The performance will be held at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, with shows on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 at 8 p.m.

Those participating in the event practice one to two times a week and have been practicing for the past several months. Celeste Escárzaga, a BYU student who is Mexican, is dancing this year to represent Bolivia.

“I chose to participate in Luz because ever since my first year (five years ago). Luz de las Naciones became a home to me and an incredible opportunity to grow my testimony,” Escárzaga said.

Being a part of this celebration of Latin American culture has opened up doors for the Lord to teach her “something new” and shows her “how real the gospel is,” she said.

What adds to the experience is what they have put in to make everything happen, Escárzaga explained.

“Practices are very challenging for the most part and preparing for the show overall is honestly very time-consuming and tiring,” she said. “We have to make sure we are in tune with the spirit, so we are able to portray our testimonies to the thousands of people watching us when we get to perform.”

Escárzaga shared the biggest thing she is looking forward to is getting to feel the love and presence of the Savior on the stage. “All of a sudden those hours of practice become a connection to heaven for us, and it’s a feeling that words can’t describe.”

Part of the Bolivia group poses at a Saturday morning practice. They are holding up the Bolivian flag and the men holding their hats for their Caporales dance. (Photo courtesy of Celeste Ezcárzaga)

Efrain Villalobos, BYU student and longtime dancer, is a choreographer for the Argentina group this year. He has participated in Luz de las Naciones for eight years total, and this will be his third year choreographing.

“Preparation has been amazing this year, a huge change from last year,” Villalobos said. He mentioned because last year was the first year for Luz after COVID-19, many decisions and approvals were delayed. However, he said, “what it looked like last year was still great for what the preparation was.”

Villalobos shared the expression of his Peruvian and Mexican culture began in the home when he was just a little kid.

“My family has done folk dancing their whole lives … so dancing has been part of my life for years,” he said. “It’s a very cultural thing for children to learn traditional and cultural dances at home, which is what my mom and aunt did. They would teach us, they would dress us up, nothing too formal but it was enough for me to get exposed to it and to love it.”

He also mentioned why he is thankful for this annual celebration. “It’s awesome to come together as one … I love how Luz incorporates all parts of Latin America. I’m grateful to share my knowledge and my love for culture and dance.”

Last year, more than 13,000 people filled the Conference Center to watch the live performance. Kayla Rascon, from South Jordan, watched Luz de las Naciones for the first time last year.

Looking ahead to this year’s performance, she said, “I’m excited to see all the different dances and cultures, I feel connected to some of them because of my heritage being Mexican.”

Rascon shared the emotional feelings she gets when watching the show saying, “I think it is so cool to see some of the traditional dances and how they’re different and similar. I feel the spirit too because I go watch with family, and I feel a lot of love being there.”

Although all event tickets have already been issued, a live viewing will be recorded and broadcasted on broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org and on YouTube.

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