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EXPLORING LATIN AMERICAN CULTURE THROUGH PATRICK HENRY ELEMENTARY’S BALLET FOLKLÓRICO

By Sarah Teran | Photos by Monique Kuhlman


In 2006, six teachers at Patrick Henry Elementary School came together through their love of Mexican folklórico dancing. They wanted to share the experience with the Henry community. Henry’s folklórico program, Pasos de Alegría, was born.


Eighty students participated in the inaugural production. The first show gave the teachers and community a taste of the magic of folklórico, and there was no going back.


Pasos de Alegría translates to Steps of Joy. And a better name could not have been chosen. Joy is what started and has kept this program running at Henry for more than 16 years.


MÉXICO AND BEYOND

The first 5 years of Pasos de Alegría focused on México and its many regions. But for 2012’s show, Bellas Costas, the program became more international.


“We’ve evolved,” says Rosa Palacios, who is not only a folklórico coordinator and teacher, but is also one of the program’s founders. “I love México, but my vision was to see lots of different countries that speak Spanish. [2012] was our first chance to branch out, and it was beautiful.”


Ida Moscoso, who joined the school and folklórico in 2009, is from Perú. She found joy learning and teaching dances from other countries. “Wherever you’re from, if you're interested in me doing a dance for you, just give me a song and show me a video,” she says. “I’ve been able to do dances from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Chile...”


The teachers of Pasos de Alegría are dedicated to authenticity in their music, choreography, costumes and props (many of which are genuine pieces from all over Latin America). All of these enable the teachers to show just how unique each region is.


This year’s show, titled Fiesta y Carnaval, featured dances from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Perú, and the Mexican states of Veracruz, Jalisco, Michoacán, and Chiapas.


Each dance was different from the next. The 5th graders’ salsa dance from Cuba and Puerto Rico featured music with recognizable Afro-Caribbean rhythms and signature horns. The 4th graders’ dance from Chiapas, México, featured traditional foot stomping and waltzing, accompanied by music played on marimbas. And the 1st graders performed a dance of love from Perú that paid homage to the land and the region’s agriculture.


“When we represent different countries, I see some families almost crying, saying, ‘that’s my country’,” says Sra. Moscoso. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to branch out. I wanted my daughter to dance something that represents me. And if I want that, then other parents want that. Imagine the grandmas, aunts, and parents feeling that joy of seeing their kid performing something from where they’re from."


A CORNERSTONE OF HENRY’S DUAL IMMERSION EXPERIENCE

Since its start, Pasos de Alegría has become a staple for many students at Henry Elementary. Henry’s folklórico program deepens students’ multicultural appreciation and acceptance through dance and music representing the traditions of the diverse student population. Besides bilingualism and biliteracy, multicultural appreciation is a pillar of the dual immersion curriculum.


The Henry teachers who run the folklórico program volunteer their time and energy outside of school hours. Costumes, decor, programs, dry cleaning, and more are all funded through ticket sales. (And the moderately priced tickets always sell out.)


Pasos de Alegría’s legacy is about honoring the rich cultural tapestry of our community. It’s an experience these students won’t be able to get anywhere else.


On Friday, March 3rd, families gathered in the Henry auditorium to watch their students perform traditional dances from the many cultures represented within their school. And Sra. Palacios, Sra. Moscoso, and the other teachers watched the culmination of their work from the wings with pride. “We do this for the love of culture, dance, and community connection. There’s always a connection. We want it to mean something."


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