TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Picture a woman with a smile on her face, twirling her multicolored skirt round and round, feet moving quickly to the music.
Imagine a man in a three-piece suit and a sombrero , dancing circles around the senorita while clicking his boots on the hardwood floor. Hear the mariachi band playing music behind the dancers on stage. This is a unique example of ballet folklórico, a broadly used term to describe all forms of Mexican folk dancing.
Ballet folklórico is almost always accompanied by traditional Mexican mariachis. Mariachi is a term used to describe a band of five or more musicians who wear the traditional costume of a “charro,” or Mexican cowboy, not the music itself. A mariachi band consists of horns, violins, vihuelas, guitarrónes, regular guitars, harps, and some guitar variants. Other styles of music that accompany ballet folklórico include polka and Tejano.
Usually, male dancers wear black slacks; a black, sombrero and a red belt and tie. Women traditionally wear full, colorful skirts with either black or white boots. The costumes hint at the heritage of the regions from where they came.
For example, both German and ranch heritages in Nuevo Leon dress in the cowboy hats, boots and fringe of the male costumes. In Veracruz, with its Spanish, African and Caribbean influences, costumes are generally white with red sashes and straw hats. In the state of Jalisco, the birthplace of mariachi music, male dancers wear sombreros and charro clothing while the women weave brightly-colored ribbons in their skirts, reminiscent of the local indigenous cultures. In Michoacan, dancers traditionally wear masks and use canes to perform the Baile de los Viejitos, or Dance of the Old Men, a dance that mocks the Spanish ruling class.
Ballet folklórico combines elements of Mexican culture, history, folklore, and religion with rhythm and body movement. Dance themes vary from region to region and state to state. Some dances portray Mexico’s complicated history, explaining events such as the Mexican Revolution. Other ballet folklórico dances focus on key religious events, such as when Juan Diego had a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe in December of 1531. Still other Mexican folk dances focus on the culture and folklore surrounding holidays such as the Day of the Dead and Cinco de Mayo. With Mexican history and culture being the main focus of the ballet folklórico dance themes, modern forms of Mexican folk dancing essentially remain traditional.
With the purpose of promoting Mexican culture and folklore in the United States of America, the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno was founded in 1967 by its current General Director Carlos Moreno-Samaniego in the city of Livermore, Calif.
In a short three-year span the BFM earned modest fame and recognition throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, receiving requests from school districts, cities and counties to perform at official functions and events. Increased demands for performances, outside of Livermore prompted the Director to relocate to the City of Hayward, Calif.
However, the company would have to once more relocate, this final time to the City of Oakland, where the company secured its own studio space and makes its current home.
Drawing on the artistic variety of Mexico’s different regions, the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano has a dance repertory of 120 pieces.
Many of these are presented in their traditional form while others have been restaged to include artistic elements from more contemporary choreography. In this way, the indigenous rhythms of Tarascan Indian dances from central Mexico stand in sharp contrast to the Spanish military and courtship dances from that region. Similarly the African influences that characterize dances from the Gulf of Mexico are juxtaposed by Mexican polkas that mark the influence of eastern European from the north.
Since its founding, the BFM has educated and provided performing opportunities to many young people. The BFM has worked toward developing a comprehensive artistic program that fully supports and individual’s artistic capabilities, in addition to promoting Mexican culture and history through dance and music.
As one of the longest operating live Mexican dance companies in the United States, the BFM has a reputation for excellence and has also been called an ambassador of Mexican culture in the United States.
Arts for the Schools is proud to present BFM at North Tahoe High School Theater, 2945 Polaris Road, Tahoe City on April 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at www.artsfortheschools.org or call 530-582-8278.
Experience this amazing dance company and celebrate the Mexican culture through traditional dance and music.
Learn more at www.balletfolkloricomexicano.org.
Bethany Lund is a member of Arts for the Schools.