NET/TEN Shareback: Safos Dance - Cultural Competency Beyond Translations

2014 Fall Travel Grant Recipient

Safos Dance Theatre (Tucson, AZ) cultivated a relationship with Quinteto Latino (San Jose, CA). Armando Castellano, founding artistic director of Quinteto Latino, spent five days with Safos Dance Theatre in rehearsal and planning for future performances.


This shareback offers suggestions about working in underserved Latina/o communities by using cultural competency beyond translations. The information is availabe below or as a PDF download. We chose to highlight this aspect of the project in the shareback because without the cultural competency and the time spent getting to know and building relationships with the community, the site adaptive/mobile performance would not have been possible. The cultural competency and artists relationships with the underserved South Tucson community is the backbone of the work and the project. There is also a short video documenting the rehearsal process.

-Safos Dance Theatre

Cultural Competency Beyond Translations

What is Cultural Competency?

Cultural Competency, an ideology that requires that organizations and collaborating community members work effectively cross-culturally and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, and policies that value diversity, conduct self-assessment, manage the dynamics of difference, acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve. 

How to use Cultural Competency to reach underserved communities?

1. Employ Cultural Values

Example: In order to be culturally competent we employed 3 of the 6 Mexican American Cultural Values. These included:

a) Personalismo: Warm and personal way of interacting; Building and nurturing personal relationships
b) Respeto: Respecting individuals; asset-based approach to the community and art making process
c) Simpatía: Sincere and respectful way of interacting; artists understand the community.

RECOMMENDATION: Research the cultural values of the community you serve.

2. Partner with respected community institutions and community leaders

Example: Since 2009, Safos Dance Theatre has been cultivating a relationships with community leaders and social service agencies in South Tucson. These relationships made it easy for us to attract community audiences and schedule arts education residencies in South Tucson.

RECOMMENDATION: Develop meaningful and reciprocal relationships with respected community institutions and community leaders.

3. Use art forms and aesthetics with which the community is familiar as a vehicle to introduce new art forms

Example: In this case we used the mural arts and low rider culture, forms familiar to the City of South Tucson community, to introduce modern dance and classical music.

RECOMMENDATION: Create artwork that is accessible and meaningful to the target community. Honor their unique aesthetics and representations by interviewing residents and having the rehearsal process open to feedback from community members.

4. Rehearse and perform onsite in the community (for visibility). Partner with community members when possible.

Example: Safos has been rehearsing onsite, and oftentimes outside, at the House of Neighborly Service (HNS), a social service agency located in the City of South Tucson since 2012. HNS has been serving South Tucson for 69 years and there are some South Tucson families that 3-4 generations attending the institution. Rehearsals in the heart of the community sparked interest and facilitated a connection between the pieces and the community.

RECOMMENDATION: The best way to build lasting and trusting relationships is to be visible and show that you have a long term commitment to the community.

Overall, be mindful about initiating meaningful relationships with the underserved communities. Do not take relationships with underserved communities lightly. Communities can and oftentimes will follow up with artists and art organizations and hold them accountable. Make sure you and your organization are in it for the long haul. Stick with it for the long haul as building relationships takes time.

*For more information about cultural competency and the arts, contact Yvonne Montoya at or at 520-481-1656.


Behind the Scenes of "La Troquita" Safos Dance Theatre: Dancing the Mural

Behind the Scenes of "La Troquita" Safos Dance Theatre: Dancing the Mural from Safos Dance Theatre on Vimeo.



Photos by Dominic AZ Bonuccelli/


Safos Dance Theatre

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

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