Ballet Folklorico Fuego de Phoenix students Bella and Sandi Hernandez practice their dance moves after taking a month off for summer break. (Photo by Anokina Touman)
By Anokina Touman
Within the past 10 years there has been a rise in ballet folklorico organizations and dancers in the Valley, according to dancers and teachers in the Phoenix area. There are many different folklorico organizations in Arizona, and each one has its own unique story as to what sets them apart from the rest.
All of the different regions in Mexico have their own style of folk dance as well as their own unique costumes. Ballet folklorico brings together the different cultures and music of Mexico and showcases the traditions of the people who make up each region.
Ballet Folklorico Fuego de Phoenix is a non-profit organization that was started by Alex Villalobos in 2014. The dance group performs at different events all over the Valley, including church events, Arizona Diamondbacks games and festival parades.
Prior to starting his own organization, Villalobos danced at another organization in Scottsdale. He had noticed that a lot of kids wanted to join a folklorico organization, but could not make the commute to Scottsdale for practice, so he created his own organization in Gilbert.
Villalobos, 23, is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in nonprofit leadership and management.
Instructor Kayla Ruiz said the one thing that sets them apart from the other folklorico organizations in the Valley is that the entire organization is led by students. “We want to show the kids that it is possible to be a part of an organization like this and go to school and work at the same time,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz is a 21-year-old student studying to be a teacher and her sister, Mary Ruiz, is a full-time student as well.
“We have five different sub-groups within the organization: company, varsity, juniors, freshman and tiny tots,” said Mary Ruiz, 22, who is also an instructor at Ballet Folklorico Fuego de Phoenix.
“I am currently in school to be a teacher so I like incorporating little (teaching) techniques into dance,” Ruiz said. “And I love teaching them.”
As a child growing up in the United States, Vanessa Ramirez was discouraged from being proud of her Mexican roots by her family.
“I didn’t have a clue where I came from. I knew we were from Mexico but I was ashamed of that as a kid,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez founded Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli-AZ in 2008 with six students. Today that number has risen to over 100 students including children and adults.
“I am very focused on education,” Ramirez said. “I make sure that my dancers understand and know what they are dancing, where it comes from, what it represents and truly get an understanding of the Mexican culture.”
The students at Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli-AZ are assigned homework each month as well as research projects to help them get an understanding of their Mexican culture. They are taught discipline, self-expression and confidence, preparing them for high school and college.
In Mexico, each region is different and is influenced by different cultures, whether it be African, German and/or Spanish. Having the different variances in one genre of dancing is what sets folklorico apart from other traditional dances around the world.
Throughout the span of her career in folklorico dancing, Ramirez said she has had many memorable moments.
“Performing in the Phoenix Christmas Mariachi Festival at U.S. Airways Center and the International Mariachi Festival in Las Vegas are my two memorable performances,” Ramirez said.
When her granddaughter wanted to learn about folklorico dancing, Kathi Soria looked for an organization near Peoria. However, there wasn’t one close; everything was too far away.
Soria had recently stopped working and had experience running a business, so in 2008 she started her own organization called Ballet Folklorico Esperanza in Avondale.
“I am not a dancer but I love the culture,” Soria said.
Ballet Folklorico Esperanza incorporates students’ families in all of its activities .
“We have a swim party during the summer and a Christmas party in December where Santa delivers gifts for the children,” Soria said. “We also travel to Disneyland every two years to take performing arts classes from Disney people.”
Its members are also very active in their communities.
“We have a community service project where we take all the students to the Goodyear Farms Historic Cemetery twice a year to clean up, teaching them the importance of giving back to the community,” Soria said.
Every Folklorico organization the PIN Bureau interviewed has its own unique way of doing things. However, they all want to teach younger generations about their culture so they can go on and teach the next generations.