Sunday, April 14, 2013

Commitment Failures & Uncertainty - Week 15

Welcome India!  Thank you for checking in on the Big Wedo!  Glad to have you on board.  One Big Wedo had over 130 pageviews this week alone!  Guess the word is getting around.  This week I had a case of writer's block.  Usually, I am inspired the week before I begin to write the next week's post.  This week nothing was simmering in my spirit.  Week 16's post was however, so next week is all planned out already in my head.  Yes, I have lots of ideas for future posts, I listed many of those on week 9, but I don't write them until I feel inspired to do so.  They have to write themselves in a sense, I don't like to force or work too hard on them. 

In an effort to determine what I should address this week, I confided in Richard.  His suggestion pulled concepts from several different blog ideas I had already in mind.  So, I'm running with it in my own special way.  Ladies and and gentlemen, I present to you week 15's blog:  Commitment Failures & Uncertainty!


I believe, one big reason I have had so much opportunity in the world of folklorico dancing is because there is a shortage of male dancers overall.  I'll admit, it is bizarre for a wedo to dance Mexican folk dance, especially when it's not part of his specific culture.  Granted, The United States Of America is a sort of  'melting pot' of people and cultures.  Interestingly, Mexico is considered the other great American melting pot.  Now there's something we share in common.  But let's be real, there are differences still and characteristics that make us distinct from one another.  No, I'm not having a cultural identity crisis, as I've stated before.  And I'm not someone who is preying on a culture in hopes of fame or to capitalize upon it.  I'm not in this to exploit anything.  The doors have opened for me because I have stayed consistently committed and have proven myself thus far in the journey.
So what's going on in the folklorico world?  Why is there a shortage of dedicated dancers?  There are many, many, many folklorico groups out there - school groups, community center groups, church groups, family groups, social groups, performing groups, academy groups, dance companies, on and on it goes.  Every time you turn your head practically, it seems like another group has popped up on the scene.  Yet, in many instances, these groups are struggling both financially and/or with participation from consistent dedicated dancers.  Sadly, many of these groups are short lived and vanish just as quickly as they appeared.   Typically, from what I've seen, there is an abundance of women dancers and only a couple of men in most groups.  Why is that? 

There are a number of big name mainstream folklorico groups out there.  They have survived the test of time.  "Survival of the fittest" is what some may argue.  They have an established reputation and are popular, respected and revered which has given them power and influence.  Serious dancers seek them out.  Some groups have  waiting lists of people that want to join.  Some groups require auditions.  This makes me wonder, what is it about these groups that causes serious dancers to seek them out so diligently?  What's missing in the other groups?  Is it the name? Perhaps.  But I think there is something deeper going on here. 


In the USA, mainstream folklorico dancing is looked at as a form of entertainment these days.  Perhaps in some internal cultural settings and/or cultural art presentations, it is more about tradition and heritage.  But for current society in general, I think it gets lumped into the category of entertainment even though aspects of the culture are built into it.  So for the most part, folklorico dancers are in the entertainment business.  So many of the groups out there are utilized for entertainment purposes at parties and celebrations.  But what about those individuals that do not want to be in the entertainment business?  Well, there are groups out there for them too.  The key to everyone's folklorico success and enjoyment is finding the right group for themselves.  There is a perfect fit for everyone who wants to dance.
From my observation, most accomplished and skilled folk dancers are indeed entertainers with a huge desire to perform on the stage.  They are highly driven people.  Although some are devoted solely to the art of folk dancing and keeping it alive, many are motivated by money.  In the USA, there is an obsession with "getting paid."  Some dancers feel that they have paid their dues and have reached a level where they are entitled to financial compensation.  Especially those who have endured.  They want to be compensated for their longevity in the business.  Very much the American way.  Therefore many of the larger performing groups and companies cater to these individuals.  "Show me the money!" 

On the flip side, there are those groups that are more for extra curricular activity and participation.  They tend to attract those who dabble, dilettantes, in folklorico dance.  These are often beginners or people who are dancing as a hobby or for exercise.  These can be great places to establish the basics.  However, they can be places that also develop bad habits as well.   Even some of the large name groups are very basic in their teaching.  They are impressive because they fill the stage to capacity with dancers, yet the footwork is basic and the entire dance is the same steps repeatedly and overall they lack variety and complexity.  

