Several months into its 12th year, the UCSB dance troupe Raices de mi Tierra is using its art to uncover much of the Latino heritage steeped in what is known as “ballet folklorico.”
The dancing, which is a mix of Spanish Flamenco and Aztec Native American choreography, dates back centuries to rural Mexican villages. While dancers say they draw inspiration from the history, piecing together a show is frustrating.
“There’s just so much history involved with this type of dancing,” group Co-chair David Becerra said. “Some regions are more heavily influenced by Spanish style, while others are more Indian. It’s really a goal for the year to learn more about this type of dance. We know it’s there and it’s just a matter of uncovering it.”
The troupe meets three times a week for dance rehearsals, choreographed and produced by Director Diana Reveles. Besides the challenging but decidedly “laid back” rehearsals on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Raices de mi Tierra visits Isla Vista Elementary School every Monday night to teach local children the traditional dancing and invite them to perform with them at their end-of-the-year multicultural show in Campbell Hall.
This year, the group hopes to attend a folklorico conference in Sacramento and meet with Mexican maestros who are more able to fully teach the dancers about a particular region and the associated dancing.
“Our purpose is to promote and cultivate, at UCSB and the community, the study and performance of traditional and modern Mexican folk dancing from various regions. This dancing defines so much of our culture. We’re just working to continue something that has been around for so long,” Reveles said.
Troupe Co-chair Ana Valdivia said that the rich historical culture intrigues the dancers and strengthens pride.
“I participate to show people that there is diversity in this school,” she said. “We’re proud of our heritage. We’re proud to be here.”
While the majority of the 30-plus member troupe is Latino, Reveles said there are members of the troupe who have no Hispanic roots.
“Many of us are interested in learning about our culture and traditions, but there are others that are here because they simply love to dance. It’s just such a colorful, vibrant and truly beautiful dance,” she said.
Many group members, like Becerra, joined the group last year, just five weeks before the final performance.
“I had never danced before, but joined the group because they were short a few male dancers,” he said. “I learned around 18 dances in just those few weeks and absolutely fell in love. Next, I’m co-chair and helping to put together the group.”
In addition to its research into the Mexican heritage of folklorico, the group is considering putting together a larger multicultural dance festival with other dance groups on campus.
“We always invite other groups to participate with us, and would absolutely love to have others involved with our cultural dance,” Reveles said.
In early March, Raices de mi Tierra will participate in Sigma Chi Omega’s cultural show, which is free to the community.