Ballet Folklorico de Anderson Keeps Tradition Alive
● By Laura Christman
Feel the Music
Story and Photos By Laura Christman
A skirt with 18 pounds of fabric has plenty of swirl power. When Ballet Folklorico de Anderson dancers are twirling, their flowing costumes look like giant flowers unfurling.
“I like it when we get to move our dresses,” says Ionavia Farris, 7. “It feels good and it looks good.”
Ballet folklorico is culture in motion. The fast-paced style of dancing is done to mariachi and other upbeat music. It was popularized in the 1950s in Mexico City but is rooted in traditions that go back centuries. Female dancers in ribbon-embellished, brightly colored, long dresses, each made with yards and yards of fabric, become swirls of colors as they move.
Ballet Folklorico de Anderson has eight dancers ranging in age from 5 to 22. The girls and young women practice at Anderson River Park and come from Anderson, Cottonwood, Redding and Shingletown. They perform at schools, convalescent homes and special events, such as the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Shasta College in Redding.
“Wherever we perform, we bring a little piece of Mexico,” says Vianney Pasillas, the group’s leader.
By participating in the group and learning the dances, the dancers gain knowledge about history, traditions and regions of Mexico.
“We can remember the culture of how we danced in the past,” says Ballet Folklorico de Anderson dancer Irlanda Farris, 9.
“It’s pretty cool to show everyone our culture,” says dancer Karen Lomeli, 22.
The dancers are received enthusiastically by North State audiences, Pasillas says.
“We like dancing and making everybody feel happy,” she adds.
The style of dance is physically demanding and requires lots of practice. The most challenging part is learning “to move the dresses together as a group,” Pasillas says.
Melina Delaloza, 17, has been dancing with the Anderson group for nine years. Initially she was reluctant to join because her schedule was already busy with activities. But she stepped in, gave it a whirl and is now an enthusiast.
“It’s nice to be in touch with tradition,” she says. “We can express our feelings through this way of dance.”
She also enjoys the friendships. “We’ve all gotten really close.”
The older dancers work with the youngest dancers, teaching them techniques.
“We’re like a big family,” says 19-year-old Bianca Pasillas (younger sister of Vianney Pasillas).
One of the things she likes best is sharing Mexican culture with others. When the group performs, the dresses draw lots of audience interest, she says. The costumes are handmade and can cost up to $200. Each dancer’s dress is unique.
“We are a more modern group and we allow everyone to have their own style,” explains Bianca, wearing a fluorescent-pink dress and rhinestone-studded white cowboy boots. “I like the pop.”
While the dancers appreciate tradition, they don’t always strictly adhere to it. Melina notes they do a version of “Los Machetes,” a machete dance traditionally performed by men. The female dancers don black leggings with white shirts and use wooden machetes, each personally decorated.
“We decided it’s time to change things up a bit,” Melina says.
Ballet Folklorico de Anderson is open to male dancers. And from time to time, boys have participated, Vianney says. There’s much more interest among boys and men in dancing ballet folklorico in Mexico, she says.
Vianney and Bianca Pasillas were taught ballet folklorico by their mother, Lorena, who learned it as a schoolgirl in Mexico. She began leading Ballet Folklorico de Anderson about 10 years ago. Vianney, 25, took on the leadership role when she was 17 and still in high school.
There’s no cost to participate in Ballet Folklorico de Anderson and the group welcomes new members. Those interested should email Vianney at [email protected]
“We want to keep the tradition alive,” she says.