When I joined Herencia Mexicana and began going to the practices to learn to dance, I told Richard that my goal was to be the best 37 year old, white male folklorico dancer that had no real previous dance training. Which kind of put me in my own category. I have no idea how many 37 year old, white men have started dancing folklorico one day just out of the blue like that. Perhaps I'm the only one. It's true that there have been many talented white men and women to dance and teach folklorico, or so I have been told. It's not that hard to believe, especially with so many folklorico dance groups out there. I'm not the first and I won't be the last!
I believe my goal is a realistic and a healthy one. To be the best at what I have learned at my age. It is flattering when people ask if I am dancing professionally, but the answer is no, I am an amateur and a student who performs. A beginner! I am far from being a professional. From the get go, I have taken my dancing very seriously. I want to be a good dancer, a great performer and learn as much as I can about folklorico dancing. I want to make the dance group and the director proud. My fear all along has been looking foolish on the stage, to disgrace the art, and/or to come across as disrespecting the culture or making a mockery of it. I don't want to embarrass myself, the group or Richard.
I grew up in the farmland of Michigan. The area I grew up in was rural to say the least. My mother exposed me to music at a very young age and I pursued it for much of my youth. That was one of the best things she did for me. But as far as dancing, well, that was a whole different issue. Men didn't dance really. Plus, there was a stigma about dancing, the church frowned upon it and it was sinful. Oh My! So there wasn't much available in that department. In elementary school, I remember learning an Irish jig in one of the music classes. In 1983, when Michael Jackson moon walked for the first time and his career exploded, I remember my teacher having all the kids in class do their version of the moonwalk. That may seem silly, but it was a big deal because where I grew up no one was doing that latest dances. Perhaps kids in urban environments were, but not in farmville, USA. In Junior High and High School we had dances, but they were lame. The guys did this kind of bend the knee to the music sort of thing, trying to maintain a cool look and being all man about it to impress the ladies. The only other trend I remember that made it big in the farmland was MC Hammer's parachute pants and the typewriter dance. What were we thinking?
In High School, there were no dance teams or classes of any sort. The closest thing we had was the cheer leading squad. And men didn't cheer. The activities that I participated in that had any sort of choreography and movement were show choir, marching band, and theater. It was better than nothing at all. And there was music, I was always surrounded by music. In addition, we watched some television at home. No MTV, we only had three channels and no cable. So we watched shows like Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk, Barbara Mandrell, and The Carol Burnett Show. Sometimes they would have dancing. I remember trying to stay home from church on Sunday nights so I could watch In Living Color with the Fly Girls. Unfortunately, I thought I was a Fly Girl too, which can explain a lot. My folks also took me to many theater productions: Cats, Fiddler On The Roof, Etc. So I viewed plenty of dancing growing up.
Then there was college. I went from the farm to the Windy City, Chicago Illinois. I was accepted into music conservatory. I loved the idea of having a career in opera or musical theater. So off to college I went. At the suggestion of my academic counselor, I enrolled in a modern dance class. I was excited about it. The first week we studied ballet. The teacher was adamant that I wear leotards to class because he "needed to be able to see my body." Ok, hold up! Huh? What? Are you serious? I was modest. I already felt like a freak of nature, like a giraffe among the field mice, and now leotards. I didn't need the added attention, so I dropped the class. The teacher didn't get to see me at all. That should teach him. I did my share of clubbing in college and even went to the occasional square dance.
After college, my inexperience continued. I made a great career choice and landed a job at Chuck E. Cheese! While there, I performed with the great rat himself. Stardom! My social club scene continued and I took a few line dance classes. I ended up working for the Fisher Theatre in Detroit and I saw many, many performances that were alive with dancing. Then in 1995 I moved to California and if you've read my other blogs, you know what happened then.
When I joined Herencia Mexicana in October 2011 it was either sink or swim. The group was composed of seasoned dancers and I was out of my league. To add to the challenge, Richard was teaching the region of Guerrero which is not easy. And I struggled to keep up. I felt too old, too slow, too out of shape, too unqualified and too white. And from that point on I coined the term, "Killing the white gene" of incoordination and lack of rhythm. I was another shining example that white folks can't dance. And even though my body was hating me and retaliated with soreness and cramps and I contemplated quitting a million times and told Richard I wanted to just dance the slower easier dances, I stuck with it and through it all Richard never gave up on me, nor did he let up. And because he has persevered through all my trials and melt downs, I am now dancing dances I never imaged I could. On May 11, 2012 I danced my first performance. More on that in the weeks to come. So to put it plainly, I went from Fly Girl to Folklorico! Gotta love it. Until next week, wedo out!
Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":
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Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo
Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:
Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
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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.