Every Thursday night Mariachi music from Jalisco, Marimba from Chiapas and harp music from the Vera Cruz states of Mexico are the soundtrack for two groups of dancers that make up the Sacred Heart Center Folkloric Dance Troupe in Richmond’s south side.
The dancers twirl in their solid, colorful full-length skirts and stomp rhythmically in their heels on the stage of a multipurpose room that prepares them for the numerous events they perform at around the Richmond region. Streamers of colorful Mexican paper cuts extend to the corners of the room from a light fixture in the old parochial school gymnasium with basketball hoops at either end. A group of boys, who also dance, chase after balls as rehearsal continues.
This Saturday, May 4, 2019, the Sacred Heart Center Folkloric Dance Troupe or Grupo Folklorico Sagrado Corazon will perform at the Canal Walk Stage at the Qué Pasa Festival at 3:00 PM.
The Grupo Folklorico creates a colorful and upbeat spectacle that draws in audiences. Learning the dances is also an education for the dancers who are mostly Richmond teens of Mexican descent.
“In Mexico each state has its own style of traditional dance including music and costuming,” Troupe director Tanya Gonzalez explains to the dancers as she leads them through the paces of dances.
During performances, Gonzalez explains the instruments and styles for the audiences as well. Gonzalez is the McAllen, Texas-born Executive Director of the Sacred Heart Center with an extensive background in non-profit management as well as Mexican folkloric dance and ballet. This troupe is in its sixth year and this is a second iteration. Gonzalez gives of her time to teach the next generation of dancers who are hungry to learn about their culture.
A SENSE OF IDENTITY
Twelve-year-old Midlothian Middle School student and dancer Luna Kidd, says her mother encouraged her to join the Folklorico dance troupe four years ago to absorb Mexican culture.
“It turned out to be enjoyable,” says Luna. “After you learn the dances you feel accomplished. It’s fun.”
The Mexican cultural performances are common in her mother’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas. But here, Luna’s activity is unique and through dance, her mother says, she has gained confidence.
“It’s important that she is involved in this troupe to keep the culture,” says Luna’s mother Olivia Limon Kidd who drives her daughter a half-an-hour from their home in Chesterfield every Thursday and sits in the back of the auditorium during rehearsals. “She didn’t feel like she belonged in school because she is half Mexican and half German and Irish from her father’s side. Here, she feels like she’s a part of the family. She loves it. It’s given her confidence.”
For Limon Kidd, being a part of the Folkloric troupe takes a proud stance against the anti-immigrant rhetoric that says that Mexican culture is seen as wrong.
“But America is a melting pot,” opines Limon Kidd after rehearsal. “Really, you should be who you are. It seems like we are going backwards, that’s not what America is about. She’s learning not to build those walls. That’s important. What Trump is teaching us is not. This generation is growing up with that message of: “Hey, you don’t belong.” That’s not what we should be teaching our kids. You need to learn to live with everyone.”
Eighteen-year-old dancer Carina Trinidad, says she feels better performing for diverse audiences so they can learn about her culture.
“I feel more empowered,” says Trinidad, who is a student at Freeman High School. “I feel like I represent so much of my culture. I also feel like I am an example to other teenagers. It feels good to put our culture out there. It’s something I feel proud about.”
From time to time Gonzalez says the dancers will talk about how they are feeling about what they are hearing or experiencing including bullying. For her, dance has been a thread that connects where she is from, right on the border of Texas and Mexico, and who she is, to the boys and girls she teaches.
“It’s an opportunity to see them grow up. That’s a gift,” says Gonzalez. “I get as much out of it as they do.”
But it is not easy, coming together after a long day of school and work. Gonzalez would like a better dance space with mirrors for her dancers to be able to see themselves better, although she says the small stage is just about the size of a lot of places where they perform.
Also on Gonzalez’s wish list is a budget for newer costumes to replace the ones her dancers wear out and outgrow.
On a recent Thursday night, a preschool age girl in a pink dress twirls around the practice room to the music as her father keeps an eye on her. Gonzalez knows there is demand for Mexican Folkloric dance classes for younger children as well as adults. She is considering adding an introduction to movement class without a focus on performance.
“A challenge is that it is hard work to maintain interest and discipline,” says Gonzalez who also teaches dances from the wider world of Spanish speaking cultures, including Sevillanas from Spain, Afro-Cuban movement, and folkloric dances from Panama. “I do it all for the love of dance.”