By Gabrielle Wilkosz
What does Ballet Folklorico do?
The St. Edward’s Ballet Folklorico team is a folk dance group that performs traditional dances from many regions of Mexico to honor cultural traditions throughout the county’s history. Dances include some pre-colonial pan-indigenous.
Fifteen years ago, Ballet Folklorico was created out of a need from students who wanted to dance and share it with the St. Edward’s community. At the time, the goal of the team was to learn these dances and perform them on campus. However, over time, the group’s performances and influence expanded outward from campus and onto the Austin and local community.
The dancers and members make giving back to the community a priority. Their work is characterized by practicing dance and then providing pro bono performances for groups around Austin. Organizers and administrators at nonprofits and elementary schools have developed relationships with founding faculty adviser and dance instructor, Linda Vallejo. Because of this, Ballet Folklorico at St. Edward’s has a presence at annual events from Hispanic heritage festivals to annual visits to Austin’s independent school district.
At the Munday Library archives, some of Ballet Folklorico’s original costumes have been preserved. These St. Edward’s pieces include women’s and men’s jackets, a pair of men’s chaps, and a women’s skirt, which are significant for their distinctive non-traditional blue and gold—official university colors—instead of traditional honey hues.
What do you get out of participating in Ballet Folklorico?
At Austin’s annual Viva la Vida Parade sponsored by the Mexic-Arte Museum, the Ballet Folklorico team performed Concheros, a Pre-Columbian dance. The performance was Sam Ramirez’s first. When asked about her experience in context with social activism, Ramirez had this to say about the public event:
“Austin has such a large Hispanic population, it’s good that people come out and appreciate what we’re doing. We’ve gotten to know each other really well. We’ve made our own little family. It’s a community. It’s a team.”
You don’t have to dance to be involved. Some members perform important non-dance functions like assisting at parades.
What does Ballet Folklorico contribute to the St. Edward’s community?
St. Edward’s is a Hispanic-serving institution with latinos making up about 40% of the student population. If you are a student with Hispanic roots, CAMP Director and Ballet Folklorico instructor, Linda Vallejo, says that dance is one way to access that heritage.
“There’s been a lot of support for the group in the 15 years that I’ve been here, from the university, from members, from different community groups. It’s been really fun to be in charge of it and be able to continue it. We’re hoping to continue to have it here for a lot longer.”
Ballet Folklorico engages particularly with cultural identity, which Vallejo says can be tricky to deal with for anyone. She adds that where there’s difficulty in discovering cultural identity, there is also opportunity.
“What it can be also is a way to reconnect with part of your family’s history and allow you to learn about it, if the culture has gotten lost over the generations. I think it’s important for anybody to learn about their family, their culture, their roots or heritage. If you’re given the opportunity to do something that represents it, to share that, I think that’s icing on top of the cake.”
Ballet Folklorico relies on funding from the university to do its pro bono work. Elementary schools and nonprofits cannot often afford to spend money on Ballet Folklorico performances and cultural events, so the fact that Ballet Folklorico is free means that more students and community members can view the dances and enjoy the shared culture.
How can students get involved?