831>>TALES FROM THE AREA CODE
A line of about a dozen girls, some dressed in long, elegant dresses, spin and twirl their furls to classic folkloric songs from Mexico, leaning their bodies one way, then the other, while punishing the parquet floor with their sturdy heels. They’re part of a group that gathers twice weekly at the Oldemeyer Center in Seaside, eager to pound out their passion for dance.
Very noticeably, however, there are no boys waiting in the wings to match their moves. No caballeros have shown up for class.
Dance instructor Marcela Morgan got over the shock of this oft-recurring fact long ago.
“It’s not rare at all,” says Morgan, who leads the free Monday and Friday Mexican folkloric dance classes, which are sponsored by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “Basically anywhere you have a voluntary folkloric dance group like this, either in Mexico or the US, the guys are always in short supply.”
Morgan speculates that it might be rooted partially in Mexican culture, in which “guys think that dancing is a girl’s thing,” she says. But then, Morgan adds impishly, “Maybe it’s just because females are more talented.”
Whatever the case, what happens after Morgan completes her portion of the dance class—in which the choreography is altered to make up for the lack of dancers in pants—constitutes a small sort of sexual revolution that’s been a long time coming.
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At about 7pm, Jorge Palacios, the next dance instructor, takes the floor. He’s barefoot and has percussion instruments wrapped around his shins that rattle every time he takes a step. If it weren’t for his pale skin, mustache and jogging clothes, he might be mistaken for an ancient Aztec dancer.
Near the dance hall’s wall-to-wall mirrors sit two large wooden and leather drums with intricate carvings.
He calls the girls around him and starts to loudly beat on the larger drum: “Boom-dum-dum-dum, boom-dum-dum-dum.”
Then, he hands the two sticks to a 10-year-old girl. She starts to go at the drum while Palacios, a teacher at Everett Alvarez High School, proceeds to teach the other students an Aztec dance dedicated to Mother Earth.
Again the students are girls, except for one 3-year-old boy who doesn’t seem to notice that he’s desperately outnumbered.
Palacios says that up until about 10 years ago, girls and women weren’t allowed to do the dances that he now teaches almost exclusively to girls. “These dances were traditionally performed only by men,” Palacios says.
The girls, however, clearly seem to enjoy it.
And having fun is part of what the dancing is about, admit Morgan and Palacios. But it’s not the driving force behind the dance program.
Morgan says the idea to teach traditional Mexican dances sprung out of a series of meetings parents held in Salinas almost 10 years ago to address the gang violence problem that was tearing communities apart.
“One of the things we came up with was that we wanted to give youth a little bit of identity,” Morgan says. “It’s a way for them to know where they came from, to understand certain customs and appreciate their culture.
“Not just Mexican culture,” Morgan clarifies. “But it’s a way to help them balance things out and learn American culture as well.”
Almost all of the 20 girls in the dance class were born in the US, and speak to each other in English when they’re not addressing their parents or the instructor.
The program is an important resource for many immigrant parents in this respect, Palacios says. “Parents who bring their children here do it because they don’t want them to lose touch with their roots, which are being lost in this country,” he says. “Most children who grow up here refuse to have anything to do with things that are Mexican, like folkloric dancing or Aztec dancing, because then you get labeled as a ‘Mexican’ by other students.”
It’s a pattern that Palacios has noticed over the course of a dozen years as a teacher. But it’s one that finally has started to recede in the face of the massive pro-immigrant marches and demonstrations in recent months.
“Now, students who before wouldn’t even say ‘hi’ to me are giving me warm greetings at school,” Palacios says. “They are opening their eyes to a whole new reality about who they are and their place in this country.”
Does that include boys who might be showing interest in signing up for the dance classes?
Not really, Palacios says. “But they are asking me if I’m going to support their marches,” he says. “And that’s something that’s never happened before.”
The students of Lulac’s Mexican Folkloric Dance Programs meet at 6pm mondays and fridays at the oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside. classes are free. 262-5529.