"Folkloristas" - Cultural Warriors
The Texas Story Project.
Ballet Folklórico Mexicano, or Mexican Folkloric Dance, is a style of dance that encompasses the diverse, traditional dances from the beautiful country of Mexico. Dances from the different states and regions all tell unique stories along with some hidden history through the music, footwork, dresses, hairstyles, shoes, jewelry, and connection between dancers. Each Mexican state differs in these aspects yet all are connected through a passion for culture and the drive to preserve their deeply rooted traditions.
Mexican Folkloric Dance is not only prevalent in Mexico where it originated but in the United States as well. San Antonio is a city with a large Latino population, which translates effortlessly to a vibrant Mexican American cultural blend throughout the city. Without the tireless efforts of people who dedicate their lives to preserving arts and culture in San Antonio, it would not be possible for it to continue and thrive as it has for many years.
One of the historical institutions that serves as a hub for artists in all forms such as the visual arts, music, theater, and dance is the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. The center is located on the west side of San Antonio and is known for its preservation of the beautiful Latino and South Texas blended culture within the city. Jeannette Chavez, the Dance Program Director, is one of the staff members at The Guadalupe who has selflessly given of her time and energy to pass on and preserve her culture through dance.
Filled with a love for dance at a very early age, Chavez began dance classes at San Antonio City Parks and Recreation at the age of three. She took classes in ballet, tap, jazz, and more throughout her early childhood and continued in her passion for the arts throughout her teen years as well. While studying and performing with City Parks and Recreation through her early youth, she was eventually introduced to the art of Spanish Flamenco and Mexican Folklorico Dance. Although she took classes in both, her focus was not in Mexican Folklorico at the time. Yet her drive to be in class and soak in as much information as possible led her to attend all classes possible.
Time went on and change was in the air for Chavez although she did not know it at the time. She was in search for a new dance studio and knew of childhood friends who were then at The Guadalupe. In the summer of 1991, she found herself in an audition for an up and coming Mexican Folklorico dance company that was being created by the City of San Antonio, Instituto de Mexico, and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Chavez says, "I didn't have Folklorico training — any real Folklorico training — and I always laugh because my audition was a rehearsal with the [professional] dance company." She says that she remembers doing difficult footwork combinations in a circle for warm up, and in reminiscing on the story, laughs, saying, "I remember going around in the circle thinking, 'What am I doing here?'" At the end of the audition she found out from the director that she had made it. This was the start of a journey like no other for Chavez. She recounts, "It was amazing. It was like this whole new world opened up for me."
As a new member of the dance company, Chavez also began teaching classes of her own throughout the San Antonio community around the age of sixteen years. Belinda Menchaca, the Dance Company Director at the time, would send Chavez to teach in local schools doing after-school programs. Throughout her years of teaching dance, Chavez has taught classes to youth at The Guadalupe for their Dance Academy Program as well as at Palo Alto College. She happily explains, "I am inspired by my students. Their drive and their hunger and those "ah-ha" moments of "I get it!" or "I see it!" or that passion that they have for our culture and for dance in general…I think that's my favorite part." When asked what makes the youth Dance Academy Program stand out, she explains, "What makes the Guadalupe Dance Program so unique is that it is deeply connected to our culture and that means our history, our ancestry, where we come from in Mexico. But it also means a lot for us today about what our identity is here and the importance of being those "cultural warriors" continuing to educate audiences, continuing to share that information." Her passion and love for dance and teaching radiates in her responses and in her impactful working with students over the years.
Chavez explains, that "while the Guadalupe Dance Company is totally based in Folklorico work, we also do some types of contemporary theatrical productions. [Shows bring a] whole other level of production quality and meaning to our community here in San Antonio specifically, but also to the Mexican American experience. While we do straight-up Folklorico productions that are traditional dances that we have not done anything contemporary to, there are other productions that we have. One is Rio Bravo. Maestro Rafael Zamarripa (from la Universidad de Colima, Mexico) was commissioned to create this entire production with the dance company. He actually came several times to work with the company but also to do research on our particular area. He really looked at doing a historical perspective of dance of this particular area of South Texas, the southern United States, and the Mexico border region. There are traditional dances in the production but kind of with that Mexican-American, South Texas "slant", like looking through that lens, which is awesome. It's very personal for us here and a beautiful production. It included actor Jesse Borrego, live musicians, and ends with Tejano dance on stage. You can't get any more Texas than that!"
Jeannette Chavez has been a dancer for thirty-nine years, and has devoted a great amount of time and energy to spread and preserve the beautiful art of Ballet Folklorico Mexicano as well as the Latino culture in San Antonio, Texas. She is the embodiment of the "cultural warriors" who she explains are needed to continue the culture and its story. It is because of devoted, passionate people like her that the arts and culture thrive and are not forgotten. She concluded by stating, “Dance is beautiful, dance is amazing, and I love all styles of dance. But the important thing for us is to really impart that connection to culture and how important it is to who we are, and knowing where we came from, to know where we're going.”
Allie is a freshman Communications Major at St. Mary's University. She has lived in San Antonio her entire life and is deeply connected to her city through community involvement and a passion for the vibrant culture that is rooted within the city. She has been a dancer for fifteen years, and a "Folklorista" for twelve.
Posted March 29, 2018