A common theme I see in today's society is parenting skills have changed.  Many people do not encourage their children and help them in their success.  Where is the tough love?  Many of the exceptionally great dancers are the products of parents supporting their children through drive.  Many were products of tough love and although they may not have appreciated it at the time, they realize afterwards, in their time of achieving skillful mastery of the dance, that it was their parent's tough love that caused them to succeed.  These days it's all about feelings and participation.  Everyone's a winner.  No discipline needed.  Personally, I feel it has led to a lazy and blase attitude in America's children and youth.  Whatever is ok.  "It is what it is."  No, it is what you make it or allow it to be!  Parents have a responsibility to instill in their children a sense of motivation, drive and accomplishment.  Otherwise their children risk never becoming much in life and growing up never reaching their full potential.  Obviously there is a right way of going about it, I am not encouraging child abuse or harm to children.  Please don't read that into it.   
One aspect of show business is the obsession with youthfulness.  Folklorico is no different.  Many groups and companies seek the youth of America.  Why?  They are vibrant, alive and full of energy and they visually portray an image that the culture seeks to advertise.  That image being vibrant, alive, full of energy and youthful.  Many paying employers want that image of the culture portrayed in their businesses as well.  So this leads to the idea or mentality that folklorico is for the young only.  I believe this is why so many give it up early on in life.  I hear people say all the time to me, "Yeah I danced folklorico when I was a kid."  I always ask them, "Well why not now?"  There response, "I'm too old."  The reality is they are only in their 30's!

Current society has also created many additional expenditures to dance groups.  Many studios require insurance now due to the sue happy society.  Everyone has to watch their back these days.  The costs add up and it's no wonder that many folklorico groups remain small and practice in backyards or garages to avoid the overhead of running a group.  In addition, there is an added challenge for obtaining financial donations.  Everyone is looking for a tax deduction.  Who can blame them?  People are taxed to death and every little write off helps.  The trend I see is that people will not donate money unless they get to take it off their taxes.  Therefore, groups are burdened with establishing themselves as non-profit businesses. 


One common type of dancer in the folklorico world I have seen is what I call "drifters."  These are people that have established themselves as good technical dancers.  They tend to jump from one group to another group, then to another group, then yet another group in a drifting kind of pattern.  Or they may overly commit themselves and join several different groups all at once.  They are good dancers so they are in demand and are often asked to fill in or help out.  There is nothing wrong with that if the dancer possesses the professional qualities that keep them on top of their game.  However, many good dancers get caught up in a whirlwind of excitement and potential leading to mediocrity.  They never truly master any one group's material and may be considered as unstable and unreliable.  Oftentimes, drifters go wherever there is money to be made and/or dues are waived.  Good dancers get recycled in a sense, used over and over in many different groups.  It is strange to see the same people in multiple groups, dancing under a different group name each time they perform.   

Just as there are potential disadvantages, there are some advantages to drifting.  For those who enjoy dancing a lot, well they get to dance a lot.  Individuals may learn many new techniques and styles and become flexible and grow as a dancer.  These dancers help build alliances between groups and empower a folklorico community atmosphere.  However, they can be a frustration to directors because if they do not retain the material at the time a group needs them to perform it, they may end up as no good use.  This kind of person may be labelled as more self seeking than loyal.  However, in fairness to this type of individual, I will say that one group may not be able to fulfill all of their personal forklorico career goals depending on what their goals are. 
I too have done some drifting.  Early on in my dance experience I participated in a couple groups.  My loyalty has always been to Herencia Mexicana.  However, in the early days I wanted to learn as much as I could and so in the effort to become a better dancer for Herencia, I participated in other groups and workshops.  Then, I realized that although it was helpful in many ways, it also was somewhat harmful and I had to make a choice and set a boundary as to what I was going to allow myself to get involved in.  I had learned one version of Jarabe Tapitio in one group and another in Herencia and the two different versions caused me to get jumbled up at times.  Perhaps it's my ADD.  But I see the same thing happening with other dancers as well. 

