23 years of dance with Ballet Folklorico

BYNC's Ballet Folklorico during the performance (The Gate)

BYNC’s Ballet Folklorico during the performance (The Gate)

An audience of more than a thousand turned out for a show-stopping 23-year- anniversary performance of the BYNC Ballet Folklorico program, Sunday, Nov. 19. Held at Harris Theater in Millennium Park, the dances reflected the traditional culture of Mexico’s folk dance with choreography inspired by folkloric dances native to Oaxaca, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Michoacán, Tabasco and more.

Since launching the program in 1994, the Ballet Folklorico has grown from a small youth program for 20 students to a prestigious dance ensemble of more than 160 participants.

For BYNC, this achievement marks a huge milestone in arts and culture programming in Back of the Yards. Proud of the work that is coming from the Ballet Folklorico, BYNC’s President and CEO, Craig Chico said that he enjoys seeing youth who started at an early age dancing and are now off in college. “It’s nice to see them hold on to the values that they learned from these cultural dances and involvement,” said Chico.

When Chico first started his position as President of BYNC, he remembers the late maestro Salvador Cisneros’ work as he prepared youth and adults alike, to compete and learn as much as they could about the cultural heritage that Folklorico brings. “He deserves so much credit for the foundation of this ballet and what it’s meant to this community,” said Chico.

He also believes that youth require tangible examples to find that they can follow their dreams and achieve them. One of these examples is performing in stages they wouldn’t otherwise imagine themselves dancing on. “With the prestige of the theater and everything that goes along with it, being associated with our Ballet tells our kids that they’re as good as anyone else. If they can perform on this stage–they can do anything.” BYNC’s Ballet Folklorico director, Jorge Corona began as an instructor of the program in 2002, and since then, has continued not only with the efforts of Maestro Cisneros, but has also adopted a vision and mission that he finds to be important in the cultural representation of the folkloric dance.

Corona’s focus lies in keeping the dance’s dignity and truth. He thinks that it
is important to continue researching and learning about what exists in the Folkloric dance communities throughout the United States and Mexico alike. “One of the missions of BYNC’s Ballet Folklorico is to investigate and promote and spread the traditions of the dances that are popular in Mexico through Ballet Folklorico’s performances that are made in front of our audience.”

Maestro Corona takes on an altruistic approach when he is directing and teaching Folkloric choreography to the Ballet Folklorico participants. Corona also acknowledges the competitive nature of the dance. “We don’t pretend to be the best, we do want to be the best but it is not part of the principal focus [of] our mission. We want all the participants that belong to our groups to ultimately be happy with the work they are doing and for them to feel proud when representing the towns and areas of Mexico that the dances are from.”

One of many proud participating dancers in the program is Virginia Garcia. Virginia has been with BYNC’s Ballet Folklorico since 2003. She is now a college student at Harold Washington College and continues to dance with the group’s first dance company. The first company is the group that gets sent out to most, if not all major festivals and competitions.

Garcia says that this year’s performance was unique in many ways. “This year we [learned] new dances that we had never danced before. We danced something that not all people in the crowd had seen,” said Garcia. “Danza de los Huahuas” is one that left many people in the audience in awe. “It was so unexpected to have them be on what looks like a human Ferris Wheel. The last dance was more of a contemporary approach so this was unique because it was something different that we usually don’t do.”

The young college student and competitive dancer gave Ballet Folklorico credit for helping her break out of her shell. “When I was younger and in school, I was usually the quiet type [of person] but once I joined this dance group and years passed by, I’ve learned how to be more social with people,” said Garcia. She also uses the art form to help her get through hard days. “If I’m having a bad day or something, I always look forward to going to practice because I know that there’s people there who love me. Dancing makes me forget about all my problems.”

It was a nearly a sold-out show, and as she stepped on stage, Garcia immediately knew it was a great crowd. “It doesn’t have to be
a lot of people to be a good crowd. In one of our dances we had to go down and dance by the audience and they were really happy and that was also different and unique,” said Garcia describing a dance that comes from the southern state of Tabasco.

Dances like the ones from Tabasco require a wardrobe with specific embroidery to keep the traditional and cultural nature of the dance’s integrity. They also need the support of many.

“I am fortunate to have many friends in Folklorico and the support of many. One of the people who help us greatly and I would like to mention is Inoel Hernandez,” said Corona.

For the 23rd Anniversary and all other performances, some of the dancers’ mothers get together to prepare and sew the 165+ pieces of wardrobe that are necessary for keeping traditional dances in their purest form.

Among the mothers is Alicia Garcia, mother of Virginia Garcia. Alicia Garcia says the sewing circle keeps her learning new sewing techniques. “I’ve been helping with the sewing and anything else that is needed to help out. If I [can] help, I am there,” said Garcia. “It is important for everyone who is able, to support so that the group of dancers [can] move forward.”

Garcia, as well as others, take home some of the work but take pride in helping in unison. Some parents might not know how to sew, and they will help out with other things like making crowns or ironing wardrobes.

This type of volunteering is what creates a culture within the program and helps people learn new skills that they otherwise might not learn on their own. The same with the Back of the Yards Music Project. (BOTYMP) is a musical group that came out of BYNC’s Ballet Folklorico. It was initiated with the help of Rene Cardoso–a member of one of Chicago’s well-known music bands, Sones de Mexico alongside Corona back in July of 2016.

For this year’s anniversary performance and for the very first time, the music project performed side by side with Ballet Folklorico.

Accompanying other dance performances of the evening were musical groups like Mariachi Perla de Mexico and Hermanos Galan Norteño.

Through widespread collaboration with Ballet families, community groups and institutions across the city and region, the BYNC Ballet Folklorico program has become a cultural and artistic mainstay in Back of the Yards. This year the event was made possible with the support of Juntos Podemos. For more information, call or visit www.bync.org 773-523-4416.