Swirling skirts in shades of green, purple, pink and yellow ripple in wavelike patterns as folklórico dancers spin in tight circles.
Representing the coastal region of Veracruz, Mexico, some of the dancers practice dizzying spins and tap their heeled boots in time to the upbeat music on McClure Stage in Bruin Plaza, only pausing to catch their breath as the music continues wildly.
The cultural group Grupo Folklórico de UCLA will present its annual showcase of Mexican culture and folklore, “Fiesta Mexicana,” on Sunday. The group members said they will be representing the regions of Sinaloa, Jalisco, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Norte. Student dancers from all experience levels and backgrounds will perform choreographed sets to famous folk songs from all over Mexico.
Edanet Rodriguez, a third-year biology student and a dancer in the Norte segment, said the program is the culmination of countless hours of rehearsing and coordinating that began last November.
Rodriguez said the choreography and the costumes, two of the most important aspects of the dance, distinguish each region by reflecting their different cultures, economies and societies. For example, she said Veracruz’s seaside location lends its dance a clean, coastal flavor, while the exuberant Sinaloa region is reflected in the dancers’ wild, shimmying skirt movements.
“Veracruz is known for being elegant, so the Veracruz dancers will have to be fancy. They’ll also wear light, all-white costumes that look like the foam on the waves,” Rodriguez said. “The Sinaloa dances are always one big party, and the crazy skirt movements make the crowd go wild every time.”
Because “Fiesta Mexicana” falls near the end of the school year, graduating seniors perform a group dance dedicated to a specific region of Mexico as part of their farewell. This year, 16 graduating members will dedicate their performance to the Guerrero region, said Vanessa Villanueva, a fourth-year environmental science student and four-year member of the group.
Villanueva said the Guerrero dance is particularly special this year because the group of seniors is composed of all girls, allowing the group to choose “Las Amarillas,” a piece that was traditionally choreographed for female dancers.
“Las Amarillas,” Villanueva said, roughly translates to “The Yellow Girls” in English. In the song, Villanueva said, the narrator compares the flight of yellow birds to feminine beauty, reflected in the dancers’ bright yellow costumes.
However, the dance is not in the traditional Guerrero style. Villanueva said the group’s choreography includes elements of ballet, adding emotion and a modern feel to the dance.
“We’re on our toes the entire time, so we all look like we’re gliding across the stage. It’s very emotional and gives off a really ethereal impression,” Villanueva said.
The emotions and passion felt when dancing transcend not only age and experience level but also heritage, said Dawn Martinez, a fourth-year sociology student and three-year member of the group.
Martinez said her Salvadoran heritage and customs are very different from those of Grupo Folklórico de UCLA, which focuses primarily on Mexican culture. However, Martinez said the goal of the group is to promote a pan-Latino cultural awareness that embraces the individual cultures of each region.
“I’m still Latina, and we’re all Latino,” Martinez said. “All we’re trying to do is make our collective presence known in art and unite the Latino community as a whole.”
After three years of dancing for Grupo Folklórico de UCLA and in all six regions’ styles, Martinez said she feels as though she is leaving part of her on-campus family and cultural foundation behind. Nevertheless, Martinez said the experience of dancing instilled in her an appreciation for Latino culture.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling to leave, but it’s mostly sweet because I had the opportunity to dance and participate and learn,” Martinez said. “I just have to realize that it’s no longer my time. It’s now time for other people – my younger friends and family – to shine.”