Sunnyside folklorico students get ready to dance in new studio
Folklorico students at Sunnyside High School will soon move into a new space dedicated to learning those traditional Mexican dances.
Until six months ago, students and teachers who took part in the baile folklorico program had to get creative about where they would rehearse. For 14 years, classes usually took place in the school's auditorium, which they'd have to leave if there was an assembly or special event. About 100 students are taking folklorico classes at Sunnyside High.
Matthew Taylor, a member of the Governing Board for Sunnyside Unified School District, said he asked folklorico director Jose Luis Baca what was on his wishlist.
"I wanted to do something for the program," Taylor said. "This program pretty much saved my life, so when I asked him what he wanted, he said he really wanted a space for his students to dance in. And I said, 'we were going to find a way to make it happen.'"
Baile folklorico is a family of dance that represents different regions in Mexico. The distinctions do not stop in the dance's technique but also in the traje — the costuming — and the music. Veracruz, for example, is a state along the eastern coast of Mexico. Therefore, the technique incorporates flamenco steps due to a heavy Spanish influence. Because of the warmer, tropical climate, the traje for Veracruz is traditionally white and made out of light and airy fabrics such as lace. The flamenco influence isn't where the Spanish traces end. Women wear traje that resembles flamenco dresses, with their hair in buns accessorized with combs. Men usually wear white guayabera shirt and pant sets.
Jalisco, which Taylor said is one of the most well-known styles, is characterized by men wearing the large sombreros and charro suits while women wear a ranchero-style dresses trimmed with ribbons originating from their indigenous roots. Their trajes are bright and colorful. There are also Guerrero, Nuevo Leon, Puebla and Yucatan styles, among others.
Baca said folklorico serves as a way for students to connect with their culture and it is also a medium for students who aren't of Mexican descent to learn about that culture.
Folklorico plays an important role for the students. For many of them, life is tough. Taylor, who was in the foster care system, said he was saved by folklorico at Sunnyside High. Baca, who dedicates his life to working with students in similar circumstances to Taylor, said folklorico is a way to get them to school. It motivates them to go to class and "make an effort."
"Some of our cultures are slowly dying, and this is a way for them to take this with them and teach the young people after them," Baca said.
During the 14 years folklorico classes were held in the auditorium, they were regularly interrupted. Baca said Taylor saw how the students were being affected by being told to leave the auditorium in the middle of rehearsal.
"I wanted a dance studio for my kids," Baca said. "And they're getting one. It's even getting the kind of flooring used in 'Dancing with the Stars.'"
The new studio, which is costing about $33,000, will be ready for the beginning of the school year.
"The studio used to be 2 separate classrooms. All the was required was the removal of a wall, the flooring, paint, and mirrors," Taylor told the Sentinel.
The main cost for the renovation was the dance flooring, at about $25,000, Taylor said. Mirrors for the walls cost about $4,000, and the remodeling work was "done in-house," he said, with labor costing about $4,000.
Bianca Morales is TucsonSentinel.com’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.