Cultural moves: STC dance event both competitive and educational

Against the huge black curtains that served as the backdrop to the McAllen Convention Center stage Saturday morning, Adriana Cavazos’ bright red skirt stood out. Every twirl, step and hop was highlighted by the way her Jalisco skirt contrasted to the dark forum.

Wearing a white lace blouse and red flowers in her hair, Cavazos, 16, performed a folklorico dance duet with Juan Reyna, her classmate at Weslaco High School at the sixth annual La Feria de STC: Folklorico & Contemporary Dance Competition.

Their dance honored the style of folklorico from Nuevo Leon, a northern state in Mexico that is known for having a heavy polka influence with upbeat steps and lively music. They danced to the song “El Pavido Navido,” by Chalino Sanchez.

Cavazos said that this performance was special to her because her grandmother, who was in the audience, grew up in Nuevo Leon.

“I could see her from the stage, she was on the stands towards the back with the judges,” said Cavazos, who started dancing six years ago. “It makes me happy because maybe she was not able to do these kinds of things back then, and now she gets to watch me and support me. Seeing her smile from the stage just makes me smile.”

She also said that dancing has given her the opportunity to learn about the history of folklorico and of the reasons behind the steps and costumes.

“It is really cool because you get to meet new people and learn about the different steps to dances — you get to know more about the different parts of Mexico and where everything originates from,” Cavazos said. “While we learn the steps, we also learn about all the names, the types of dresses and about the makeup, everything.”

Cavazos’ hope is to continue dancing beyond high school and join the folklorico program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley after graduating.

The event’s coordinator, Victor Gomez, who is the director of the center of Mexican American studies at South Texas College, said that he wanted dancers to take the weekend-long competition as a learning opportunity of the culture of their dances.

“Yes it is a competition, but it is more of an educational experience for them,” said Gomez, who has also been a history professor at the college for 13 years. “It is about the feedback the dancers get from our adjudicators today; they are scholars who give specific feedback on the terms of the community that the dances belong to. They offer comments on costumes and why they wore certain flowers and the color of them.”

This year, 40 groups competed, ranging from kindergarten to high school students from school dance groups and private dance companies. Though most entries were folklorico, the day featured contemporary dance as well. STC students were volunteers at the event.

“It used to be just folklorico, but there is a strong movement for contemporary dance in the Valley,” Gomez said, who mentioned that later that day, hip-hop, ballet and jazz dances were in the lineup.

Donning the traditional outfits of the Mexican town their folklorico dance originated from, groups were seen practicing in the hallways and lobby of the building, filling the air of the convention center with the sound of clicking dance shoes and heels.

Dance groups this year came from all around Texas and across the border. Some ensembles traveled from Irving, Texas, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Reynosa for the competition. Carrying in equipment from busses, children holding large boxes were seen practicing steps while walking up the sidewalk, making their way to the entrance.

“What makes this competition special is that we bring in so many groups from different places,” Gomez said. “It is a learning experience; a place conducive to camaraderie and education. Yes we call it a competition, but we want it to be a big educational opportunity, and it later becomes a festival. That is what we are aiming for.”

While a dance group took the stage, 8-year-old Dana Galaviz was practicing her steps at the back of the room, behind the judges’ table. Dancing with the Herencia de mi Tierra folklorico group of Leo J. Leo Elementary of Mission, Galaviz was wore a pink Jalisco skirt with purple grape clusters stitched on it. Her hair was accessorized with purple and green flowers, and plastic grapes that draped along one side of her head.

Galaviz’s dance respected the folklorico from Aguacalientes, Mexico, a city located in central Mexico that is widely known for exporting grapes and wine.

Galaviz said that she was “happy today because grapes are delicious.”

Competition ran on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and will continue on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., which will feature the larger dance sections of the competition. The awarding ceremony will take place on Sunday.

“Today and tomorrow, the audience, supporters and parents will see honestly some of the best dancers in the whole region,” Gomez said. “I really mean that because here in the Valley, it is pretty much our culture.”

Photo gallery: Sixth annual La Feria de STC: Folklorico & Contemporary Dance Competition