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Ballet Folklorico - High School Style
Article first published in Vol. 10, 1992.
By Veronica de la O
A generation or more ago, local Hispanics were not allowed to speak Spanish in schools or at work. To do so would bring a severe reprimand. It is no wonder that folk dancing was one of the few ways that the Hispanics culture could artistically express their heritage -- with music and dance.
Bowie Ballet Folklorico dancers are a role model group. Photo by Veronica de la O
With the new awareness of their freedom to be of Mexican heritage, today's generation of young people has a unique opportunity to discover their heritage. Thanks to a local folk dance legend Rosa Guerrero and her Ballet International, folk dancing in this area has been preserved for a younger generation of Mexican-Americans.
Until her retirement in 1989, Guerrero trained young dancers as well as adults and started a new trend in the performance of regional Mexican dancers, which has spread to area high schools--- Jefferson, Bowie, Canutillo and Socorro.
The Jefferson Ballet Folklorico, directed by Dietra Marie Anthony, is an auxiliary group of the Jefferson Dance Company. Students may earn credits in either physical education or fine arts. The dance company is a special class, which is also considered a club. The group consists of 20 members, four of whom are young men. With her degree in fine arts from the University of Utah and her background as a professional dancer, Anthony gets assistance from Monica Chavez, a dancer in the Paso del Norte folklorico dance group.
The Jefferson Ballet Folklorico was the opening act for the 1991 John Hancock Bowl Thanksgiving parade. The dancers wore traditional Mexican costumes but in American patriotic colors of red, white and blue. They chose these colors to welcome returning soldiers from the Gulf War.
Jefferson Ballet Folklorico leads off the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by Veronica de la O
They performed one of the most popular folk dances, the Jarabe Tapatío. This dance is a modernized rendition of older regional dances first danced in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico in the 20s. Another dance, which is part of the group's repertoire, is la negra, a song for a dark-skinned loved one. This dance is also from the Jalisco region.
Another dance group, but with a different purpose, is the Ballet Folklorico from Bowie High School. This group is not a part of the dance program at the school. Instead it is a special class, the Bowie High School Team Involvement Class. This group encourages students of area elementary schools to stay in school, to improve their grades and to respect their parents.
Jesus Arajo, the teacher in charge of this special class, chose the 22 students through registration. The students have to be honor students and must be able to motivate younger students. He wanted the elementary school students to have good role models who are responsible in school. This is the first time these students have danced folklorico. And although he is in charge of the folk dance group, Arajo does not teach the dances. An ex-student from Bowie, Margie Tarango, teaches the group. The group's costumes are made by the school's home economics program.
In their first year of operation, this Bowie group has been performing and teaching the folklorico dances to the elementary schools in the El Paso District. The dancers also performing at a UTEP basketball game and at the Anthony, New Mexico, Leap Year parade. They have learned to dance revolución (revolution), which is a combination of polkas and corridas (ballads) from the 1910 Mexican Revolution, and el jarabe.
The jarabe has nine lively songs during which the performers dance apart from each other, keeping the beat with rapid hell and toe steps. One of these songs, "The Dove," has the male dancer follow his female partner as she steps around his hat on the ground. She then stoops to pick up the hat from the ground while he swings his right leg over her head.
Another group, which dances the jarabe, is the folk dance group from Socorro High Scholl. In its second year, the dance class may be taken as an elective, for physical education or fine arts credit. The group has grown to 35 members, including six young men. They are under the able direction of Ana Moncada, Rosa Guerrero's daughter. Moncada teaches the dances to beginning and intermediate classes, and next year, she will teach an advanced class, She also helps to direct her mother's former dance company, the International Ballet Folklorico.
The Socorro Folklorico group has performed at the art show, El Paso's International Livestock Show and Rodeo as well as at the dance department recitals at the school. One of the dances they have mastered is el gavilán. This dance originated among the Hustecas of San Luis Potosí. Danny Lopez, who performs this solitary dance, imitates the actions of the gavilán (sparrow hawk). Lopez wears a mariachi-type suit with a large hat tied under his chin with a yellow ribbon. As the taps with his feet, he flaps the wing-like poncho in imitation of the bird's movements.
The Socorro group also has a club, which raises funds for the expensive costumes. The Jalisco-style dresses are made of over 23 years of material, with 21 yards of cloth in the skirt alone. They have also been fortunate to borrow outfits from Mrs. Guerrero until their costumes can be made by a local dressmaker.
The Socorro group was joined by another area high school ballet folklorico from Canutillo. The group was started three years ago by a former professional folklorico dancer, teacher Gilbert Montes.
Eighteen students from 15 to 18 years of age practice once a week in the school gym. They dance Jalisco regional dances with traditional charro costumes and the full-skirted, layered dresses. They either wear huarache sandals or dance barefooted like the working people of Mexico. In addition, they perform Veracruz-style dances and the jarabe tapatío (Mexican hat dance).
For the Veracruz dances the dancers wear the cooler clothing of the area. The young men wear white cotton trousers and shirts and a small Panama hat. The women wear long white dresses with a black apron. The girls also dance with fans in the tradition of the hot and humid climate.
Dances such as these typify the versatility and the diversity of the regional dance styles. It is one-way in which these young people become reacquainted with their own culture. All credit their experiences dancing as being a way to enhance their self-esteem and show their pride in being Mexican-American. Besides that, it's fun!