Sunday, January 27, 2013

History In The Making! - Week 4


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":

Google E-mail: onebigwedo@gmail.com
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo
Blogger: www.onebigwedo.blogspot.com

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana
E-Mail: Bf_herencia_mexicana@yahoo.com

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.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The United States of Mexico - Week 3


I want to make a quick correction from last week's blog before we started. As I was looking at the bulletin I saved from the June 6, 2010 celebration, it states it as being a 22nd birthday celebration, not an anniversary celebration as I declared. Not that it makes much of a difference but I want to clarify that minor detail to preserve the integrity in the details of my blog. I also want to thank everyone who has read my blog and give a quick shout out to my followers in Malaysia, North Korea, Croatia and The USA. Hola! I've also getting your feedback! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will be addressing some of it at the end. Ready, set, here we go...


I read a fascinating article in The New York Times published on November 22, 2012 called "Name Change Is Suggested for Other 'U.S.'" by Randal C. Archibald.  I recommend you Google it and read it.  It goes into the history of the formal name of Mexico, Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which is often translated as United Mexican States or The United States of Mexico. 
I don't recall hearing a whole lot about Mexico growing up in Michigan really.  In geography class I remember we went to great lengths studying Canada's provinces and territories to our North.  To prove it, here you have them:  The 10 provinces of Canada are Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.  The three territories are Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.  The Capital of Canada is Ottawa.  Aren't you impressed?  Don't be, I had to look them up because I couldn't remember them all.  When it came to our neighbor in the South, Mexico, I don't recall learning to much at all.  Just that Mexico City is the Capital of Mexico, the Rio Grande River runs along the border, there is the Gulf of Mexico and there is the Baja Peninsula, which is a fun little fact because Michigan too is a Peninsula.  In fact, Michigan is two Peninsulas, the Upper and the Lower.


In History class we learned more about the Spanish-American War than the Mexican-American War.  And yes, there is a difference.  Even in Spanish class, I don't recall hearing too much about Mexico.  Our teacher had served in the Peace Corp in Columbia.  I remember more focus given to Central and South America.  Somehow Mexico was skipped right over.  Why exactly, I do not know.  I'm sure that we studied Canada a bit more because Michigan is a bordering state.  Perhaps that is why.  In California, I imagine, Mexico is given more attention in the classroom.  My whole point being here, when it came to Mexico, I was pretty naive.  So in 1995 when I moved from Michigan to Southern California I had some things to learn.

Now when I lived in Detroit, my friends and I would frequently take trips under the river, through the tunnel and across the border to Windsor Canada we'd go.  This, of course, was our only other option than going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house.  So when I arrived on the scene in Southern California I was ready to head South.  Tijuana here I come!  I made several trips to Tijuana during the first several years after moving.  It was quite different than the little neighborhood we had in Detroit referred to as The Mexican Village.  And I enjoyed it because it was something new and different to me.  I was oblivious to any of the rumored dangers, I was just one big wedo doing my thing in Mexico:  shopping, eating and shopping some more.  It was fun to barter and even though I didn't speak any Spanish, I had no problems.  Of course, after the events on September 11, and all the issues with border crossing, my trips South ceased.


Even after the trips across the border and moving to Southern California, with its strong Mexican influence, my awareness of Mexico remained rather limited.  I still was living life in a big white bubble that wasn't nearly as cool as the one the witch in OZ travelled around in.  Sure, I would see signs that read "Sinaloa Tacos" or "Vera Cruz Restaurant," but it didn't register in my head as to what exactly that meant.  And since were on the topic of food, let me just say this, that California is spoiled with great Mexican food.  Mexican food in Michigan doesn't come close and Taco Bell doesn't count.  Growing up, the only Mexican food I ate was the occasional school cafeteria taco, and boy didn't that make me feel so well cultured.  We ate those Midwest farmland staples mainly:  beef, chicken or pork, potatoes fixed in their various ways, a vegetable, pasta, bread, jello and don't forget the cottage cheese.  That was it, day in and day out.  On the weekends, we splurged and drove to the city and had ourselves Pizza Hut pizza on either Friday or Saturday night. 

