By Mary Valterria
RCC students express themselves through ballet folklorico, traditional Mexican dance
Sharing stories of Mexico’s ethnic traditions is a surefire way to preserve the country’s rich culture. Some stories are passed down through generations and some are told through songs. Exceptional storytellers, however, share their stories without using any words at all.
Riverside City College students Leticia Ledesma and Angel Lucero have chosen to express their stories through ballet folklorico, a modern interpretation of Mexican ethnic dances.
“I’ve been involved with folklorico dancing since I was in kindergarten,” Ledesma said. “(The dance is) simply beautiful.”
Both Ledesma and Lucero perform for Leyenda Ballet Folklorico, a dance company that teaches folklorico dance to children three years and older.
“Folklorico is a sort of national sport in Mexico,” Founder and Instructor Gabriela Pineault said. “Mexico’s dancers take their participation so serious and adopt folklorico forever.”
Pineault, whose home country is Mexico, is a former RCC student who received her Associate’s degree in Science and Arts before moving on to the dental field. She has been dancing since she was 12 years old.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Pineault began sharing her knowledge of the dance as an instructor with the Leyenda Ballet Folklorico dance company.
“I didn’t have any expectations other than sharing the culture, tradition and trying to infuse it with the same fine arts as the groups in Mexico did,” Pineault said.
Leyenda Ballet Folklorico began travelling internationally in 2009. The group has travelled to China, France and twice to Dubai. Most recently the dance company performed in Thailand.
“I love dancing and creating shows that tell stories through dance,” Pineault said. “I feel very motivated to travel with the group and share Mexican traditional dance with other audiences.”
Both performers and diverse audiences can appreciate what ballet folklorico has to offer.
Lucero, who joined the group 10 months ago, said he pursued ballet folklorico because he was intrigued by the dance.
“I really enjoy dancing,” he said. “I also hope to get more in touch with the culture.”
Lucero studies construction management at RCC and engaged in sports before joining the dance group.
Lucero compared sports and folklorico dancing by saying that although both are a fun way to exercise, the two are very different.
“The focus of sports is on teamwork and accomplishing a goal,” Lucero explained. “Dancing is more about performing and putting on a show as an individual … and the cardio is actually more intense.”
Ledesma, who is a Spanish and Criminal Justice major, joined the group in 2012.
Although Ledesma also has to juggle work, school and dance, she said joining the Leyenda Ballet Folklorico dance company was the best decision she’s ever made.
“With dance I distract my mind from everything else,” said Ledesma. “Dance is my therapy.”
Ledesma described her busy schedule during the week and said that performing with the group allows her to go out on the weekend to see new places.
“I’m just doing what I love most,” she said. “The craft and the technique of the dance is so unique.”
Pineault agreed with Ledesma by explaining that the group succeeds in coming up with fresh, unique material in their shows that are interactive with the audience.
“I really believe that a dance is just a dance but when you can weave a story into it, makes it memorable,” Pineault said.
Dances aren’t only memorable to members of the audience, but to the dancers as well.
“My most memorable performance was the show in Thailand because a lot of my family members came to see me,” Lucero said.
Ledesma said her most memorable performance was when the group went to Houston, Texas.
“We danced for over 5,000 people,” she said. “The whole experience was completely unforgettable … it was indescribable.”
Along with fond memories, however, comes hard work.
Lucero said that his dedication to the dance often results in sacrifices in other areas of his life.
“I work graveyard shift, go to school in the afternoon and practice once a week,” Lucero said. “If I have any essays or exams to study for, I’ll take the day off of work.”
Lucero also expressed that perfecting the dance can come with stern instruction.
Pineaults description of the instruction she received while in Mexico seemed to confirm Luceros experience with the unyielding learning process.
“I experienced ballet folklorico at its (strictest) level,” Pineault said. “Nothing I’ve ever seen surpassed those rehearsals.”
Pineault said the group would continue to work hard to create new shows with new, dramatic stories that will touch people’s hearts and help them to reminisce about Mexico’s traditions.
“(The dances) will bring emotion and warm memories,” she said.
The next performance scheduled for Leyenda Ballet Folklorico is a Dia de los Muertos show, in which all members of the group will participate. The show will feature two hours of dance stories related to Dia de los Muertos, which, in English, means Day of the Dead.
Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico which focuses on praying for and remembering friends and family members who have died. The prayer gatherings are said to help and support the deceased through their spiritual journey.
“There will be a spooky touch while featuring traditional Mexican dance styles from nine regions of Mexico,” Pineault said of the show.
Pineault, Ledesma and Lucero have all worked tirelessly to prepare for the Dia de los Muertos performance, which will take place Nov. 6 at the Leyenda Ballet Folklorico studio in downtown Riverside.