UTRGV folklórico, mariachi performers bring Valley dance, music traditions to Washington, D.C.

The UTRGV Ballet Folklórico and the Mariachi Juvenil Aztlán pose at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., shortly before their June 10 performance at the venue. Their appearance was part of the 2016 National College Dance Festival. (UTRGV Courtesy Photo)

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 10, 2016 – A 32-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., didn’t dim the spirit of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Ballet Folklórico and Mariachi Juvenil Aztlán, who arrived ready to give the performance of a lifetime at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

For their June 10 appearance at the 2016 National College Dance Festival, the dance troupe, under the direction of Francisco Muñoz, was accompanied by the university’s newest mariachi ensemble, directed by Francisco Loera.

They brought to vivid life the colorful culture of a Mexican community by performing “Puebla – Los Chinacos (1994),” with choreography by renowned guest artist Rafael Zamarripa and restaged by Muñoz. (See a brief clip here of the dance performed earlier this year.)

It was the first visit to Washington, D.C., for dancer Amy Castellanos, who just graduated and has entered a master’s program in special education. She said it was a “dream come true” to perform on a national stage like the Kennedy Center.

“We got a standing ovation, and it inspired us because it showed that the audience respects our Mexican culture and traditions, especially in light of recent comments nationwide about Mexicans,” she said. “It also reflects all the hard work, dedication and sacrifice to our dance, which we are passionate about.”

Monica Vargas, who just got her bachelor’s degree in political science, described it as a nerve wracking but a wonderful experience.

“We were not sure how the audience would react,” she said.  “But it gave me the chills to see how they responded to folklórico dance, how they accepted us. We put a lot about how we feel about our heritage into our dance. It was amazing.”

During the festival, held June 8-11, 31 schools nationwide representing a wide range of dance styles and forms, performed in three different programs and presented twice each day. Only two other schools from Texas – UT Austin and Sam Houston State University – had been selected to perform.

The UTRGV students advanced to perform at the festival after ranking as one of the top two performances at the American College Dance Association (ACDA) South Conference held March 11-14 at The University of South Mississippi.

The South Conference is one of 12 ACDA-sponsored nationwide regional conferences, which provide a venue for students not only to perform, but also to engage in workshops, lecture/demonstrations and master classes taught by instructors from around the region and country.

At the South Conference, the troupes competed against more than 45 other college and university dance programs. Nationally recognized adjudicators made the selection based on artistic merit and excellence, citing the Ballet Folklórico’s “precision, percussive footwork” and “vibrant costumes.” Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, also advanced out of the South Conference to the national festival.

“This is a very special accomplishment and celebration for our College of Fine Arts, showcasing our UTRGV dance and music programs at a national level and at this very special venue,” said Dr. Dahlia Guerra, UTRGV assistant vice president of Public Art. “Our students have worked hard to prepare for this competition and performance, and showcasing the talents of both groups together has been very successful, as well as enjoyable and exciting for our students and faculty.”

The Ballet Folklórico advanced previously to the National College Dance Festival in 2012 and 2014, as UTRGV legacy institution UT Pan American. This is the first time the troupe has performed at the festival as UTRGV artists, and the first time with live accompaniment by one of the university’s own mariachi groups. The Mariachi Juvenil Aztlán is UTRGV’s newest mariachi troupe, made up of primarily freshman music students.

Muñoz said he was proud of this “tri-peat” appearance by the folklórico group and thanked the Mariachi Juvenil Aztlán for their accompaniment. “In sports, you go from the sweet 16, to the Final 4, to the Finals. And for Dance, this is our Finals,” Muñoz said. “What we accomplished is dedicated to all the small dance programs and mariachi groups in the country who have never had the opportunity to be selected by nationally recognized panels of dance adjudicators across the country.”

Participating Ballet Folklórico dancers are: Perla Olivo, Estephania Sandoval, Abril Silva Galvan, Aracely Longoria, Lilian Rodriguez, Fancy de Leon, Amy Castellanos, Jennifer Lozano, Monica Vargas, Naileah Garza, Susan Tristan, Mario Quiroz, Angel Hernandez, Brandon Salinas, Anthony Carillo, Uriel Gongora, Guillermo Rivas, Jose Izaguirre, Sergio de Leon, and Anibal Flores.

Mariachi Juvenil Aztlán members who participated include: Jasmin Alaniz, Yarettzy Escobar, Erica Soveranes, Jennifer Garcia, Clyde Guerra, Brigido Lagunes, Rafael Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez, Rogelio Vazquez, Jose Zamora, Nathan Garcia, Juan Mireles, and Francisco Carreon.
Go to the College of Fine Arts to learn more about programs offered at UTRGV.


Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations