By Macey Spensley, CultureALL
The halls of Bergman Academy swirled as a sea of flowy fabric and bold color. Mexican Folklorico dancers floated and spun amongst children, fanning out their long, wide skirts. The dancers had invited students to join them in their performance, sharing with them traditional Mexican dresses and headwear. The children danced with dramatic flair, lifting the hems of their skirts and stretching out their arms to let the folds of their dresses cascade and twirl around their bodies.
The Folklorico group, Sones de Mi Tierra, performed for Bergman Academy as part of the school’s annual El Festival, which celebrates Latin American arts and culture. The group’s singer, Lily Peralta, stood with a microphone in the corner as traditional Mexican folk music rang throughout the hall.
“¡Viva México!” she sang.
“¡Viva!” the children sang back in response.
Sones de Mi Tierra came to Bergman Academy to share how it feels to dance Folklorico. The children weren’t the only ones to experience the magic of this performance.
Alejandra, a custodian at Bergman Academy, walked up the stairs to find the source of the music and laughter. A smile crept across her face as she came upon the scene. By the time the performance finished and the students moved on to their next activity, tears streamed down her face. She hugged the dancers like they were long-lost cousins, even though this is the first time they had met.
“I visited family in California last week and we danced just like this,” Alejandra said. “I moved from Mexico to Iowa 23 years ago, and I just love to see my other home represented here.”
Sharing the Sounds of the Land
When Irma Escobedo Sandoval chose to start a Folklorico dance group six years ago, she was in search of more opportunities to share the rich texture of Mexican culture.
“We want to teach people about the beauty of Mexico,” Irma said through a translator. “We want to show the world that there aren’t only bad things happening there.”
Irma, along with group members Rosa Juarez, Irma Domingues, and Elsa Reyes, performs Folklorico, a traditional style of dance from Mexico, where each of the members were born. Folklorico style varies across the states and regions of Mexico but almost always includes bright, bold dresses, lively music, and a celebration of Mexican culture.
The beauty of Folklorico performance held the attention of the Bergman Academy students from the moment the first note played. Children traipsed around the hallway, smiling and giggling, watching the dancers closely and imitating each of their moves with youthful precision. The existing language barrier did not stop the students and the dancers from communicating – instead, they spoke through the rhythm.
The group’s name, Sones de Mi Tierra, translates to “Sounds of my Land.” The sounds — and traditions, clothing, and movements — of Mexico vary from state to state to create a rich, vibrant atmosphere of art and celebration.
Sones de Mi Tierra mirrors that vibrancy in both their performance and their origins. Each member is from a different region of Mexico: Irma D. is from Guadalajara, Rosa from Michoacan, Elsa from Oaxaca, and Lily and Irma E. from Zacatecas.
No matter the style of Folklorico, the dances utilize big, energetic movements and flamboyantly colored dresses. Dancers use their skirts to enchant the viewer, raising and twirling the fabric in sync with the music. They often purchase their dresses directly from Mexico.
“I have one from Jalisco that’s nearly 40 pounds,” said Escobedo.
Every element of the dancers’ costumes alters the experience of the performance, from the flowers in their headdresses to the soles of their shoes. In fact, Folklorico dance uses a special shoe with nails in the bottom to add sound effects.
“It can make it really slippery to dance on concrete,” Elsa explained. “We also have to be careful on certain floors. We don’t want to scratch them up.”
The Love of Culture Knows No Age
Escobedo pulled up a photo of her granddaughters on her phone. Two beautiful young girls, not any older than ten, stood next to her in bright, matching Folklorico dresses. They’d recently begun learning dance from their grandmother.
“I’m happiest when I’m dancing with them,” Escobedo said with a smile. “They’re wonderful at dancing. We love showing the younger generation more about their culture.”
Folklorico dancing is a favorite form of celebration across Mexico for all ages and genders. The dancing offers families a chance to connect across generations and enjoy the comfort of their heritage, just as Alejandra, the custodian from Bergman Academy, had done recently.
For Sones de Mi Tierra, performing not only gives them a chance to teach others about their cultural history, but also allows them an artistic outlet that gives them voice and agency.
“We may be a group of older women, but we’re really passionate about our dancing,” Escobedo said. “We want everyone to know that it’s never too late to begin something new.”
For the ladies of Sones de Mi Tierra, starting something new has given them a space of relaxation and peace. The dance group began as an opportunity to share their culture and has become a space of refuge.
“We’re looking for a safe place to practice, such as a court or a gym. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just somewhere comfortable,” Escobedo said. “We don’t want the group to end because we can’t find a practice space, especially with the changing weather in Iowa. Dancing is relaxing, especially when we’re feeling stressed or depressed. We can come together and celebrate the beauty of our culture and just have fun.”
Sones de Mi Tierra will be performing at the World Food and Music Festival on Saturday, August 26 at 12 pm at Western Gateway Park in Downtown Des Moines, IA.
CultureALL believes that sharing the cultural richness of our community with others will elevate our society and the quality of life for all.