2017 Bolivian Festival at the Prince William County Fairgrounds / by Todd Henson

Fraternidad Alma Boliviana performing a Tinkus dance.

On September 3, 2017, I attended XXX Festival Boliviano, the 30th annual Bolivian Festival held at the Prince William County Fairgrounds in Manassas, Virginia. This was a fantastic cultural festival featuring a huge number of groups wearing amazing outfits and costumes and performing fantastic dances to music booming over speakers all around the fairgrounds track.

Tinkus de San Simon USA performing a Tinkus dance.

Younger members of Tinkus de San Simon USA looking back at the rest of their group.

Members of Tinkus de San Simon USA performing a Tinkus dance.

These events are a great opportunity to experience Bolivian culture, to see and meet wonderful people, to watch groups performing traditional Bolivian dances, and to listen to and feel the powerful rhythm of a variety of Bolivian music. There is so much color, movement and energy at these festivals, it’s an absolute joy to watch and to photograph.

Centro Cultural Pujllay Cliza USA performing a Pujllay dance.

Look at the details in the footwear of a member of Centro Cultural Pujllay Cliza USA.

Sambos Caporales VA USA performing a Caporales dance.

I love the variety of dances performed at the festival. They are each unique and have origins in Bolivian folklore. Examples of dances in this post include: Tinkus, Pujllay, Caporales, Morenada, and Wititi.

Morenada Central VA USA performing a Morenada dance.

I did not have the opportunity to try any of the food and drink this year, I was so focused on the dance events. But there are a number of food stalls serving Bolivian dishes and drinks, and I highly recommend stopping by if you attend one of these events. This year we saw very long lines for the food, so get there early.

Tinkus Llajtaymanta performing a Tinkus dance.

Tinkus Llajtaymanta performing a Tinkus dance, wearing very detailed costumes.

I hope these photos give you at least an idea of what an amazing experience it is watching these dances and the amazing people who perform them. I always leave in a better mood than I arrived. Be sure to click on any of the photos for a larger view.

Fraternidad Folklorica Bolivia performing a Caporales dance.

Photographing an event like this can be a challenge, especially for someone like me who usually photographs wildlife and nature subjects. There is so much going on, so much motion, so many people all moving together. And because the seating fills quickly we found a seat and stayed there for most of the day. So the majority of my photographs were shot from the same location.

Fundacion Socio Cultural Diablada Boliviana performing a Wititi dance.

Members of Fundacion Socio Cultural Diablada Boliviana posing after their performance.

What lens is best for this type of event? I’m most often drawn to a telephoto perspective, so I brought a 70-200mm and left everything else at home. This worked great when the groups came around the corner and headed our way. We were positioned at the end of one side of the track. When performers were closer the lens allowed me to capture individual shots, closeup portraits, and candid shots. But the telephoto lens did make it challenging to photograph them when they were right in front of me. That’s when a more wide angle lens would have been useful.

Tinkus San Simon USA performing a Tinkus dance.

Details of the boots of a member of Fraternidad Folklorica Cultural Caporales Universitarios San Simon Filial VA during their performance of a Caporales dance.

Choosing a good aperture was also a challenge. I love shallow depth of field, and this works very well with a single subject. But when photographing a group it’s sometimes nice to have more of the group in focus, so I was constantly adjusting the aperture based on the number of people in the frame. In the end, though, I found myself most often closer to wide open than to stopped down.

Morenada Bolivia USA performing a Morenada dance.

Tinkus Tiataco performing a Tinkus dance.

Stay tuned, I will share more photos from this event in future posts. Sign up for my weekly email newsletter to stay current.