Troupes share their Mexican culture through music, dance

May 17 2011 - 11:16pm

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(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Mareya Garcia, 9, performs La Guadalajara with the traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli at the Weber County Main Library in Ogden for Cinco de Mayo on May 5. Dance troupes such as this share their Mexican culture with the Top of Utah community.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Oscar Bello Jr., 5, gets a sombrero for his performance with the traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli for Cinco de Mayo on May 5.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) The traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli performs at the Weber County Main Library in Ogden for Cinco de Mayo on May 5.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) The traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli performs at the Weber County Main Library in Ogden for Cinco de Mayo on May 5.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Mareya Garcia, 9, performs La Guadalajara with the traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli at the Weber County Main Library in Ogden for Cinco de Mayo on May 5. Dance troupes such as this share their Mexican culture with the Top of Utah community.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Oscar Bello Jr., 5, gets a sombrero for his performance with the traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli for Cinco de Mayo on May 5.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) The traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli performs at the Weber County Main Library in Ogden for Cinco de Mayo on May 5.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) The traditional Mexican dance troupe Tutulli performs at the Weber County Main Library in Ogden for Cinco de Mayo on May 5.

OGDEN -- A group of dancers tremble across the stage, holding their backs with one hand while bracing themselves with canes. Masks help further the illusion of old age as the dancers perform "El Baile de Los Viejitos" -- the traditional Mexican dance of the old men.

Nearby, a young girl twirls the skirt of her bright yellow dress, waiting her turn to perform with the rest of her troupe from Grupo de Danza Folklorica Tutulli.

Tutulli, led by Ogden resident Irimelva N. Reyes, is one of several troupes across Utah that perform traditional dances known as ballet folklorico from the different regions of Mexico.

Through dance, the troupes share their culture with the community and also pass the culture to the next generation.

Reyes began teaching ballet folklorico in the Ogden area 10 years ago, using what she learned in Mexico from classes she took after she married.

"At first, I just liked it. I hear the music, and I just start dancing."

When she immigrated to the United States, she brought with her the shoes and costumes used in the dances. Those original dresses serve as patterns for new dresses, with a costume sometimes requiring eight to 10 hours of sewing.

Reyes and her dancers, both children and adults, do it all for free, simply to share and enjoy the dancing.

"If we do this, it is because we like to," Reyes said. "It is not because we want something out of it."

Ogden resident Jose Luis Pardo organized a troupe called Grupo de Danza Ambakiti, composed mostly of his children, nieces and nephews.

"Right now, they are the ones that keep it going," Pardo said. "They ask me, 'Where are we going to dance? When are we going to dance?' Their passion is dancing."

He takes pride in teaching the next generation the dances he learned from his father back in Michoacan, but he is also happy for the extra benefits that come from the classes.

By learning to dance, Pardo said, the children stay busy, which leaves less time to join gangs or sit around playing video games.

Dancing also provides a cultural lesson for the youths.

All of the dancers were born and raised in the United States, so they know little about their heritage, Pardo said. Ballet folklorico gives the children a connection to their roots.

"Many of the children are living a different culture," Pardo said. "They can learn the culture that they have from Mexico, since for whatever reason they have never actually been to Mexico."

Martin Marquez, director of Ballet Folklorico Citlali-Utah from Salt Lake City, said he also sees the dancing as a way for all people of Mexican descent to remember where they came from.

"A lot of times, they forget about their roots, their ancestors, their traditions," Marquez said. "They lose their culture, their language. They need to learn about their roots, to learn about those that came before them."

Monica Meza Rodriguez, an adviser with the Gear Up program, is using dance to connect youths to their schools.

Through the program, she advises minority students ages 12 to 15 until they graduate from high school, with hopes of getting them into college.

A problem she found is that most of the minority students had few, if any, extracurricular activities.

Many of the students in the program said they felt uncomfortable participating in traditional school activities because they either did not feel welcome or found the activities alien. The students feel out of place in sports, theater and band, feeling that they are reserved for white students only.

"They say, 'There is nothing for me,' " Meza Rodriguez said. " 'Well, what is for you?' I asked."

Meza Rodriguez found an interest in ballet folklorico and brought in Reyes to teach some of the students.

"The ballet has helped us out tremendously," Meza Rodriguez said. "They can appreciate where they came from and learn to not be embarrassed about where they are from."

She found that ballet folklorico also served as a gateway to more participation in other activities at school, which led to better grades.

The dancing also helps parents support participation in extracurricular activities. Parents learn to schedule time for their children and see how they benefit the student's future.

"Parents will say to me, 'I take my kid dancing,' " Meza Rodriguez said, "and I say, 'No, you are taking them to ballet folklorico, so hopefully they get a scholarship for college.' "

Along with passing traditions to the next generation, ballet folklorico gives dancers a chance to share their culture with non-Mexicans.

The dance troupes perform at various Latino events across the state, but they also dance at other events, as well as at nursing homes and schools.

Marquez said he is glad to show the positive side of Mexican culture.

"We can show that we aren't only delinquents, that there aren't only mafias. There is something beautiful to show as well."

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