Saturday, August 3, 2013

Modern Folklorico Dancing - Week 31

Modern Folklorico Dancing!:

Thank you for reading my blog!  Back on week 10 I wrote a post called "What Is Folk Dancing?", on week 13 I wrote a post called "Competition Movie Time" and on week 17 I wrote a post called "Ballet Vs. Danza".  If you are reading the blog for the first time, I would recommend going back and reading these three posts as there is a lot of foundational information in them which I hope to build upon in this week's post "Modern Folklorico Dancing!"  However, if you don't have the time to review, you'll still enjoy this week's read.

Folk dancing has existed for a long, long time.  It has become a popular art form in current society and is embraced in many settings as a form of viewing entertainment and cultural presentation.  From its humble beginnings, it has evolved, developing into a vast array of portrayals and expressions.  So what are the roots of the modern folklorico movement we see today?  Let's go exploring and find where the modern forms of Mexican folk dance stem. 

In the 1950s, lifelong resident of Mexico City, Amalia Hernandez (September 1,1917 - November 5, 2000), played a significant role in formalizing and popularizing the art form we call folklorico, or ballet folklorico.  Hernandez founded her group, Ballet Folklorico de Mexico in 1952 and established the first school completely dedicated to the art of ballet folklorico in 1968 in Mexico City called the Folkloric Ballet School. 

Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos was a fan of Amalia's group and endorsed it, allowing her to perform Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings at The Palace Of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Along with this notoriety and her television exposure, momentum rapidly picked up and caught the attention of the Mexican Department of Tourism, which assisted her launching the group on a national scale.  The dance company toured throughout the world, including a performance for U.S. President John F. Kennedy.  The company has gone on to perform over 15,000 times and reaching an overall audience of 22 million people.

The ensemble itself grew from its original 8 members to over 60.  Hernandez is credited with choreographing about 70 dances.  Her research, development and preservation of Mexican folk dances has been a primary foundation for many folklorico groups around the world.  There's not a folklorico dancer alive that isn't familiar with her work or her name.  She has left a defining mark on ballet folklorico and is responsible for its spread  around the globe.

Recently I have had the opportunity to learn some of Amalia's dances and I have enjoyed the opportunity.  I have also enjoyed watching videos of her group on YouTube.  If you haven't seen any yourself then you have been missing out! Click on the links below to see some of my favorites.  Very impressive.  I have learned so much from watching her group.  Her group is an inspiration to many aspiring folklorico dancers. 

Of course there always seems to be this balance in the Mexican culture and folklorico dance world. Why even in the dances themselves, typically what you do in one direction, you repeat in the other. Amelia's counterpart came along - another respected choreographer from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico named Rafael Zamarripa Castaneda (born February 8, 1942).  After initially refusing to join Amalia, he reconsidered after she convinced him it could help his art career as well.  He is talented painter, sculptor and designer in addition to dancing and choreographing.  This link to Amalia and his contribution to the art has earned him the title of "The father of folklorico" or "Godfather" by some. Amalia is often associated with Ballet Folklorico whereas Rafael is associated with Danza Folklorica Mexicana.  The two make the perfect pair and are hailed as the king and queen of the Mexican folk dancing kingdom.

In the United States, ballet folklorico was popularized in the 1960s and 70s, right along with The Twist, The Cool Jerk and the Disco Revolution!  Specifically, there was a strong representation in Los Angeles, California and in El Paso, Texas (the Sun City).  Two cities with large Mexican American, Hispanic American and Latin American populations. In fact, I would even go as far to say that folklorico has become part of the local culture in these cities as well.  Folklorico today continues to be utilized in many ways including:  it's a way of bringing people and cultures together, a way to promote pride in Mexican cultural heritage, to enhance self esteem, to provide cultural themed entertainment, building community among people and sharing it with others and so on.

Although Amalia Hernandez and Rafael Zamarripa are the most prominently recognized and credited choreographers associated with ballet folklorico, and rightfully so because they worked hard and earned it, it is important to mention that there have been many other respected dancers, teachers and choreographers who have contributed to this great art.  Maestros of the dance come from all over.

Today, as the dance form has evolved with all its deviations and variations, you see a wide arrange of presentations.  Originality is encouraged. Every folklorico group wants to make their group special in some unique and self defining way.  How do they make themselves stand out?  They build upon a foundation that was set by Amalia and Rafael.  Today, you see groups alter costuming, accessories, colors and so on.  Dance choreography has changed and stylizing emphasized.  Details to make the group original, yet rooted.

You could easily assemble 30 or more folklorico groups together today and have each of them dance the same dance, for example the Jarabe Tapatio, and you would see 30 different variations of the same dance.  Some more traditional than others.  All utilizing similar costuming, footwork and movement fitting the region, music and theme.  Just designed in a unique fashion to fit their group. Same for other common dances as well.  

Many people do not like thinking that is outside the box.  However, I would argue that most great and influential people think outside the box. Nonetheless, for many it makes them uncomfortable to step out.  For example, oftentimes when you hear someone try and sing a song karaoke, they will try to imitate the artist famous for singing the song.  They attempt to copy them and give the same sort of experience.  However, if someone gets up and makes the song their own, people often critique and criticize them.  Same is true in the dance world.

Back during my days in music conservatory, my teacher would ask me to describe my voice, my style, my sound and so on.  She wanted me to know what made me special and unique.  Why?  Because that's what I had to offer the world that was mine.  Not everyone may like it, but it was my contribution that no one else had (or has).  She would tell me to sing it like Michael Smith, not Michael Jackson.  Let Michael Jackson be Michael Jackson, you be Michael Smith.  You have to know your niche and market and sell that.  You are your own product.   

