Young Latinos Form ‘Fuerzas Culturales’, Cedar Rapids’ First Folk Ballet Group
Young dancers watch their teachers perform a series of dances July 13 during a traditional Folkloric dance rehearsal at the Northwest Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Dance teacher Nallely Sanchez performs July 13 for her students during a folk dance rehearsal at the Cedar Rapids Northwest Recreation Center. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Rodrigo Sanchez puts a hat back on his student Osvaldo Lagunas’ head after he fell during a Folklórico dance rehearsal July 13 at the Northwest Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Dance teacher Nallely Sanchez performs for her students July 13 during a Folklórico dance rehearsal Wednesday at the Northwest Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Instructor Cynthia Salgado teaches student Jessica Cedillo the proper hand movements during a Folklórico dance rehearsal July 13 at the Northwest Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Dancer Iveth Zapot-Sanchez performs one last dance with her troupe before the end of a Folklórico dance rehearsal July 13 at the Northwest Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Dancers Iveth Zapot-Sanchez (right), Keely Hernandez (center) and Itzel Villanueva practice moving their dresses to the beat during a Folklórico dance rehearsal July 13 at the Northwestern Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids . (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS – Donning black shirts and flowing cotton skirts, their hair pinned up in brightly colored traditional Mexican braids, a mostly female troupe slammed their dancing shoes on the wooden floors of the Northwest Recreation Center .
“Uno, back. Uno, back. Shelters, cerramos. Shelters, cerramos,” 21-year-old Nallely Sanchez asked them, motioning the young dance group to open and close their arms each time.
Their parents – mostly the mothers who had chosen their clothes and made their braids in shades of pink, blue, green and orange – gathered near the door to record their children’s dance practice.
Andrew Bribriesco, president of the local branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens, crouching down with a laptop in his hand, told a group on a Zoom call that the Ballet Folklórico troupe was training for its first performance public on September 18 at the Latino Festival at the McGrath Amphitheater.
“It’s a taste,” said Bribriesco, whose daughter, Paloma, is in the youngest dance group.
“Listos, huh? instructor Cynthia Salgado, 22, asked.
With this, the eldest dance group performed the folk dance el coyote from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, then two instructors – Sanchez and his brother, Rodrigo – danced “La Bamba” from Veracruz and four little girls performed el pajarito , a simplified folkloric dance.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday since June, these dancers come together for two hours to practice ballet folklórico, a choreographed traditional Mexican dance that reflects local culture with ballet characteristics such as pointy toes and exaggerated movements.
The “Fuerzas Culturales” group is Cedar Rapids’ first-ever folkloric group, marking a historic moment for the city and the local Latino community. It is made up of children with Mexican and Central American roots, who chose the name of the group to capture the strength they see in their cultures.
Sanchez, a Coe College senior who has been dancing since she was 7, said she started dancing when she lived in south Chicago with the neighborhood council’s first folk group Back of the Yards.
She met Salgado in Chicago in the summer of 2016 when they danced for an afterschool program and then dated Coe together, completely by chance.
At Sanchez’s first LULAC meeting last December, she said the organization’s leaders discussed low high school retention rates for young Latinos, as many drop out early and choose to work instead of pursuing an education. collegiate.
Sanchez said she grew up surrounded by Latin American resources in Chicago and was made aware of her Mexican heritage. She attended college on a full scholarship due to her experiences there. Seeing little programming for Latinos around Cedar Rapids, she pitched LULAC the idea of a dance group.
“I was like, ‘I want this for these kids too,’ because I grew up in disparity and I grew up in a lot of violence,” Sanchez said. “I saw it as an opportunity for other kids to grow.”
Having attended a predominantly white institution after growing up in minority neighborhoods, Salgado — from Chicago’s La Villita neighborhood — said there was a feeling the Latino community felt hidden away in Cedar Rapids.
“We both have a voice and the power of our voice is so strong that we’re not going to let it go unheard or go unused, especially for these kids,” Salgado said.
Monica Vallejo, vice-president of LULAC, played a key role in spreading the dance group mainly by word of mouth. He went from less than a dozen children to 17 in just a few months.
Vallejo said the group used to train at Delaney Park and now train at a garage two days a week and at the Northwest Recreation Center once a week. They are always looking for a bigger space to accommodate the growing group and accept more participants.
She also wants to raise $5,000 to keep classes open to all young people, regardless of socioeconomic status, and to cover the costs of outfits, shoes and more.
Email Monica Vallejo at [email protected] with inquiries
Asela Zapot, whose 10-year-old daughter Iveth is in the group, said she felt like she missed out on learning traditional dances when she was growing up. She is proud to see her daughter learning and sharing this part of their culture.
“I can’t wait for this day,” Zapot said, referring to the September 18 performance. “I think they are going to be so beautiful.”
One day, Sanchez said she hopes to see the dance group grow into a resource center that provides mental health, violence prevention and intervention, Medicaid, and legal resources to any Latino who comes. in Iowa and needs help overcoming barriers to essential services.
So far, for the first time, these 17 Latino children have a culturally appropriate program.
Pilar Ligunas Perez, 12, and Alicia Burgos Guzman, 11, both said they were proud to be part of the historic troupe.
“I like to be different from others, to have different things and different traditions,” said Ligunas Perez.
The dance “represents who we are,” Burgos Guzman said: “It’s going to be special since we’re the first band to do it.”
Sanchez said she was nervous for the big performance, fearing the kids would be shunned by “people who aren’t like them.” But the kids are ready to step into the spotlight and say, “We’re here,” teaching all kids that they have a voice as Latinos in the United States.
“It shows these little kids that they have a voice and are strong enough to teach younger generations and older generations that it’s okay to be different,” Sanchez said. “It’s okay to come from different backgrounds, because in the end, we merge and become one.”
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