Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who is Herencia Mexicana? A History! - Week 42

A special welcome to the country of Jersey this week!  The blog continues to expand globally!  Wow!  The more folks share it, the quicker we can achieve total world wedoness! Oh my!  Thank you for all your help in spreading the word!  I exceeded 6000 pageviews this week!  If anyone wants to come out and see us perform, here are some upcoming events!

"Who is Herencia?"  This was the question recently asked on Facebook after I posted the LA County Fair folklorico schedule.  Even after 23 years of folklorico performing throughout Southern California, many are not familiar with the name or the group.  This inspired me to write a general history of the group so folks would know who we are, where we came from, what we do, and how we operate. Welcome to this week's post!  I wrote about the group briefly back on week 11 in a post called "I Believe In Herencia".  Here's a little more history, some awards & recognitions, and a few vintage photos (note: I went through thousands of photos of the group - there's 23 years worth!  Hope you enjoy these).  

As I mentioned last week, a biography highlighting some of the groups achievements was read at our recent show at the 2013 L.A. County Fair.  This is what was read:

"In 1990, a team of parents formed a dance group under the direction of Richard Solorzano.  The name, Nuestra Herencia Mexicana Ballet Folklorico was given by Grace Solorzano, grandmother to Richard.  Nuestra Herencia Mexicana entertained throughout Southern California with vibrant dances and colorful costumes. The humble community based group performed for the San Bernardino School Districts and in Riverside and San Bernardino County fairs, including The National Date Festival in Indio, The National Orange Show in San Bernardino, The Orange Blossom Fair in Riverside and The Victorville Fair.  Nuestra Herencia Mexicana performed annually for Disneyland’s Magic Music Days [on the Carnation Plaza stage]. 

In 2005, Richard R. Solorzano Jr. revamped the group under the new name, Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana.  Keeping true to the foundation set by his father, Richard took the community group and transformed it into a performing dance company.  Herencia Mexicana has been seen on TeleMundo, Estrella TV and in television commercials for Pancho Villa’s Mexican Restaurants which are located in Fontana and San Bernardino, California [as well as other local television stations].  Herencia Mexicana was the resident dance company for Pancho Villa’s Mexican Restaurant for over 4 years [performing weekly with Mariachi International de Mexico.  Visit Pancho Villa's website to view videos of Herencia dancers at the restaurant].

Presentations have included city events, colleges & universities, mariachi concerts, parades, special events, fiestas and festivals, accompanying Mariachi Sol de Mexico and Las Reynas de Los Angeles on several different occasions, including the first two years of The Riverside Mariachi Festival.  Other presentations include performances at Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, Plaza Mexico in Inglewood, The Riverside Festival of Lights, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in City of Industry, The LA County Fair in Pomona and The Orange County Fair in Long Beach.     

Recently, Herencia Mexicana returned from providing entertainment on the Latin stage for the UNO-Unidos N Orgullo organization’s 2013 event in Denver, Colorado - which is the third largest festival of its kind, drawing 350,000 people.  Herencia Mexicana was invited and showcased at Folklorico Dance Competition 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  In 2012, Richard Jr. was sought as a judge for the annual Ballet Folklorico Competition held at the Anaheim Market Place.

For Presentation Bookings please contact Richard R. Solorzano Jr. at (909) 201-1957 or by email ."

Other names affiliated with group are Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana de Richard Solorzano, Herencia Mexicana, Ballet Folklorico Nuestra Herenacia Mexicana, and Herencia Mexicana de Richard Solorzano.  Rehearsals for the group have taken place at various locations throughout Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

In the beginning, Richard's parents, Richard (Rick) and Cristina Solorzano, sought out Jose Ruiz de la Torre to teach the group in 1990.  He had been referred to them by the mother of Nina and Michelle, sisters, who were instructors for Herencia.  Mr. Ruiz de la Torre was living in Silverlake, near Los Angeles, and was retired from teaching and performing folklorico dancing.  Mr. Ruiz de la Torre had been a dancer for Sylvia Lozano's Ballet Folclorico Nacional de Mexico Atzlan or Ballet Folclorico Nacional de Mexico Atzlan de Sylvia Lozano and had a rich history of professional folklorico dancing.  Although he initially did not want the job, Mr. Ruiz de la Torre agreed to teach after seeing the potential in the group and in Richard Jr.  Mr. Ruiz de la Torre stated that "Richard had what it takes and he would go far".  