That's what all these television shows like American Idol and the like, are trying to discover.  A unique product.  Someone who can sing a known song and make it their own and still appeal to the masses.  Something fresh and different.  Why do I bring this up?  Because I have witnessed how harsh and critical groups and dancers have been judged by others in the field for stepping out and being different. 

Preservation of folk dancing is important, I agree.  As I have argued in the past, most folk dance presentations we see today are very different from the original true and authentic dances they represent.  Although they are based on dances from a period of time and had certain specific elements, all modern folk dancing deviates from the original to some degree.  So when terminology like true and authentic are applied to modern folk dancing it really is subject to an individuals personal interpretation and preference.  Remember, original folk dances were for the enjoyment of the common people who danced them.  More than likely they would be very conservative and somewhat boring to the people of today who are accustom to big productions.  I love how people use the phrase "the dance has been set for stage" rather that altered.

A lot of groups today copy each other.  Granted they all are doing the same thing - folk dancing.  But a lot of them copy the same style of other groups and choreographers.  Which after a while becomes mundane and boring.  Everyone has heard the idiom,  "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."  Well, that may be true but it can lead to disinterest.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an informal luncheon consisting of dancers, choreographers and teachers, including some from the folklorico dancing scene.  The whole topic of creativity, innovation, originality, diversity and the like in regards to dancing was discussed.  One respected and known folklorico figure made a comment that some might find a bit controversial.  "I love the work of Amalia Hernandez.  She was an amazing talent.  It's understandable why other groups like to pay tribute and homage to her by performing her dances and style; however, it was her style.  When I see it performed, I enjoy it when her dance company, Balket Folklorico de Mexico, performs it.  It belongs to them.  When I see other groups perform I want to see what they have to offer.  Not someone else's work or material.  Folklorico is a living art, the moment we all conform and impersonate the work of one, it will eventually become dull and die."  

I have seen many, many folklorico performances by various groups over the past few years.  The ones I remember most, are those where they did something different and out of the box.  Even at the risk of heavy criticism of others.  Two recent ones consisted of costume creativity.  When I saw them they visually sparked my interest.  Although many dancers in the audience gave them flack over the travesty of it all

The first was a Guerrero performance where the hairpiece had been altered, they used Popsicle looking pieces to represent the little balls (Pom poms).  It was well done, although I heard comments, including "Aye, Dr. Suess Folklorico!"  It was more like something you would see from Munckinland in my opinion.  Regardless, it worked.  The second was a group that embroidered their names in their dresses.  I agree its not traditional, but it was something different that made me remember the group.

I think it would have been fascinating to have tracked the history of folklorico dancing once it changed over from folk dancing to performance art.  It would have been neat to build a sort of Folklorico Family Tree where you started from the beginning with the original groups and people and show how those people taught others, who taught others, who taught others and so on.  That way you could see all the transference and influence passed along over time.  You could trace everyone's folklorico circle.  You could even track creation of dance groups and such.  What a massive undertaking it would be, but I think it would be interesting.  You would know you whole dance Pedigree in a sense.  Just a thought!

At the end of the day, my advice to those who like to compete in competitions and showcase would be, "if you don't want to be criticized then keep your costumes very traditional and conservative but in colorful and excellent condition, be energetic but not gaudy, have clean perfected foot work and you'll do well.   Even then, there will still be critics!"  

Everyone is entitled to their thoughts and opinions out there.  You don't have to agree with mine.  My intent was not to create controversy, but to provoke thought and consideration.  That's something every good writer does!

In closing, the United States was formed on July 4, 1776.  As I was writing this blog I couldn't stop thinking about American folk dancing.  The country is relatively new.  No doubt, the indigenous people of this land had dances of their own before this country was established. With vast immigration to the USA, people of all cultures brought their dances with them.  These days, dances get categorized differently - they don't call it folk dancing anymore.  Yet they are folk dances of a present time.  Can you imagine 1000 years from now dance groups forming to do folk dances from our time?  That's sort of sobering isn't it. So what would American folk dances include?  Here's my list!  You can have fun adding to it:

Square Dancing
Country Line Dancing
Hip Hop Dancing
Saloon Dances
Swing Dancing
The Shuffle
The Running Man
The Jitterbug
The Electric Slide
The Macarena
The Hustle
The Mash Pit
Crunking and Krumping
And so on!

I wonder how they'll be set for the stage 1000 years from now?  Anyways, that's all folks!

All The Other Stuff!

Welcome, welcome, welcome all my new readers!  Thank you for taking the time to spend a few minutes with the Wedo!  My Facebook fan page blew up this week as well with over 60 new friends! I love it!  This week alone One Big Wedo reached a global audience with readers from Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.  I am amazed and very excited - the list keeps growing!  Thank you to all the blog writing groups that have accepted me into their circles.  Keep sharing and spreading the word out there so others can discover the blog and enjoy it too.  A world tour may just become a reality!  Any dancers out there want to join me?

I posted my first "Bonus Post" this week. I think I am going to randomly submit them without any notice.  Just a little bit more Wedo for your week.  Keep checking back and you might get a surprise! Official weekly posts will continue to be published by Sunday each weekend.  

I've been receiving a lot more feedback from people as well.  My favorite question this week was from a reader who asked me if I used wire hangers for my costumes.  The question came in reference to my Mommie Dearest comment in my post "Full Exposure: A Look Behind The Curtain".  My response, "No Wire Hangers!"  In fact, I bought special color coded hangers to distinguish my costumes from other dancer's back stage.  Keep that feedback and interaction coming!

Lastly, don't forget the logo contest.  All entries are due by August 31st 2013!  So if you haven't started, it's time to get going on it!  Until next week everyone, 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

Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one!  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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