Victorian tries to keep dancing tradition alive
Video: Ballet Folklorico Reunion dancing
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The stomping boots echoed off the wooden floor, beating out a rhythm to blend with the beat in the music.
Sweat was wiped away with handkerchiefs and the groans were overpowered by laughter as they danced - and remembered.
"My vision is to get all different generations in the same building and us just dance and celebrate the culture part, which is our heritage, and express it through Folklorico, which is dancing," said Michelle Vasquez, organizer of the Ballet Folklorico reunion.
Vasquez, who started in Ballet Folklorico, a Mexican dance tradition, when she was 5 and danced for companies in Houston and San Antonio, said she wants to see a revival in Victoria.
"The expression itself has died, so that is why I wanted to cultivate this - to make everyone aware that there are people out there still wanting to dance Folklorico ... and that it is still there; it just needs to be brought out," she said.
About 40 present and past dancers came to the event, but Vasquez said she wants to see the reunion - and the Ballet Folklorico tradition - continue to grow in Victoria.
Lupita Hernandez, a former director in Victoria, attended the reunion, hoping it would encourage more dance groups to sprout up in Victoria.
When she started her school, Ballet Folklorico de Victoria, in 1990, Hernandez said the art was booming, with about eight different groups represented.
In about 2005, however, she said many of the schools started to close, some for financial reasons. Her group shut down in 2008 after she and her husband, Lupe Hernandez, retired.
Now, there are two Ballet Folklorico groups in Victoria: one through Our Lady of Sorrows and the other through Victoria ISD.
"They don't have a choice ... If you have to be in high school to be able to be in a group or not everyone is Catholic or goes to church," Hernandez said.
She also said many kids' attitudes have changed toward the dance, and boys are embarrassed to join.
Lupe Zapata, who danced Ballet Folklorico at Memorial High School before he graduated in 2005, said boys in Folklorico were often teased.
"You have to be a really confident dancer to not let it bother you," Zapata said. "It is a lot less masculine ... comparing Ballet Folklorico to football, you know what I mean?"
Despite the stigma, he said he loved Ballet Folklorico and came to the reunion when he read about it on Facebook.
"For a lot of us, this is a stress reliever, to just dance. Not only does it unite us all because we all love doing it, but it takes us away from the normal, everyday crap that we have to deal with," Zapata said.
Boni Ramos, director of the Ballet Folklorico de San Antonio, said the decline in Victoria is natural and that schools go through cycles.
Her company, founded in 1965, has often struggled, she said.
"We have seen really good times, and we have seen really, really bad times. It just depends on how well you weather that storm," Ramos said.
One reason the schools have been struggling recently, she said, is the recession.
"It would be considered a luxury, just like any type of dance, because you have to pay the extra money for the classes, the costumes, the traveling. So the economy might have a lot to do with where they are in their cycle," Ramos said.
Still, she said, her professional group has performed with as few as three dancers. Currently, she has about 11 in the professional company, ages 18-63.
Vasquez, working toward her bachelor's degree in music and dance, wants to eventually teach Ballet Folklorico.
"I consider it a part of me; it is my culture," she said. "It is something I am really passionate about it, and it is what I am pursuing."