Folklore Dancer connects with her culture through conventions and performances

October 17, 2019 — by Anouk Yeh and Shama Gupta

Freshman Magdalena Mendoza swished the ends of her skirt to the beat of the music as she performed a series of complicated footwork combinations onstage at Fresno’s Folklorico Convention in mid April this year. 

Dancing with “Grupo Viva mi Tierra” as the only 14 year old in a group of 11 18- and 19-year-olds, Mendoza was the youngest dancer on stage; however, with her fine-tuned technique and musicality, almost no one was able to tell. 

Last April, Mendoza traveled to Fresno to perform alongside folklore dancers from around the world. Folklore is a traditional style of Mexican dance involving intricate footwork, cultural music and brightly colored Jalisco dresses. 

“[It’s a type of] traditional Mexican dance that de-emphasizes folk techniques and focuses more on ballet characteristics — pointed toes and exaggerated movements,” Mendoza said. 

Mendoza started dancing folklore at a young age and has now been dancing for a decade. She initially started dancing folklore because she wanted to “express [her] culture by dancing traditional dances from Mexico.”

Currently, she trains and performs as the youngest member of the folklore dance group “Grupo Viva mi Tierra,” which is based in downtown San Jose. The group performs four to five times a month at different local and state-wide conventions or festivals. 

The group has two teachers — one for Northern mexican styles and one for Southern styles — who help them organize and prepare for these performances. 

 Through their shows, the group aims to educate audiences about “the great multicultural diversity that Mexicans have,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

Mendoza said that the most complicated part of performing folklore is keeping track of all the different dance styles that pertain to different regions in Mexico. 

“It’s super stressful when you also need to remember sets for different regions,” Mendoza said. “Right now, I have a show in November and I have to remember three regions’ [dance styles]. Each of these regions has about three to four songs.” 

Despite the challenges, Mendoza has already proved herself  to be highly skilled for her age, due to her early start in the art form. For instance, when she goes to folklore dance conventions, she is usually paired into dance groups above her age level.

 “I have never danced [at the convention] with people my age because I am advanced for my age. Sometimes [people] ask me if I am 18 or 17 when I am only a 14-year-old dancing with the adults,” she said.

Although she enjoys folklore because of the dance movements and general style, Mendoza said that her favorite part of folklore is that it brings Mexican people together to celebrate and connect with their heritage.

She explained that folklore has also helped her connect with a lot of people from the same cultural background — people she would not have met otherwise. One of her most memorable performances occurred when she first got to perform with folklore dancers from different states and different countries.

Although her folklore team only dances at performances as of right now, Mendoza is hoping to expand her folklore experience from just performative to also competitive.

“I love dancing because it’s a part of my culture, and my teammates are like my second family,” she said. “I want to share this beautiful culture through dance.”