THE SAN DIEGO PARTICIPANT OBSERVER Participant Observation is the Process of Learning by Observing and Participating in Cultural Life
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5:00 PM Julius Caesar Shakespeare Reading Part 1
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Dance Traditions - Ballet Folklórico
Ballet Folklórico is a creative fusion of local, regional, historical, and indigenous Mexican dance traditions with contemporary dance choreography employing ballet and modern dance techniques.

(English • Spanish)
Ballet Folklórico is a performance tradition that is inspired by the regional folk dances of Mexico. Being a relatively new performance tradition, it is easy to trace the form's origin to the efforts of a single remarkable individual, Amalia Hernandez. Having the good fortune of having an upper-class Mexican politician for a father, Amalia was home-schooled (her father built her a dance studio) by a succession of prominent ballet, modern, and flamenco dancers and teachers. In 1952 Hernandez founded the dance company, Ballet Moderno Folklorico de Mexico (eventually omitting "Moderno"). Under Amalia the company went on to become the most famous of all Mexican dance companies. Although the staging, choreography, and dance techniques were fundamentally based on modern dance and ballet (pointed toes, turnouts and ballet-like postures), nearly all of Hernandez's works were inspired by local Mexican dance traditions and cultures.

As Mexican culture was influenced and molded by a variety of culture groups, including Spanish, Mestizo, Arabic, African, and even German, Ballet Folklorico dances are inspired by, but are not replications of, the music, movement, and unique costumes vestuario of many regions of Mexico. Although Hernandez has been occasionally criticized for "stereotyping" local traditions, throughout her lifetime she has passionately and deeply researched both local and pre-Cortesian dance traditions. As such, many local dance techniques (such as the complexly rhythmic and difficult to master indigenous zapateado heal-toe footwork) have been incorporated into Ballet Folklórico dance performances.

Again, the traditions that inspire and inform Ballet Folklórico are exceedingly diverse and sometimes surprising to the uninitiated. For example, in the 19th century, in what is now the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, there was a large influx of immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe. As such, Germanic and Slavic elements shine through in local dances which are often accompanied by polkas and waltzes. Women dancers also braid their hair with ribbons reminiscent of European styles.

In the Veracruz region of Mexico, the main influence on dance is Spanish. In Veracruz Jarocho dance, the rhythmic footwork and graceful skirt work of dances like El Cupido and El Fandango Jarocho reflect the influence of the indigenous, Spanish, and African cultures. The dance complements the instrumentation of the jarana (a small 8-string guitar), harp, and requinto (a higher-pitched short scale guitar). In Veracruz Tropical, dances like the Cha-Cha-Cha and Comparsa are vivacious and powerful.

In the western part of Jalisco, women dancers wear ranchero dresses with colorful ribbons, while men don big sombreros and the traditional Spanish charro suit that is decorated with silver studs. Jalisco is home of the famous Mexican Hat dance and is thought to be where Mariachi music originated.

Many indigenous forms also exist in the pantheon of Mexican dance and provide artistic inspiration for Ballet Folklórico. In the southern Michoacan region the famous El Baile de los Viejitos, or the Dance of the Old Men, is performed. In this dance, men wear embroidered white pants and shirts, ponchos, and huaraches sandals. Women’s shirts and aprons are embroidered as well, and they wear black head wraps and straw hats. El Baile de los Viejitos is based on pre-Colombian traditions, as the state is largely inhabited by indigenous people. The dance is usually performed in festivals such as El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.

Ballet Folklórico is a fusion of modern transcultural performance techniques and movement that is inspired by and incorporates more culturally and geographically specific performance traditions. As mentioned above, some of these "earlier traditions" that inform the Ballet Folklórico canon are themselves hybrid traditions that incorporate both local and international elements.

San Diego is fortunate to have the Ballet Folklorico en Aztlan dance company which was founded in 1967 by Herminia A. Enrique. Her daughter, Viviana Enrique Acosta, is Artistic Director of the "BFA." Through performances and educational outreach, the BFA is dedicated to preserving indigenous Mexican culture and cultural expressions such as dance. In keeping with the Ballet Folklórico movement, BFA pays homage to indigenous and local Mexican cultural forms by creatively incorporating indigenous aspects into contemporary dance choreography and theatricality.

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