Once a month, Richard's parents would go to Silverlake to pick Mr. Ruiz de la Torre up at his home and drive him to Redlands for practice.  He would then show Nina Luna, Michelle Escalante and Richard Jr. the technique and dances and then they, in return would teach the rest of the group for the rest of the month.  Nina and Michelle had both previously studied folklorico under Mr. Ruiz de la Torre's instruction.  Before his passing, Mr. Ruiz de la Torre gave Richard Jr. his personal Azteca costume, including an eagle head dress, and two Azteca capes that he himself had help create. Richard Jr. stills owns them to this day.

When asking Nina Luna about Jose Ruiz de la Torre, she stated this:  
"I started studying with him when I was very young. I started when I was around 4-5 years old and he stopped instructing us probably when I was around 10 years old. He very much helped Nuestra Herencia get off the ground. I think my mom helped Rick get in contact with him to see if he would be willing to come and instruct us. Michelle and I were already instructing at that time but we needed a new outlook on the dances and choreography. My grandmother knew the family for many years and my mom grew up with them. 
The one thing I remember about Jose that I will never forget and it was his passion for dancing. He was so graceful and just passionate. He demanded your attention and your respect and when you were in his presence and you did not want to give him anything less than what was expected of you. His very presence filled a room. We loved him so very much. He gave us a pride in our heritage that to this day, those that were taught by him, still have."

Other influences contributed to the development of the "Herencia style".  In addition to the foundation set by Mr. Ruiz de la Torre, there were many other factors that helped establish the dance look that Herencia is known for today.  One factor is that shows are built from an audience expectation, meaning what audience members want to see in order to be entertained, excited and engaged.  This resulted in highly choreographed numbers with lots of constant movement and energy.  People don't want to see dancers just stand there and dance, that gets boring.  They want to see movement!  

It was very important to Richard Jr's parents that the audience remained alert and engaged. Therefore, the rule of no stopping the music between numbers was implemented.  Costume changes need to be quick.  No down time.  This can be challenging for a performer. Audience members get bored quickly and you can lose their attention, so you have to keep the show rolling. Just recently, we attended a show of another dance group and they took too long changing costumes.  Everyone thought the show was over and left.  They didn't get to finish their show.

Another aspect of Herencia shows is keeping the music upbeat and energetic.  Too many dramatic dances and/or slow dances loses the audience.  Footwork sequences are often switched up.  Richard dislikes it when groups do the same footwork verse after verse, it gets boring.  He prefers that Herencia footwork changes each verse to give the audience something different to watch and experience.  This becomes a memory challenge for the performer!  Although Herencia encourages personal enjoyment and tries to make things fun for their dancers, shows are strictly business and professionalism is expected.

Overtime, as Richard Jr. took a more defining roll in the group, he spiced up and altered many of the original dances. Even so, when I watched YouTube videos of Sylvia Lozano's group, I could still see elements of influence from her style within the group that were passed along through Mr. Ruiz de la Torre. Herencia also took many workshops, including several with Disney choreographers as part of the Disney Magic Music Days.  Richard's personal dance career also influenced the development of the Herencia style as he performed with numerous groups and worked with various dancers, choreographers and instructors from all over.  I will be sharing more of his personal experience in a post on week 51.  

