Arnol Guity Martinez didn’t have to look far for vivid views of his Garifuna culture. The Bronx, home to a majority of the more than 200,000 Garinagu (plural for Garifuna) in NYC, not only served as his birthplace but the backdrop for his earliest cultural memories.
His mother, who is from Triunfo de La Cruz, Honduras, would often bring him and his siblings to Garifuna gatherings, or fedus; however, Guity Martinez wasn’t interested. “In the beginning, I really didn’t understand much of it,” he admits. “And as I got older, I was really able to embrace everything.”
“Now, I love fedus,” the 26-year-old entrepreneur says. “I would rather go to a fedu than to go to a regular party nowadays.”
That shift in cultural consciousness began with a family move to Far Rockaway, Queens. Though it uprooted Guity Martinez from his place of birth, it planted a seed that would ultimately bloom into GarifunaRobics, a one-of-a-kind aerobics-style workout infused with various Garifuna musical genres and dance techniques.
At 12, he finally persuaded his mother to let him dance with Hamalali Wayunagu Folkloric & Modern Dance Company, now Wabafu Garifuna Dance Theater, along with his cousin. “I was traveling all the way from Far Rockaway to the northern part of the Bronx, 219th Street, at the age of 12,” the founder of GarifunaRobics says. “Sometimes I would travel by myself.”
Even after his late cousin stopped attending, Guity Martinez remained enrolled as he was extremely passionate about dance and eager to learn about the connection between movement, song and history among the Garinagu. A few years later, he joined Chief Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company, where he’s been for the last 10 years.
He refers to dance as his “calling,” even describing a spiritual connection to the drums. “Those drums, and the singing, and the harmony, and the connection between the singing, the drumming and dance – that is my fuel,” he says. “That is what keeps me whole. That is what keeps me sane.”
In alignment with Guity Martinez’s purpose, in April 2018, he founded GarifunaRobics – “a mixture of fitness and culture,” as he phrases it. Attendees participate in key Garifuna rhythms and dance styles such as punta, parranda, gunchey, hungu hungu and wanaragua, which is commonly known as mascaro or Yan Canu/John Canoe/Jonkonnu. Roughly 65% of the class is comprised of punta, followed by the cardio-centered wanaragua and, lastly, gunchey, a more relaxed dance form that he introduces during the cool down.
Guity Martinez spoke with Remezcla on being the first to create this unique, cultural fitness class, how he started GarifunaRobics and why he hopes to inspire other Garinagu through his work.
GarifunaRobics is in a lane of its own. It didn’t exist prior to you creating it. What is GarifunaRobics, and what is the inspiration behind it?
GarifunaRobics is a mixture of fitness and culture. The reason why I created GarifunaRobics is because we needed something. We needed something that we [as Garinagu] can somewhat relate to, that can benefit us, for today and tomorrow. And I’ve always thought about how vibrant Garifuna music is and how everyone is moved by our music.
And I’ve always thought about how vibrant Garifuna music is and how everyone is moved by our music.
When I created GarifunaRobics, I thought about really maximizing on that, so that you can be in a better shape, healthwise.
GarifunaRobics is promoting fitness, wellness and culture. Bringing the Garifuna culture in a positive aspect.
What in our community have you seen that you’ve felt fitness is something that’s really important for us to focus upon, but in a way that comes naturally to us as well?
People dancing punta; seeing people dance punta when I go to all of these parties. When the percussion comes out, everybody comes and jumps in and they dance for a minute. So what goes through my head is, “OK, if you can dance [this for a minute], you can dance this for an hour long. You’ll be in a much better shape than you are and, fitnesswise, healthwise, you will be in a much better predicament [than] you are.”
To stay healthy. To relieve stress as well. For me, this is a stress reliever. I feel like when I’m dancing, especially to the Garifuna music, I’m releasing a lot of stress.
Who is the intended audience for GarifunaRobics?
It’s not just for our people but also for people outside of the community. A lot of the support that I’m getting is from people who aren’t even Garifuna who’ve seen my videos, who’ve seen what I’ve been doing, and they’re just like, “Oh my God, I never heard of this before, and I decided to join.”
Last week, I had a class in Brooklyn and one of the people who went, one of the ladies that went, she’s Caucasian from Pennsylvania. She grew up on a farm. So, I was like, “If I was able to captivate her and she has no idea what Garifuna even is, and get her to join,” I’m like, “Yes, this is exactly what GarifunaRobics’ mission statement is.”
The percussion and drums – and everything – is just all universal. I feel like music connects everyone and anyone. The power of music is what gets everyone to come together.
Through GarifunaRobics, how do you hope to inspire other Garinagu?
I hope to inspire them by letting them know that it’s OK to stand out. It’s OK for you to do something for you, that you like to do. I did GarifunaRobics because I genuinely love the Garifuna culture, and I represent it proudly.
A lot of people think that our culture is just a hobby, and I’m here to prove that it’s not. If you’re talented and gifted in something, use your gifts.