Centennial Celebration: School of Drama Professor Emeritus Victoria Santa Cruz

February 25, 2022
By Heidi Feldman, Ph.D.
Photo from the collection of Victoria Santa Cruz, courtesy of Octavio Santa Cruz

Peru’s Ministry of Culture has launched a nationwide commemoration of the Centennial of Victoria Santa Cruz’s birth.


Before she began her career as a legendary drama professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Victoria Santa Cruz (1922–2014) was a cultural icon in Peru. There, she made Black lives and history visible, spearheading a mid-twentieth-century staged resurgence of Black theatre, music, and dance in partnership with her brother, the famous poet Nicomedes Santa Cruz. After training in Paris at the University of Theatre of Nations, she founded and directed Black Theatre and Dances of Peru. She led the Peruvian cultural delegation at the 1968 Cultural Olympics in Mexico City and went on to become appointed founding director of the National Folklore Ensemble under Peru’s Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces in the 1970s and ‘80s–a remarkable accomplishment for an Afro-Peruvian woman at that time. Victoria Santa Cruz is perhaps best known worldwide for her rhythmic poem “Me Gritaron ‘Negra!’” (They Shouted ‘Black Girl!’), which has gone viral online as a Black feminist anthem.


Carnegie Mellon Years

Victoria Santa Cruz first came to Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 1980 to teach workshops as a visiting artist. She returned as a professor from 1982 to 1999, also teaching in the dual-degree M.F.A. program at Moscow Art Theatre in 1995. During that time, every CMU Drama student enrolled in Victoria’s unique rhythm class, which brought to Pittsburgh a technique she had developed in workshops around the world: The Discovery and Development of Internal Rhythm. “I don’t teach, I touch,” she told her students, guiding them to become present in the moment through a connection to rhythm and self-knowledge.


From the collection of Victoria Santa Cruz, courtesy of Octavio Santa Cruz. (Katy Mixon, Victoria Santa Cruz, Danny Bernardy)


While at CMU, Victoria also staged her ballet “The Black Doll,” her musical theatre play “An Abandoned Building in the Bronx/La Calle” and her Afro-Peruvian music and dance revue “El Negro en el Peru,” which toured to La MaMa E.T.C. in New York. She collaborated as Associate Director with Mel Shapiro (“The Greeks”), Yossi Yzraely (“Peer Gynt,” “Antigone”), Mladen Kiselov (“Blood Wedding”), providing choreography, movement instruction, and original music, and she also served as choreographer and composer for Elisabeth Orion’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Victoria represented CMU at important international conferences on Négritude, pan-Africanism and Marcus Garvey, Black dance, and arts medicine, and in her collaborations with renowned artists including Peter Brook (who invited her to Paris to work on The Mahabharata). In December of 1999, Victoria retired from Carnegie Mellon University and returned to Peru, where she founded the organization Salud-Equilibrio-Ritmo (Health-Balance-Rhythm). She died in 2014.


Victoria Santa Cruz 100 Years: Legacy for Humanity

On October 27, 2021, Peru’s Ministry of Culture launched the Victoria Santa Cruz Centennial (“Victoria Santa Cruz 100 Years: Legacy for Humanity”) with this announcement of planned programs and activities.


In honor of the Centennial, the Fulbright Commission in Peru has announced the inauguration of the new Victoria Santa Cruz Fulbright Grant, which will support graduate studies in the United States for a leader in the Afro-Peruvian community. (Note the 1999 photograph of Victoria at Carnegie Mellon University, surrounded by her CMU Drama students, as part of the Fulbright announcement.)


The Pancho Fierro Municipal Gallery of Art in Lima is hosting the exhibition “Primera Llamada: 100 años de Victoria Santa Cruz” (First Call: 100 Years of Victoria Santa Cruz), curated by Luis Rodríguez Pastor, through March 20, 2022. Among the images on display are photographs of Victoria at Carnegie Mellon University.


Victoria Santa Cruz: A Biography

The first book-length biography of Victoria Santa Cruz is in the works, to be written by Heidi Carolyn Feldman, Ph.D., the award-winning author of Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific.


At the Centennial launch event in October, 2021, Heidi Carolyn Feldman contributed video remarks about Victoria Santa Cruz’s international career, including Victoria’s work at CMU.


In advance of her book’s publication, Feldman has shared resources that enable the CMU community to experience Victoria’s own explanations of her unique approach to rhythm for actor training (and for life).

During Feldman’s research in Lima, she obtained a DVD containing this short video message, left by Victoria for CMU School of Drama Seniors, filmed by CMU Drama alumnus Eric Feldman on the eve of Victoria’s retirement (December 12,1999):


In 2004, Victoria published her book Rhythm, the Eternal Organizer, in a bilingual Spanish-English edition (English translation by CMU professor Susan Polansky). The first edition sold out quickly in Peru and was never widely available in the U.S. Through the joint efforts of Feldman, Polansky, Octavio Santa Cruz, Keith Webster (CMU Dean of University Libraries), Marcie Hayhurst (CMU Legal Assistant, Office of the General General Counsel), and Ediciones Copé, the English version of Victoria’s book became available in 2019 as part of CMU’s online repository of digital scholarship: https://doi.org/10.1184/R1/8321321.v1

To contact Feldman about her research toward Victoria Santa Cruz’s biography, or for future project updates, please visit her website, or find her on Facebook.