Richard himself describes his Herencia style as very "showy".  He agrees with critics that it isn't "traditional" at times, although he has a respect and appreciation for the traditional culture.  Nonetheless, the audience is pleased and gets the show they desire. Richard once stated to me, "Most people who come to a show are not there for a history lesson in what is "traditional" or "authentic".  They have an appreciation for the heritage and culture behind the dance style and want to be entertained.  Therefore, at times, I move away from the realm of what some declare as "traditional" in order to show off the detailing in the women's dresses, so audiences can be "wowed" by the beauty of them."

One maestra made the comment to me, "Richard's skirt work is not as traditional, at times, as what many groups consider to be traditional.  However, even skirt work that most consider traditional, isn't traditional.  There's traditional, traditional!"  My reply to her was, "So what you're saying is that traditional, really isn't traditional!"  Sometimes I wonder if people just claim that any skirt work other than what they do, and/or how they do it, is non-traditional because they are not accustom to it.  I've seen several groups do skirt work very similar to Richard's, so I've deducted it is a common, accepted practice.  You've read my arguments throughout my blog on all that, lets move on!

Richard has often said of Herencia's dances that they are "set for show" or "performance", rather than "competition".  He states, "In competition you definitely want to keep it more traditional." Even so, Herencia has competed in the past, taking first and second places at the Indio folklorico competition.  Herencia also competed in the Santa Ana folklorico competition for two years, taking first and second place as well.  As mentioned earlier, Richard also served as a competition judge at the Anaheim Marketplace's annual folklorico competition.  

Richard has set the focus of his group, Herencia, on performing and entertaining.  He does not like all the unpleasant behaviors commonly seen between rival dancers in competition. Although he will agree that you see a lot of great talent at competitions.  His focus is more on creating art and unity for show, rather than competition. Therefore, he no longer takes the group to compete.

When it comes to the men, Richard expects the men to be men and represented as such.  The man always leads the woman.  The woman always follows the man; however, women should know the dance completely.  Men should exude confidence, masculinity, and strength.  Yet, men are to be gentlemen like, accompanying their women, without upstaging them.  It's the mans responsibility to make his partner shine on stage.

There is a lot of kissing action in folklorico dancing!  Herencia is known for having a flirtyness between couples.  This had led to the practice of extremely close kisses between couples! Richard wants his couples to get in each other face and space!  He wants the audience to believe couples are actually kissing.  If someone snaps a photo, regardless of the angle, it should appear as if they actually are kissing!  Sometimes, in all the commotion, you do!

Richard's teaching style is very patient.  He breaks down the steps in detail, which is great for learning.  He is mild mannered, yet, has a professional expectation of everyone.  He expects everyone to take the dancing seriously.  He does not throw tantrums like some directors.   He feels a persons dancing will reflect their level of commitment.  He feels the individual dancer is responsible for their own growth.  You are representing yourself on stage, although you're preforming in a group and his name is linked to the group overall.  If you mess up on stage, it's a refection of you.

Much of his ideology stems from his belief that the only motivation for dancing is if you want to do it, not because someone makes you do it.  You, as a dancer, have to want it. Richard expects his students to practice at home and be prepared.  To his credit, he has taught many student from scratch.  Many have gone on to other performing companies. One of his students went on to dance with Pacifico.

Over the years, Herencia has attracted a wide range of dancers.  Experienced dancers, that have been part of the group, stated they joined because it was creative and different.  They like that Richard thinks outside the box. Many have stated that his repertoire is challenging and complex at times - not the simplified versions of dances that many groups perform.  Many have come to develop themselves, to become more flexible dancers, grow, learn and expand.  Several have commented how they enjoy themselves, it's fun and refreshing doing something different. Some stay only a while and then move on!  Several have gone on to start new folklorico groups.  Even so, Richard's group remains!  The group has also hosted several folklorico workshops as well.

