Mario Jaramillo: Cultural Exchanges with our Sister Cities – From Breakdancing to Hamlet in Iraq


When we think of breakdancing, we often think of young people in “fresh” clothes performing acrobatic dances in a club or on the sidewalk. Last Tuesday however, Houston’s City Council Chamber saw another side of breakdancing, when, at the impromptu request of Mayor Turner, a fully suited Mario Jaramillo briefly displayed his skills in a flurry of twisting limbs and complicated maneuvers. It’s been almost 16 years since Mario and his dance troop Havikoro won their first national breakdancing competition, but he still has the moves.


The reason for Mr. Jaramillo’s visit to City Hall that day had less to do with his breakdancing history and more to do with his current community outreach endeavors. Hosted by the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Mr. Jaramillo, a native Houstonian, led a cultural exchange program to our Sister City in Iraq last April. Once there, he taught theater and dance workshops to Iraqi university students, organized a film screening, and did a presentation on entrepreneurship in the fashion industry.

This outreach effort came just one year after Houston and Basrah Capturesigned the Sister Cities agreement – a result of close collaboration between the City of Houston, the State Department and the US Embassy in Iraq – serving to further solidify our ongoing relations with our newest Sister City through cultural exchange. In recognition of his work with Basrah, Mr. Jaramillo received a proclamation from the Mayor, marking June 21st as Mario Jaramillo Day.

When asked about the visit, Mario said, “I didn’t know how far and how advanced [Basrah] was when it comes to the arts. All the artists there were really eager to show what they had, and that was one thing that impressed me… They have their folk dance and art and music, and its super rich, man. The dances have a natural rhythm to them and it was impressive to watch.”

During the initial planning of the exchange, Mario asked his hosts what the Iraqi students wanted him to teach. “They came back to me and said, well, they really want to learn about theater and performing poetry, and I said, ‘Well that’s awesome.’”

Basrah1The main focus was on developing stage presence, techniques for reciting poetry, and, most important of all, learning how to perform Shakespearian classics like Hamlet. Mario, who has extensive experience in a number of visual and performance arts including theater, was more than up for the challenge.

Once back in Houston, Mario said that the most important message he could give to those students in Basrah was simply this: “Never stop expressing yourself, and be bold about it. Art makes life beautiful.”

Though Mario was recognized for his work in Basrah, this was by no means his first international community outreach program. Mario was first approached after his dance troop, Havikoro, won 3rd place in a worldwide breakdancing competition. In 2003, with the help of the State Department and a non-Profit called American Voices, Mario led Havikoro members to another one of our Sister Cities, Baku, Azerbaijan, to teach dance workshops.

“And that sparked everything. From that point on we started traveling all over the place. Before you know it, we’re in Vietnam, we’re in Germany, we’re in South America.”

basrah3Later on, Mario continued traveling for outreach and cultural exchanges on his own, teaching his craft, influencing countless lives, and spreading his love of the visual arts across borders and language barriers. Throughout it all, he maintained the open mindedness and hospitality of a true Houstonian, showcasing to the world some of the best aspects of our city’s culture and personality.

In many ways, this form of outreach embodies the spirit of the Sisters Cities relationship, which links cities through education, culture, and mutual understanding. As a mentor inspiring the next generation of performers and artists around the world, Mario Jaramillo is an ideal international representative for Houston.

“I love my city,” said Mario, when asked about his hometown. “I feel like Houston is one of those cities that you can do pretty much whatever you want. It’s open to new ideas. It’s ready for anything. As an artist or a creator, you have to find your place, and Houston allows you to create your place here.”



Written by Paul T. Cuclis


Interested in learning more about community outreach through breakdancing?

Click on the following link for more information on Texas’ only hip hop school, Break Free Community Center, which provides Texas’ youths an opportunity to learn and express themselves through various art forms, in a safe, structured and inspiring environment.





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