So imagine at this point you're probably asking, "Mike, where are you going with all this and what does this have to do with folklorico dancing?"  I'm glad you asked because it has everything to do with folklorico dancing.  Mexico has 31 states and one Federal District, Mexico City.  The states are also referred to as regions.  Each state or region has a specific style of folklorico dance, complete with unique costuming, footwork, and stylized skirt work for that particular area.  You see, throughout history, as outside nations began to settle in Mexico, they brought with them their culture and customs.  With this infusion of outside influence, the Mexican culture meshed with these foreign cultures and the result is various styles of Mexican dancing.  That's a very basic explanation as to what occurred over a period of time in history.  The result is a wonderfully rich heritage and diverse culture.

The 31 United States of Mexico:  Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Durango, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Zacatecas, Baja California Sur, Chiapas, Veracruz, Baja California, Nuevo León, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Michoacán, Campeche, Sinaloa, Quintana Roo,Yucatán, Puebla, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tabasco, México, Hidalgo, Querétaro, Colima, Aguascalientes, Morelos, and Tlaxcala.  This is what I would call Foundational Folklorico 101.  I even wrote a Facebook posting/advertisement once on the dance groups Facebook page about it.  I've shared it below and you can refer to the map to familiarize yourself more with Mexico's geography.


Original Facebook Post from June 20, 2012

Did You Know? Mexico has 31 states and one Federal District, Mexico City, where the seat of the Federal Government and approximately on fifth of the population can be found?  Here at Herencia Mexicana IE we are currently learning dances from several of the states including: Chihuahua, Chiapas, Jalisco, Veracruz and Yucatan. Richard will also be teaching dances from many of the other states as well including: Baja, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and others. Now is a great time to get started. Don't miss out. Join Today!


There you have it!  The United States of Mexico!  Foundational Folklorico 101.  Often times I have been referred to as Mike from Michoacan, because I'm originally from Michigan.  Of course, its all in good fun, but as one older Mexican lady said once, "That white boy is not from Michoacan!" and she's right!

I got lots of feedback this week, much of which I will be addressing in upcoming blog posts.  So make sure you keep checking back for my weekly post.  But one thing I wanted to address now is yet another form of guero!  Surprise!  I thought we had finally put it to rest but the feedback continues to come in.  I never imagined that this blog would become an authority on the term.  So to continue the quest of becoming the exhaustive resource on wedoism.  Here is what I learned this week.  Guero is properly spelled Güero!  The word is also spelled huero in spanish.  Although huero is a common spelling, the word huero has an entirely different meaning in Spanish.  From my deduction, huero is a variation that is of a Spanish slang form.  Oh dear!  Then, to add to my frustration, I discovered another American slang spelling, which you could almost predict this one:  weddo.  I still like mine, wedo, the best.  It's short and sweet and I'm sticking to it. 

Don't forget to send any feedback to me at onebigwedo@gmail.com and you can check out my Facebook page at One Big Wedo.  Make sure you "like" the page so you can get all the wedo updates!  And if that wasn't enough, I'm working on getting Twitter!  Stay tuned because soon you will be able to get my Tweets with all the latest wedo news.  Have a great week!

Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail: onebigwedo@gmail.com
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo
Blogger: www.onebigwedo.blogspot.com

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana
E-Mail: Bf_herencia_mexicana@yahoo.com

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.

Monday, January 14, 2013

In The Beginning - Week 2


A quick update on last week's blog before we get started.  So apparently there is an official misspelling of the word guero.  According to Urban Dictionary it is spelled "whetto" meaning a Mexican slang word for a white person.  Spelled very phonetically and it makes sense to me.  Teachers have always told us to sound the word out when we're learning to spell it,
"Wwwhhhhhheeeeettttttttttttttttttttttttttttooooooooo."  Imagine the horror I felt on Monday, one day after my grand launch of this blog, to discover I have misspelled a misspelling.  This threw me into white mode and immediately I began to panic and search for options as to how to fix the situation.  Besides, my entire literary contribution was at stake here and heading straight down the pooper!  Should I just delete and start over from scratch?  Research, I need research to solve this problem.  Help! 