As common in most folklorico groups, tattoos and piercings are not allowed on stage.  Nor is multicolored or radically dyed hair!  No pink, blue, purple, green or any other trendy hair color! Leave the colors for the dresses! This has led to some altercations between dancers and Richard over the years, as refusal to cover tattoos or conform to the image has resulted in dancers being pulled from a dance or show entirely.  A good rule of thumb I have heard many dance instructors tell their dance students is, "think before you do something.  Remember you're a dancer and need to be presentable on stage."

Another thing I give Richard credit is that he encourages dancers to be light on their feet and take care of themselves.  He discourages slamming/stomping footwork and over dancing, even when it may make the footwork sound more impressive.  How many dancers at a very young age have had knee surgeries or short dance careers due to this?  Richard has been dancing for over 24 years and has never had any knee problems. He has taken care of himself.

One last defining characteristic of Herencia is the practice of being prepared should the music suddenly stop.  Richard expects his dancers to know the dance, even if the music should cut out during a performance. No stopping!  You carry on as if the music is still playing.  Although this rarely happens, it has happened.  I have been reviewing many videos of past performances.  During one of the groups performances at the LA County Fair years ago, when the group was at one of its peaks, the music suddenly stopped.  The group continued dancing as if nothing happened, with full choreography.  The audience went wild!  Later, Richard told me that was the first time the group had danced that particular dance.  It was awesome.

Herman Melvil said, "It is better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation."  Originality always comes with a certain amount of risk and criticism, but it has worked for Herencia Mexicana for over 23 years!  Sustained over the years by the work and efforts of Richard Solorzano Jr., Herencia continues to provide quality performances that audiences enjoy.  Call and book a show today!

In 2012, Herencia Mexicana began a process of change.  The group needed a make over!  That sounds fun, doesn't it?  All dance groups go through seasons of change.  They have their peaks and valleys.  I have seen many groups, just in my short visit with folklorico, come and go or become the latest hot, trendy group.  

So what has changed with Herencia?  First of all, costuming.  Richard started to redesign and create all new costumes and a new look for the group!  Over the years, Richard's original designs and patterns for the dresses have been copied and taken by other groups and individuals as their own; therefore, Herencia needed to find a new look.  As they say "copying is the sincerest form of flattery."  In this case, it's costly and annoying.  Even the business cards are getting a whole new look!

Herencia provides the costuming for their performing dancers.  Dancers do not purchase or make their own costumes!  Most groups make you buy your own costumes, which is costly.  At Herencia, dancers are provided with a costume to use during performances.  All costuming remains the property of the group.  They are not for the dancers to keep.

Secondly, practice locations.  Richard is now teaching out of Covina and San Bernardino, California. This makes it easy and convenient for dancers to find a location close them to practice!  LA County dancers go to Covina.  Inland Empire dancers go to San Bernardino.
Thirdly, collaborations.  Richard is doing a lot more of this, teaching Herencia material to dance groups that support in Herencia shows.
Fourthly, compensation!  Richard is able to pay his dancers for some private events now.  Public events for publicity and exposure remain unpaid.

Fifth, lower monthly dues!  Everyone loves saving money!  Herencia has cut their monthly membership dues in half!  Also, Herencia offer two free classes for new students.  Can't beat that! And you won't be paying for costumes either!
Lastly, for Richard's performance group, age ranges from 14 year old and older. He is still instructing children and beginners, just in a separate setting from the performing company.

If you are looking for a folklorico home, consider Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana.  Also, any trained folklorico dancers that are interested in learning Herencia's material for paid performing opportunities, contact Richard for details and an audition/interview.  Herencia is seeking new dancers, from beginners to trained and experienced.  We would enjoy having you!  Contact Richard at 909-201-1957 or check us out on Facebook.
In closing, folkloricochannel on YouTube reposted several older Herencia performance videos! Thank you folkloricochannel!  Go have a look.  Search "Herencia Mexicana Folklorico" and they'll come up.  Some other group's videos come up too because they have a similar name, you'll have to filter through them.  That's all folks for this week!  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
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana IE (Inland Empire)  

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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