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Colorful 'Ballet Folklorico' Exposes Students To Mexican Culture



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Colorful ‘Ballet Folklorico’ Exposes Students To Mexican Culture

By Larissa Lytwyn

The excitement was building even before folk dance company Ballet Folklorico’s first number.

As Hawley Elementary School students gathered in the school’s gymnasium, many caught glimpses of long feathers and the occasional sparkle of a lavishly gilded cape just under the stage’s heavy curtains.

Before the curtains actually opened, a delicate voice-over described the “mythical pilgrimage of the ancient Aztec” seeking to find a “cultural symbol.” The 900-year-long quest eventually led them to a place now known as Mexico City; here they created the “feathered serpent,” the eagle devouring a snake.

As a crack of drumbeats pierced the audience’s breathless silence, the curtains swept open to reveal a man clad in a magnificently feathered headdress, the (synthetic) head of a jaguar at its center.

The man drummed furiously on 65-pound drums carved from wood indigenous to South America.

Two more dancers emerged, similarly dressed in headdresses and leopard-skin costumes bejeweled in mythological Aztec patterns.

Students and faculty alike appeared spellbound.

“I liked how we could see what was going on, kind of, even before the curtains opened!” declared third grader Molly Mahony.

Ballet Folklorico Mexico de los Hermanos Avila was founded in 1972 by Sister Carmen and Jesus Avila, “recognized by US and Mexican officials as one of the most exciting groups presenting authentic regional dances of Mexico,” according to its company website.

It now includes various members of the Avila family, including Jesus Avila’s wife, Maria.

Last November 27–30, the group performed as part of a performance honoring Nobel Peace Prize laureates including Mikhail Gorbachev during a summit in Rome, Italy.

Mexico Folklorico joined internationally acclaimed dance troupe, the Madison, Wis.-based Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company. The company brought together performers representing Native American, Puerto Rican, Chinese, and Irish cultures.

Mr Avila discussed how the beauty and strength of the Earth and her creatures inspired the ancient Aztec.

“Animals that we admired included the coyote, wolf, bears, jaguar, and the eagle,” said Mr Avila. The eagle, he said, was arguably the most sacred and most beloved creature in Aztec culture.

The Aztecs also paid great honor to the sun, which they considered a powerful, life giving and life sustaining entity.

“Part of the fourth grade social studies curriculum concerns Mexican history and culture,” said fourth grade teacher Maureen Malone, who was busily jotting notes on Aztec mythology and traditions throughout the presentation. She added that such a performance helped broaden students’ knowledge of other cultures. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn about other cultures.” 

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