So I made a choice.  Now I only dance regions or songs that Herencia does not teach or perform when I dance with other groups.  This way there is no confusion.  Please don't misunderstand me, for those who can handle it, by all means dance your heart out.  But for others, its not a good thing necessarily.  Workshops are good alternative if your looking to build technique and gain exposure to various styles and regions.  These are often short term commitments to help you grow and may be a better option than joining several dance troupes.


As I have mentioned before, I am in college studying theology and Biblical studies.  One thing I learned in Church History is all about splits.  No, not the splits of the legs sort.  I am talking about churches that split over schisms and rifts.  The folklorico world is not different.  It has its share of drama!  Just as there are many denominations in the church, there are many schools of thought in the folklorico world.  In a future post we will explore modern folklorico dancing and some of the different schools of thought out there.  On a side note, membership and demand often are used a qualifiers to legitimize a particular group and their worth to the art.  Therefore, this allows them to have more control over the rules and influence.  It's funny to me how some groups and directors are acknowledged and credited over others.  Why are so many styles discredited?  I think that some of these groups are so well established that they have firmly secured their place and when they're vocal, people listen.
Back to the splits.  How many successful and great folklorico groups have been ruined and compromised by member leaving?  I think there are many.  Why?  Ego may have something to do with it.  Sometimes it's a disagreement between members and an offended party leaves.  Boredom is another reason.  Control is another.  Some dancers decide they want to start their own group.  The reasons are many.  What results from all of this is multiple groups stemming from one original core group.  Which is good for the survival and spread of folklorico dancing.  But the downside to it is that there are multiple groups, often fighting for survival, that are all doing the same material.  There is lack of variety.  I know of several such instances in the LA area.  So many groups all doing the same thing locally.  Had everyone stuck with it in the original group, there would be one strong group still.  It makes sense to me when there are different chapters of a group like one chapter in Mexico and another chapter in Los Angeles.  The distance between them make sense, otherwise you get a lot of copies.  When I studied music my teacher use to always say, "Don't be a copy.  Be an original!"


Another category of people who dance are those I call the "in-betweeners".  These people are often too advanced for community groups, but not ready for the pros.  They have a lot of potential if they commit.

"Wishy Washers" are people who have all kinds of good intentions, but never follow through.  There's a famous quote that states, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." These folks fail to fully commit.  They will emphatically talk about how dancing is there passion and true love, but at the end of they day it's all talk.  All words, no action.  They come to the occasional practice whenever it fits into their social schedule.  They never consider building their schedule around the dancing.  Every little thing tends to end up more of a priority than the dance group.  Many only want to perform.  They are quick to show up to a performance but look foolish on the stage when they really don't know the material.  Ultimately they end up wasting a lot of the group's time and efforts.   


What's up with the men?  Where are all the men at?  The world of folklorico needs more men to dance.  Just like the Army we are "looking for a few good men!"  I get the impression that although many men appreciate the dancing, they just don't feel it's for them.  Let someone else do it.  More so than women, men are quick to offer their services for shows, but don't want to practice.  They have better things to do with their time apparently.  Men are all about machismo.  I get the feeling that some men feel that dancing compromises their manhood and may make them appear weak.  The attitude of "dancing is for women."  Yet, go to any club out there and you see men dancing with their women all over.  Is it the costumes?  What's the deal?  One man told me he felt this was because of the "art" factor.  Folklorico is an art form now instead of just another form of social dancing.  This discourages men from participating.  Men do not want to be "artsy".


Winston Churchill said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."  I encourage directors to keep going and don't allow people's failed good intentions stop you!  The abundance of inconsistencies and turnover in a group can be a nightmare for directors when it comes to planning shows and so on.  It makes it difficult to manage a group.  Truth is, both directors and dancers are both responsible for a group's survival.  In some struggling groups I have seen directors out of desperation become overly accommodating to individuals in hopes of keeping them on board.  Likewise, I have seen directors make significant changes over one or two individuals in hopes of potential membership.  Director's can be too tolerant of irresponsible behavior.