Further investigation led me to Dictionary Update and again, they too spell it "whetto."  Crap!  But looking into it they combine two words, "white" and "ghetto" to come up with "whetto," listing several uses for the term, several rather derogatory.  Just then a man at my work place happened to walk by with a red cap on his head that read, "Old Skool."  It made me stop and ask myself, "Why are you stressing over this?"  I'm probably one of the few white people to ever stress over the correct misspelling of the word guero and it made me laugh.  The negative overtones that the term spelled "whetto" suggests has led me to the decision to keep on using "wedo."  Regardless, whether you spell it guero, wedo or whetto, this wedo doesn't really care and I'm putting it to rest and moving forward.  So let's get down to business.

The Beginning:

Believe it or not this all began at church (Note:  This would be a good moment to take pause and put on Madonna's "Like A Prayer" for ambiance).  It was Sunday evening June 6, 2010 and my church was celebrating their 22nd anniversary.  To celebrate, a fiesta!  Now my church is no small place and when they do something, they go all out.  Free tacos, burritos, chips and salsa, paletas and beverages for everyone!  Anyone hungry?  A free concert by an award winning Latin Christian recording artist.  Jumpers for the kids.  In the courtyard, a large fountain sets and there on each side, two stages rested for the evenings entertainment.  Whenever the word gets out that there is free food and entertainment, the masses show up and this night was no exception.  It was packed.  The church itself boasts of membership of over 17,000 people.  So you can imagine the sea of people that showed up that night.  Let the entertainment begin and let's celebrate!

Prior to this night, I only recall seeing Mexican dancing on one other occasion.  It was at a fair or park somewhere and a few children moved half-hearted around on a stage to mariachi music, some just stood in place and did nothing at all.  It was boring, lacked passion and effort and I was very disinterested.  You could hardly call it dancing and it definitely was not entertaining.  I don't say this to discourage anyone from dancing.  I'm just being honest.  I'm not picking on those children and I admit they were cute in their little costumes.  To be clear I want to state, "I strongly encourage parents and children to get involved in folklorico dancing."  However, on that particular occasion, it was a performance only the parents could truly appreciate.  Other than this one experience the only other exposure that I remember of folklorico dancing was the occasional photo or graphic depicting it.  Obviously, my exposure to it was extremely limited.  And for the record, I have seen several children's groups dance folklorico since that have completely blown me away.  Absolutely amazing and talented.

Going back to the evening of June 6, 2010, there in the center of the church courtyard on those two stages, Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana danced that evening.  I had never seen such a display.  I was impressed with the colorful costumes, the lively music, the clean articulate footwork, the energy, passion and excitement of it all.  To quote the Material Girl herself, now "You Can Dance!"  As I watched I had a feeling that it would be something fun to try.  It looked like something I could possibly do.  I like trying new things and having new experiences.  How does someone get involved in such a thing?  I had no clue.  I noticed a gentlemen off to the side in a charro suit and in my mind I said to myself, "I wonder how he got involved in this.  What's his story?"  The evening ended and nothing became of my curiosity.  Well, not yet anyway. 


Fast forward 14 months.  It was August 27, 2011.  In the course of life events, I found myself at breakfast at Denny's sitting across from Richard Solorzano.  In the course our discussion, he brought up that he was dancer and the director of a ballet folklorico dance company.  Immediately, I realized that this was the same man I had seen 14 months prior at the church.  It was none other than a Divine appointment!  I expressed some interest in the dancing and he invited me out that evening to go to a fiesta he was going to.  And from that point forward, Richard opened up a whole new world of Mexican dancing to me.  For the next month it was exposure to folklorico and mariachi.  Folklorico, Folklorico, Folklorico!  I went to numerous folklorico rehearsals to observe.  I went to numerous performances and observed.  It was a constant exposure.  I wasn't dancing yet, just observing.  We watched videos of folklorico shows, we went to restaurants and listened to mariachi, I went to several different folklorico groups that he was involved in just to watch the practice. 

Finally, one day in the apartment kitchen Richard showed me a couple steps to practice.  And boy did I practice.  Practice, practice, practice!  I wanted to impress him.  I practiced all day long as I worked at my job in a warehouse.  Paying no attention to the comments of my coworkers.  Every chance, I practice.  I practiced in the kitchen, bumping into cupboards and kicking counter tops.  Wait a minute, kicking counter tops?  Really?  Well yes, during those sudden outbursts of high kicks when I thought I was a Rockette!  Then Richard took it up a notch.  We would go jogging and we would jog a block and then do folklorico footwork for a block and we repeated that sequence over and over. 


