Through dance, Mexican troupe showcase culture, skills

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Children as young as 5, teens and adults stepped, twirled and even danced polka before an enthusiastic crowd for the annual performance by the Mexican dance troupe Ballet Folklórico De Detroit on Sunday.

As the Mexican folklore troupe, based in southwest Detroit, danced, the crowd, which included family, friends and community members, was right along with them. As dancers performed the highly kinetic El Jarabe Nayarita dance from the Nayarit state of Mexico, the crowd roared in approval.

Next, as women in flowing white dresses with candles on their heads moved along with the song "La Bruja," the crowd clapped slowly, in sync with the methodical movements of the dancers.

The traditional dances were part of the sixth Annual Holiday Concert by the members on Sunday at the Senate Theater on the Detroit's west side. The event featured dancersperforming dances from seven of Mexico's 32 states in customary handmade costumes.

The popular troupe had to turn guests away from a performance in November for Dia de los muertos in Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

"Next year we're probably going to be in the auditorium because of how many people showed up," said Lance Rodriguez, 26, the group's aristic director on Sunday.

Rodriguez said the group has between 30 to 40 performances a year. The events and fundraisers help the group pay for costumes as well as for the group to attend completions, Rodriguez said.

In April, the group will send some of its dancers to the Competencia de Tejas in Texas for the third year in a row. In March, six dancers from the group placed first in the small group adult division of the competition in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Janette Rodriguez, 53, who helps her son, Lance, run the company, said the concert is about showing the community how good the children have become as dancers.

Advanced dancers dressed in apparel of the Mexican state of Nayarit perform El Jarabe Nayarita during the Ballet Folklorico De Detroit 6th Annual Holiday Concert at the Senate Theater in Detroit on Dec. 15, 2019.

" ... There's been a history since before my time, of immigrants that moved into southwest Detroit (who) brought with them their folklorico music and they passed it onto the next generation," Janette Rodriguez said.

Adan Ramos, 69, said he has been to the annual holiday concert most of the six years it has been held.

"It's a booster for the children ... I'm glad they have the opportunity to do this," Ramos said. "Through time, you can see the growth, not only in the membership, but into the (the skill of) the group."

Soloist Vanessa Galaviz performs La Morena celebrating the Mexican state of Veracruz during the Ballet Folklorico De Detroit 6th Annual Holiday Concert at the Senate Theater in Detroit on Dec. 15, 2019.

Teaching traditional Mexican dances, Janette Rodriguez said, helps kids appreciate their culture as well as learn how to treat others well.

"Dance is underrated," Rodriguez said. "They talk about how now boys and girls aren't respectful of each other and (with) dance ... boys and girls have to work as a team." 

Lance Rodriguez said he and his mother began the dance company in 2013 because he had been a part of most of the areas' other Mexican dance groups and wanted to branch out.

Lance Rodriguez, who has been dancing since he was 3,  said he doesn't have any formal dance training but what he has learned about traditional Mexican dances was passed onto him by others with whom he has danced.

For the dances representing the Mexican state of Veracruz on Sunday, Lance Rodriguez brought in a professor from Mexico to teach the routines to ensure that the dances were as traditional as possible. 

"We really want to keep it as traditional as possible," Lance Rodriguez said. "At competitions the judges are professors from Mexico. ... Everything has to be correct."

Adelani Gandarella, 10, came to the concert Sunday with her mother to see her friend, Marely Gonzalez. She said she also enjoys the venue's popcorn.

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter