Q&A with Tiombe Valone, 2017 Carnaval SF Queen
By Christine Joy Ferrer
I sat down a couple weeks ago to talk with Tiombe Valone, 2017 Carnaval San Francisco Queen, before she passes her crown to the next Carnaval Royalty this Saturday, April 21. We met at our favorite regular lunch tea spot in downtown San Francisco, Chai Bar. Tiombe is a self-described “crafty lady,” a wife, mama, dancer, and a San Francisco lab tech by day, who grew up just outside city limits in Daly City. But, she spent a lot of time with her grandparents who lived in San Francisco. Growing up, her dance background centered around tap and ballet at Star Dance Studio in San Francisco. Tiombe has been dancing Afro-Brazilian dance with Tania Santiago since 2008, the year she first saw Grupo Tania Santiago/Aguas Dance Company in the Carnaval SF Parade (**Tiombe, I so appreciate our regular "chai dates" at Chai Bar and every time we get to Afro-Brazilian those nights away in dance class. Love ya, boo. Always my queen! Can't wait to see you killin' it on stage this Saturday).
Carnaval San Francisco cultivates and celebrates the diverse Latin American and Caribbean roots of the Mission District and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Tell me about your experience as 2017 Carnaval San Francisco Queen, what are some highlights?
Tiombe Valone: My experience has been so amazing... everything from meeting new people in the community, to working with other dance groups and performing in different venues. I’ve just really grabbed hold of my title and used it to do more community outreach, show others that you don't have to do a specific style of dance to take part in Carnaval or wear a certain costume. You just gotta be you.
Can you tell me about a specific moment that really left you in awe during the competition last year? What was going through your mind?
Valone: I performed Afro-Brazilian dance and mixed in traditional folklore, samba reggae, Maculelê, with a little tribute to Yemanja, who is the goddess of the ocean, mother of all orishas in the Brazilian Candomblé religion and in various African cultures.
During the competition, I was doing the Yemanja movement and I felt as though I was watching myself, watch myself. I could barely hear the drums in that moment, just internal relaxation and quiet. I felt so much love from the audience for my presentation.
How many years did you compete in the Carnaval royal competition till you finally were crowned queen?
Valone: Three. The first time, I was first runner up and my partner Jefferson was crowned king. The second time, I didn't place. I went on stage unprepared. The movement wasn't me. The third time, I danced the way I felt comfortable… in a more gender fluid category, dancing with strong masculine movements. I just did me.
Many people assume that to compete in Carnaval you must do Rio style samba, is this true?
Valone: Heck no. You can do a tap dance and you'd win as long as you presented that tap dance with the spirit of carnaval. Most people know of Rio style samba, which is the symbol of Brazilian Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. But, in other parts of the world where carnaval is celebrated, each place has their own traditional dance styles. Even in Salvador, Bahia Brazil they have their own style of carnaval dancing. In 2010, I went to Bahia for carnaval and got to parade alongside three or four different local groups—no rhinestones, no feathers, thongs, or heels.
Why should folks participate in Carnaval? Or compete?
Valone: There are so many levels of participation, whether it’s dancing with a comparsa (or a contingent), handing out water, volunteering with Carnaval San Francisco. It’s a time to come together and celebrate the spirit of Carnaval. It’s also about honoring and supporting all the people who put in the work to make Carnaval happen by coming out, watching and appreciating. If you’re competing, it's not about winning or losing. It’s about presenting yourself as an artist and pushing your personal limits. And you have three minutes to do so. You’ll learn so much.
Tell me a little bit about the responsibilities of a Carnaval SF Queen…
Valone: You definitely must be willing to be an ambassador for the city. I made appearances at meet and greets, performed at a Giants game, a VIP party, danced in the parade itself, attended the awards ceremony, performed on Fat Tuesday and finally, I’ll be doing a farewell performance and handing off the crown.
I really enjoyed performing and educating people about Carnaval in San Francisco. One of my goals as queen was to help the comparsas with children get what they need to make their participation in Carnaval a successful one. I reached out to Feline Finesse Dance Company. They said they needed headpieces. So, I crafted about 14 headpieces for their 8 to 12-year-old students using various kinds of African fabric, peacock feathers, rhinestones and cowry shells with feathers around the top.
What does the Carnaval Spirit bring to San Francisco? How does it celebrate cultural awareness?
Valone: Carnaval is celebrated all around the world in many different cultures from Brazil to Haiti, Bolivia, Cuba and Guatemala, etc… It's a symbol that we were all one at one time, and also all one in the same. Carnaval celebrates cultural diversity through dance, music food, community and togetherness. Festivals like these are so necessary because we have an influx of people displacing communities and forgetting other cultural traditions. I am not Brazilian, but I have Brazilian pride when I do Afro-Brazilian dance.
If you move into the Mission or any neighborhood you’re not from, learn something about it. I encourage folks to go to Carnaval San Francisco and learn about it. Start by telling your friends and family about your experiences, and pay it forward, by advocating for cultural education.
Any last words before you pass on your crown?
Valone: To all the competitors, I understand the time, energy, blood sweat and tears, sleepless nights of costume making and procrastination that you have put into your three-minute presentation and I commend you. To the next winners, I hope you use this an opportunity to be an Carnaval ambassador. And learn, just as much as you help teach. Continue to raise awareness about Carnaval and the style you represent.
A tree’s branches, leaves, and fruit give it beauty, but its strength lies in what is not seen–its roots. The roots sustain the tree through changing weather and seasons, providing nourishment and grounding. Without strong roots, a tree topples in a storm and withers in a drought.
As Carnaval San Francisco enters its 40th year, we acknowledge our formidable roots. We pay homage to those who came before us and the efforts made to create this multicultural community that we have in the Bay Area. Many revelers from throughout the Bay Area grew up dancing in the parade and are now seeing their children and grandchildren do the same. The desire to keep Carnaval going runs deep because it affirms a joyous, community effort that is celebrated by all generations.
Since 1978, Carnaval has been more than a celebration, it has been a space to reconnect with our African, indigenous, as well as our mestizo roots. The stories, dances, and colors of our forefathers come to life in the parade and festival to celebrate our triumphs and struggles. Although our roots are spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, our cultures unite in our annual Carnaval tradition.
For forty years, we have had the privilege of building an event where music, art, and dance from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States convene in harmony. Although cultural appropriation and gentrification threaten the longevity of multicultural spaces in the Mission District, we have successfully kept our ancestors’ traditions alive and thriving in San Francisco.
Our roots are our ancestors–they keep us centered and protect us in times of trial and tribulation. Without them, Carnaval San Francisco would not have reached the current level of success in the beautiful and constantly evolving landscape that is our home. In the spirit of our ancestors, community artists, and organizers who paved the way for today’s culture-bearers, we dedicate our much anticipated 40th Anniversary to the Raíces del Carnaval, the Roots of Carnaval.
Saturday : April 21, 2018
Mission High School
3750 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
11 AM - Children & Youth Competition
6 PM - King, Queen, Royale, & Drag Competition
Come celebrate with us at the 40th annual Carnaval San Francisco! The 2018 Grand Parade will be held on May 27th at 9:30am. Watch a brilliant procession of contingents, most of which will feature beautifully adorned floats depicting rich multicultural themes and featuring performers who engage and entertain the crowds. The 2–day festival will be held May 26th and May 27th on Harrison Street between 16th and 24th Streets. Experience global cuisine, international music, dance, arts & crafts, and other fun activities and entertainment on every street corner for the entire family to enjoy. Visit, carnavalsanfrancisco.org.