Though she is a veteran of the samba dance community, Oakland resident Monique Perry had never participated in the Carnaval Queen competition prior to this year. With pushing from her collaborator, Raffaella Falchi, she decided to give it a try this year. The decision paid off, as Monique was named San Francisco’s Queen of Carnaval for 2006 in her first year competing for the title.
Though this was her first competition, Monique has been involved with samba and Carnaval since her early college years. A dancer for the past 13 years, she has been involved with well-known groups such as Foga Na Roupa and Aquarela, as well as participating as a free spirit, joining groups during the parade. In keeping with the independent spirit of Berkeley, she has performed as a freelancer for the past 6 years, rather than aligning herself with a particular group. Along with Raffaella, Monique is co-director of Sambamora. Together, the two have taught classes, designed costumes, and performed with various groups such as Energia do Samba. It is because they perform with different groups, and are contracted for performances, that Monique considers Sambamora a freelance team, rather than a dance group.
Monique’s family comes from Antigua in the Caribbean (West Indies) on her father’s side, and her mother was a dancer in her youth. Monique was not heavily involved in dance, nor did she participate in Carnaval, during her early childhood years. As she put it, she was “just a Berkeley girl eating granola and carob.” However, she did say that her father’s family came from a tradition “of West Indian culture, which has its own type of Carnaval.” Perhaps it is partially her father’s background, her mother’s dancing, and the free spirit of Berkeley that drew her to the spirit of Carnaval and the rhythms of samba.
It was her good friend, Kendra Kimbrough-Barnes, who first brought her into the colorful world of Carnaval. Monqiue recalls Kendra designing costumes for Carnaval during their time at Alameda High School. However, it was attending a show put on by Foga Na Roupa just after her freshman year in college that was to inspire Monique to pursue samba. She recalls being “mesmerized by the dancers and the music. You could feel the music through your body with those drums. It was a very moving experience.”
Thirteen years later, Monque is still inspired by the Carnaval spirit, and remains active in the dance community. Besides her work with Sambamora, she is on the Board of Directors for the Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, which takes place every February in San Francisco and Oakland (Here and Now is directed by Laura Ellis and Monique's long-time friend, Kendra Kimbrough-Barnes). Additionally, she works with Raffaella Falchi to plan a dance class, which Raffaella teaches at ODC, Sundays at 5pm. Private instruction is also available. Find out more at sambamora.com.
As for her future plans for Carnaval, Monique says she and Raffaella are thinking of “getting into more costume design and creation. Every time we come up with a concept for Carnaval it’s awesome. We’d like to branch out and share that with other people.”