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Folklorico students perform at dance gala in Chicago

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By Tavia Teitler

Sopris Sun Correspondent

“I was psyched” were the words that dancer Lindsay Vega used to describe her reaction when she found out that she would be performing in Chicago. Vega is part of the advanced/performing group of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico, an after-school program under the direction of Francisco Nevarez-Burgeño, which teaches students traditional Mexican dance. The program has been in the Roaring Fork Valley for several years and has served hundreds of students. Towards the end of last month, 15 students ages 12 to 17 (and five chaperones) loaded their dance costumes into suitcases and boarded an airplane for Chicago, where the dancers explored the city and performed at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

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The performance came about as the result of a student exchange last school year. Members of The Academy of Mexican Dance and Music (AMDM), an adult folklorico group based in Chicago, came to Carbondale in January and taught the folklorico students new dances. Nevarez-Burgeño  later returned the favor, traveling to Chicago and helping AMDM learn some new dances as well. Throughout this exchange, the members of AMDM “Fell in love with [Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico],” said Nevarez-Burgeño. When the Chicago group learned they would be holding their inaugural gala at the National Museum of Mexican Art, they invited ASFB Folklorico to join them in an effort to, “promote Mexican culture in Chicago,” as Nevarez-Burgeño put it.

Making this trip happen wasn’t exactly easy but Nevarez-Burgeño believed that this experience was very important for his students. “I think one of the most important things is to take these kids out of the valley … [so they can] see other cities, meet new people, make new friends … and show people … how capable they are of doing this kind of art.” One of Nevarez-Burgeño’s hopes for his students during this trip was that they would start to, “make a network for themselves,” by forging new contacts and gaining new experiences.

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New contacts

One new contact the students formed on this trip was with a group of young mariachi musicians called the Chicago Mariachi Project, who provided the dancers with live music during their performance. The dancers first encountered this group when they stumbled upon the young musicians performing in Millennium Park while the dancers were touring Chicago. Nevarez-Burgeño was introduced to the director and learned that the mariachis would be closing their show with “Negra” (the song that the dancers would be performing to at the museum). When the familiar music came on, several of the students, with some encouragement from Nevarez-Burgeño, stood up in front of the crowd and started dancing. “We just went for it,” said dancer Andy Loya. “We were just tourists … and then BOOM we started dancing,” Nevarez-Burgeño said.  

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Nevarez-Burgeño used this trip as an opportunity to expose his students to lots of different art. The group took a tour of the National Museum of Mexican Art and got the opportunity to see a performance by the Blue Man Group. The dancers also toured Chicago by train, checking out all parts of the city and paying a visit to Lake Michigan.

Nevarez-Burgeño was proud to report that, despite their marvelous experience, their time in the city made many of his students more appreciative of their home. “Two or three of my students approached me when we arrived in Denver and made the comment that it’s nice to visit big cities … with all the rush and all the people and all the traffic but … it’s so nice to live where we live in this small valley where everybody’s mellow and calm and the weather is nice,” Nevarez-Burgeño remembered.

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“My favorite part of the trip was the excitement of my students to get on the plane and the excitement of seeing them all together,” Nevarez-Burgeño said, adding that the group is more than ready to take on another trip like this in the future. “Whoever invites us to wherever in the world, we will be there.”

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folkorico serves students in Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, with studios in Carbondale (in the Third Street Center), Basalt and Glenwood. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (the professional ballet company of which ASFB Folklorico is an out-reach program) is based in Aspen and Santa Fe.

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Tavia Teitler is a Sopris Sun summer intern. She is 15 and will be a junior at Roaring Fork High School.

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Published in The Sopris Sun on July 30, 2015.