An old dance for a new generation
The eight girls and six boys stomping out rhythmic dance steps at the De Soto Community Center last Saturday were enjoying themselves too much to think about connecting with their heritage.
On Saturday evenings for the past three months, Tony Valenzuela has been teaching the youngsters traditional Mexican folk dances.
"I just came up with the idea we should do it for Cinco de Mayo," Valenzuela said. "It's just a little something to keep everybody busy."
Area youngsters will treat those attending Saturday's Cinco de Mayo to two performances of Mexican folk dances. Sixteen children from 5 to 8 years of age will dance at 3 p.m. in the Community Center. The teenage troupe will perform at 5 p.m. at the same location.
Valenzuela explained the first dance the younger children practiced for Saturday was a special dance that celebrates Cinco de Mayo.
"When I was in school, we used to do the traditional dances for holidays," he said of his childhood days in Zacatecas, Mexico. "We are trying to keep the kids in touch with the their traditions. They love it."
While most of De Soto's Hispanic residents trace their heritage from the central Mexican state of Zacatecas or the neighboring state to the southwest of Jalisco, the young children will perform dances native to the eastern coastal city of Vera Cruz.
"Every state has its own traditional dances," Valenzuela explained. "The Vera Cruz dances are easier for the young ones because all the steps are the same."
The teenagers will perform dances native to Jalisco, Valenzuela said.
"It's totally different," he said. "The music is different and the costumes are different."
One of the dances the teenagers will perform is the La Bamba, which Valnezuela said is the "original thing" and the basis for the famous song.
Noemi Sanchez said three of her children are dancing with the younger group. She is grateful they are learning the traditional dances she admired when she was a child.
"It's neat to see and do," she said. "The children love it too. I was very pleased with that.
"I was born and raised in Texas. I loved seeing the dances, but I never participated. My parents weren't involved."
Her family, however, is anxious to see Sanchez's children perform.
"My mother and three brothers are coming from Texas to watch them dance," she said.
Part of her youthful fascination was the appeal of the colorful traditional customs the dancers wear, Sanchez said.
The younger boys will wear white shirts and pants with red scarves and straw hats and the girls are having matching dresses made. The teenage boys will dress in traditional Mexican cowboy gear with large sombreros. But the dresses of the teenage girls are the real eye catchers, Sanchez said.
"All the girls are going to wear big, beautiful dresses of different colors," she said. "They swirl around when they dance."
Valenzuela and Sanchez said they are pleased the dances allow the children to connect with their roots. But they are also pleased the local Hispanic community can share its traditions with the entire community. The younger children and perhaps the teenagers will dance Friday at Starside Elementary, Sanchez said.
The dances will remain a part of Cinco de Mayo, said Valenzuela, who hopes to build on this year's efforts.
Community donations would help improve the new Cinco de Mayo tradition, Sanchez said.
"The parents had to buy the costumes," she said. "That was difficult for some of them."