Finally, I bought my first pair of black folklorico dance boots.  And on October 7, 2011 I officially joined Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana and my formal training began.  Four hours every Friday evening.  The first two hours I worked with Richard's assistant director and she drilled me relentlessly on foot work.  The last two hours I danced with Richard's performing group.  It was a challenge to keep up, but Richard kept telling me, "Don't get frustrated and don't quit."  Very quickly I found out that you use muscles in your body you don't even realize you have and the body aches and soreness set in.  I made a new friend called glucosamine!  Soon I was up to four rehearsals a week equaling 10 hours of formal folklorico training, 


So that's how it all began.  And the journey continues....

In closing, I want to thank everyone who read last weeks blog.  I hope you will share it with a friend.  There was some difficulty for people to post comments, but feel free to send me an email with questions or comments to onebigwedo@gmail.com.  You can also find me on Facebook.  "Like" my new fan page at "One Big Wedo" for up to date information on performances, photos, videos and more.  Just look for my photo, all dressed in white.  White on white!  This will be a great fun way for me to meet all of you who are reading my blog all over the world.  Until next week......

Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail: onebigwedo@gmail.com
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo
Blogger: www.onebigwedo.blogspot.com

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana
E-Mail: Bf_herencia_mexicana@yahoo.com

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.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Getting Started - Week 1

Welcome!  The Adventure Begins Here!


Ok, so right off the bat I want to address this whole wedo thing before I get emails and hate mail telling me how I spelled it wrong and how I'm just another uneducated ignorant white boy.  My response, "Lighten up!  Get a sense of humor."  But for those of you who are self appointed spelling gatekeepers and grammar guardians of the web, here you go:  Guero.  Wiktionary definition:  A word used in Mexico to denote a person of fair complexion or with blond or red hair.  There you have it.  In the United States it is often used as a word to describe white people.  A slang word meaning "white boy or whitey."  The slang Americanized spelling of the word, wedo, is no different than how other words are spelled in street slang.  For example, boy is often spelled boi or boii.  The list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  So relax and just go with it.  Laugh at how we spell words as to how they sound and not how they actually are.  And in my opinion, wedo is fitting for this 38 year old, 6'2", 220 lbs, bald headed white guy from Michigan, who doesn't speak a lick of Spanish.  I am one big wedo.


So how does someone like me, get involved in Mexican dancing?  Specifically, ballet folklorico.  I could say "love" but then I would lose all my readership.  I can hear you all gaging and hacking already.  Someone call the Lifetime channel!  I could say, "I got sucked into it" but that would probably raise some eyebrows as well.  So I will just respond with, "It caught my attention and I decided to give it a try.  Only to find out that I really enjoy it and so I'm sticking to it."  No, I'm not having a cultural identity crisis and trying to become Mexican.  I'm enjoying life as it comes my way.

So I hope you will go on a journey with me.  One that began in 2010.  Who knows, perhaps in a year from now when this blog finishes, you too will be dancing folklorico.  Perhaps even with me!  Not only would I like this blog to be about my journey but also a kind of "White Man's Guide to Folklorico Dancing."  We shall see how this all ends up.  Until next week....

PLEASE NOTE:  MANY OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS AND PICTURES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY OWN.  MANY OF THE IMAGES WERE TAKEN FROM GOOGLE FREE IMAGES.  I DO NOT OWN THE COPYRIGHTS NOR DO I TAKE ANY CREDIT FOR THEM.  NO VIOLATION OR INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.  IF I HAVE USED YOUR IMAGE AND YOU DO NOT WANT IT TO BE INCLUDED IN THIS BLOG FOR THE ENJOYMENT OF OTHERS, PLEASE E-MAIL ME AT ONEBIGWEDO@GMAIL.COM AND IT WILL BE REMOVED.  ONE BIG WEDO IS NOT A MONEY MAKING VENTURE.  IT IS A FREE SERVICE.  THANK YOU.   

Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail: onebigwedo@gmail.com
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo
Blogger: www.onebigwedo.blogspot.com

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana
E-Mail: Bf_herencia_mexicana@yahoo.com

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.