Of course, all groups have a natural attrition rate.  People have major life changes that cause them to leave the group.  High school dancing students graduate and go off to college.  People get married.  There's a whole list of good reasons why people quit.  But many people drop out because they don't possess a genuine desire to dance.  They just don't want to prioritize their lives, dedicate themselves, sustain responsibility and manage their time and so on.  Folklorico dancers need to be held accountable if there is going to be a team atmosphere in a group.  When half-hearted people join a group, it brings the whole group down and discourages people, often resulting in a plummeting snowball effect in members leaving and/or dropping out. 

I believe that the major reason that so many talented and skilled individuals seek out mainstream hard core groups is because they are tired of people that are not fully into it.  Famous groups tend to be very strict on their policies and rules which attracts serious people.  Sometimes the more skilled and dedicated the person is they can develop a bit of an attitude, even come across as arrogant.  It doesn't make it right, but it does make it understandable why.

I believe dedication is the key to success.  It is the most important factor.  Dedication is more important than technique and experience.  A person has to make the choice to be dedicated.  If a person is dedicated they will inevitable develop the skill and technique.  Therefore, I would recommend to directors to build your groups around your most dedicated dancers.  Cater to them.  They are your greatest asset.  Your most dedicated dancers will become your best dancers and represent your group well, which will attract others to join. 


So your probably asking at this point, "Mike, where is this all going?"  First, let me just say that I am not trying to cast a shadow on folklorico dance groups or people.  I don't want to present a negative image; However, I feel that it is my responsibility in blogging to be honest and true to my experience and observations, regardless if they are good, bad or ugly.  I'm simply stating the facts and keeping it real.  All this is, is a wedo's take and analysis on the folklorico industry.  Perhaps my obsession with perfection is influencing me here too strongly.  Or perhaps people just need more commitment. 

Regardless of my opinion here, folklorico will continue on, just as it has for the past several hundreds of years.  I agree that folklorico groups should be fun and enjoyable for everyone.  And there valid reasons for people to miss practices and/or performances, even quit and/or leave. Bottom line is the level of your commitment to it will determine the level of your success and progress.  It also determines which group is right for you!  And for the sake of argument and fairness to everyone's viewpoint I will ask the question, When does folklorico dancing stop being folk dancing and become a perfected art form instead?  I would love to hear your thoughts on that!

That all being said, the market is changing out there.  People's expectations in the current society impact dance groups.  Groups are defining themselves more and more and distinguishing between being a program versus a dance company.  Many groups are establishing themselves as non-profit organizations.  With all this activity going on with people and dedication, Herencia Mexicana has had to rethink and reevaluate itself.  There have been multiple challenges to the group including significant fluctuation in membership.  Providing costumes and low dues just aren't cutting it anymore and haven't attracted the right people for a performing group.  So, change is needed.  What does that all entail?  What does that mean for the future?  Time will tell!  There is more to come and you'll have to stay tuned to find out!

To Be Continued..............

Wow!  I guess I got over my block!  I sure said a lot.   


This week I was asked if I realized that guero had two dots over the "u" in proper spelling and puncuation.  Yes, I do.  I just don't know how to get my computer to do it!  In college, I studied a lot of various languages in diction and phonetics classes.  In German, we called those two dots an umlaut.  I like to call them a "wedo umlaut", now if I could only get my keyboard to cooperate!  Other terms for this diacritic marking are diaeresis or trema.   And since were talking about punctuation and language, I read an interesting statistic on this week that ties into last weeks post on language.  According to this resource, "65% of Mexico's population is indigenous and a significant percentage do not speak Spanish."  Wow, the wedo isn't the only one after all!

This week I saw The Mission Play at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.  There was one scene that stood out to me that I thought was a nice display of various folk dances from different cultures.  In the second act, there was a wedding reception.  At the reception, there was flamenco dancing from Spain, tribal dancing from American Indians and Chinese folk dancing.  It was neat to see all three in a production together like that.

Lastly, this week I was in Los Angeles and passed by the mariachi gazebo.  All I could think about was movie, movie, movie!  That's all for now, wedo out!

Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail:
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana

Duarte Studio Practices:
Herencia Mexicana practices on Saturdays from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Please call before coming!

Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one! Herencia Mexicana practices in Duarte, California. Folklorico lessons and performances are both available.  Herencia Mexicana performs for private & public events of all kinds. Book your event today! Herencia Mexicana welcomes new students. No previous folklorico or dance experience required. All are welcome.

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