As often as he can, Adolfo Salinas, 29, drags a little wooden platform onto his back patio in Edinburg, slips on some shorts and his boots and a pair of AirPods and turns on the music.
He’ll spend the next half hour or 45 minutes dancing on the box, doing a Veracruz or a Jalisco, all in an effort to keep skills honed that he’s spent years sharpening as a folklorico dancer.
Salinas’ boots pound on the box, quick, staccato taps like the report of a machine gun alternating with loud, deliberate stomps.
Occasionally he’ll jump up in the air, tuck his legs beneath him and come down with a boom that reverberates off the plywood platform and down the block.
Salinas’ neighbors haven’t complained about the noise, but judging by the wary way Toby, Salinas’ dog, eyes the performance, he’d just as soon have Salinas back practicing on a stage somewhere else.
Salinas found himself abruptly barred from the stage along with the rest of the folklorico dancers at South Texas College after a final performance in Brownsville in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the exception of the occasional dance on his miniature stage and a few workshops via Zoom, he hasn’t danced since.
“I just try to get it out of my system in that way,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so I don’t lose my rhythm, so I don’t lose my coordination.”
Folklorico dancing — with its large troupes of performers, big crowds, and tight couples dances — is, afterall, the exact sort of social interaction COVID-19 thrives in, a fact that’s left Salinas and the rest of STC’s group with the challenge of keeping the program alive through a pandemic that prohibits almost any aspect of their art from being performed.
“It’s weird,” Salinas said. “You sort of feel that you miss it. We had rehearsal every Tuesday and Thursday, and you get accustomed to the routine and having done that for seven, eight years now, and have an abrupt stop … it’s weird.”
Salinas says he particularly misses the friends he’s made through the program and the camaraderie of the dance crew, something Ballet Folklorico STC tried to alleviate over the weekend through Amistades Juntos a la Distancia.
Video of a previous performance posted on the group’s Facebook page, Amistades Juntos a la Distancia, gave performers and fans a taste of the dancing they’ve been missing since March: blaring music, vibrant costumes and lively, jubilant dancers gliding across the stage.
Judging by the comments, filled with compliments and admiration, fans were glad to get a taste of the performance, even if it was just through a computer screen.
“We love to feel that when we’re on stage,” Salinas said. “That connection isn’t there obviously because of the situation, so being able to see that was really nice.”
That encouragement was the point of the performance, Ballet Folklorico STC Director Victor Gomez says.
“It’s not very common for groups to perform virtually,” he said. “We’re finding ways to move and adapt more toward the virtual side of things, which has been a challenge.”
Usually held every semester, Amistades traditionally brings together performers from across the Rio Grande Valley in front of an audience of hundreds.
“We usually will invite local performing groups, let’s say the three high schools from Edinburg to perform with us, or we’ll get three groups from across the Valley to perform with us, and we call it Amistades because the whole point is to show there should not be rivalries or anything, that we’re on the same page when it comes to performing arts, cultural performing arts,” Gomez said.
The pandemic prevented that performance, along with scores of practices Ballet Folklorico STC was supposed to have this year. Although the troupe toyed with splitting performers into different, smaller groups, Gomez says they haven’t taken that action yet out of fear of excluding someone or affecting the team’s solidarity.
“Every dance member is super important, is super, super important. Whether they’re performing the whole concert or just a dance, everybody is super important,” he said.
The longer the pandemic goes on, the more worried Gomez becomes about the way it will affect his performers. He’s afraid they’ll consider leaving the group, which he fears may cause some of the members to leave college altogether.
“One of the main problems that all of us our facing now is the retention of students,” he said. “It could be easy where students say, ‘Well, I’m more focused on work’ or ‘I’m more focused on school.’ Dance might slip if they lose interest in it, we might lose students as a result of them not being active constantly. So I think us being active virtually helps with that retention.”
According to Gomez, Ballet Folklorico STC is taking cues from other institutions and adapting as best it can. Virtual festivals are on the horizon, and outdoor practice may be feasible in a month or so when the weather cools off.
Until then, the performers will rely on remembering past performances and dreaming of future ones, and Salinas will keep pounding out a practice of his own.