Laredo dance company showcased internationally


Laredo’s ballet folklorico was represented Sunday in an international cultural festival broadcast virtually from Tijuana, Mexico.

Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, scholar and artistic director of the Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklórico, said she selected footage from their Mexico Lindo 2019 concert, where company members performed traditional dances representing Aguascalientes, and her own choreographic work called Chicano Power. It was shown Sunday by the Casa de la Cultura de la Pípila in Tijuana.

“At this festival, folklórico groups from the United States were invited to participate. We are so thrilled to represent Texas and our city of Laredo, Texas before an international audience. It is such an honor to perform for this event,” Mendoza-Garcia said.

Laredoans live both an American and Mexican culture, she noted, being largely bilingual, celebrating the holidays of both countries and of course sharing a border.

“Yet, I think that folklórico is very unique,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “This is a way of remembering our ancestors through dance. We tell their histories, struggles, successes, and fear every time we dance. So, it is very important to continue teaching and learning folklórico in the 21st century.”

Mendoza-Garcia states that the conversations she had with folkloristas in the 1970s inspired her own choreography. Moreover, during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States she saw how Chicanos and Chicanas fought to keep their heritage — this inspired her Chicano Power choreography, which depicts the Chicana and Chicano people at work and at play, as well as their fight for social justice.

“Images of the Brown Berets who fought against police brutality, educational inequalities, and protested the Vietnam War are juxtaposed against dances which incorporate zapateado, disco, and flamenco rhythms to show how the Chicana/os used the arts to make a political statement of cultural empowerment,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “This work premiered in 2016 at our Mexico Lindo concert.”

Due to the pandemic the company’s performances, practices and even recruitment all had to go virtual. However the Danzar en Nuestra País festival organizers asked Mendoza-Garcia to submit footage from live performances so that the full scope of their work could be showcased.

“Dancing during a pandemic is quite different,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “Now, I teach my classes simultaneously online and in-person. When we dance we wear masks and remain six feet apart. This can be very challenging because many of the folklórico dances are courtship dances. Thus, I have had to create unique choreographies specific to the regulations governing the pandemic.”

Jose M. Sanchez Jr., one of Mendoza-Garcia’s dance company members, states that there is a clear difference in dancing before and during a pandemic.

“Over the years of dancing in front of an audience whether big or small groups, as a performer you build the confidence of bringing to life characters in a story, the feeling of our beating hearts with the sounds of our tapping feet and the rich music from our cultures historic background,” Sanchez said. “Our performances provided our audiences with a look to our past and our ancestors. In some, it touches their hearts and in others sparks a childhood memory of their loved ones. During this time of crisis, though we don’t get the chance to perform live in front of our beloved community, I still try to imagine the audience behind the camera at home or on their devices getting that same feeling of happiness as a smile develops on their faces in watching our program.”

The roots of her dance company go back to almost a decade when she came to the city of Laredo after finishing her studies in dancing.

“I began the Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklórico in 2013,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “I had just finished earning my doctorate in critical dance studies from the University of California Riverside. I was ready to begin teaching folklórico again. I noticed that there was not a single dance school or company in Laredo whose sole focus was the teaching and performing of Mexican folklórico dance.”

So she decided to open her company, where she teaches kids and adults how to dance folklorico. Usually, they perform live in Laredo and in surrounding communities.

The Festival is slated to air in three parts on Sunday, Feb. 28, March 29 and April 29 at 8 p.m. on the Facebook page Casa de la Cultura de la Pípila. The Chicano Power choreography is expected to close the festival on Apr. 29 in celebration of the Día Internacional de la Danza.

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