Struggles for Culture

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Members of the UT Ballet Folklorico Club practice a traditional Jalisco dance, one of many different types of traditional Mexican culture the club attempts to bring to the UT Community.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

“La Madrugada” blares in the background, a symphony of trumpets and guitarróns, as the dancers take their places in front of the mirror. Hands on their hips, white shoes poised to stomp, they count out the beat as the familiar gritos begin. The UT Ballet Folklórico Club begins its practice with a full rehearsal of the traditional Jalisco dance. The organization strives to bring traditional Mexican folklóric dance to UT and better connect members with their Mexican roots.

This group of UT dancers creates and performs ballet folklórico around the University. Dressed in the familiar Mexican charro outfits and large, colorful skirts, the dancers create a distinct three-beat rhythm, paso de tres, with intricate footwork.

“Each region has a different costume, music, style. Different people live in different places,” Javier Ruiz, vice president of UT Ballet Folklórico, said. “Up north we have norte, and that type of music is a bit western. They wear the bolo ties and the hats. Most people would recognize the bright dresses of Jalisco.”

These easily identifiable outfits represent the vibrancy of the folklórico dance. Usually portraying a rendition of the “courting ritual,” the dances feature flirtatious interactions between men and women in traditional Mexican society. While many students recognize the iconic dress, few realize the cultural significance.

“This club is important on campus because of what it represents. We are a part of Mexican culture,” Ruiz said. “There are festivals and dances where this is very heavy. We need that representation here at UT.”

Dancing annually at Sábado Gigante, a Hispanic organization fair at UT, the club showcases a variety of dances, including the most recognizable Jalisco dance. This serves as the club’s main form of recruitment for potential members. Hispanic students looking to get in touch with their roots can find a tight-knit community in the ballet folklórico club.

“Though we have mostly Hispanic members, we are diverse because we all have different personalities and different majors,” Daniella Torres, RecSports representative and instructor, said. “Though we are the same in our heritage and our cultures, we are very diverse. We like different things, but UTBF connects us.”

Promoting ballet folklórico to an array of students, the club stresses that all people and ability-levels are welcome. Explaining the basic paso de tres, Torres takes the time to educate new members on the stomp, heel, stomp, stomp pattern. Torres’ agile movements seem fluid as she spins across the floor, leading the dance for newcomer Mariela Lopez. 

“I joined because I really like to dance, and I thought it would be great to experience something from my own culture,” Lopez said.

She had previously learned only pieces of dances from her family in Mexico. With experience levels ranging from three weeks to 14 years, the club strives to create a welcoming but challenging environment. New members immediately begin learning the tapping and twirling, while experienced dancers begin teaching their own dances.

“We treat new members the way we treat old members. We want them to feel welcome, not worried that they aren’t getting the steps done,” Torres said. “We all understand how a new member feels.”

With only 10-15 members, the organization hopes to add new members while maintaining a familial atmosphere. Rooted in a common cultural identity, members evolve together as dancers and as a community.

However, UT Ballet Folklórico has always been relatively small, and the organization faces low membership turnout and a lack of officer experience this fall. The club lost one of its most knowledgable members when its vice president graduated. Ruiz has taken over a large part of the coordination and organization, but the club struggles to attract and retain talent.

“Inexperienced officers have been trying to manage as best we can. Right now our officers are struggling to show up and teach the dances. Usually it’s the president and vice president,” Ruiz said. “We are trying to show up often, but Daniella is doing a really great job keeping us afloat while the other officers work behind the scenes.”

Despite the difficulties this semester has posed for the club, the officers continue to pursue opportunities for members to learn and perform. From the State Fair in Dallas to local performances at elementary schools, the club promotes ballet folklórico throughout Texas.

Printed on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 as: Ballet club swirls, spins for new members