Roswell Folklorico presents the 26th annual Festival Folklorico
By Christina Stock
Roswell Folklorico, under guidance of its director, Frank Herrera, celebrates the richness of Mexico’s and New Mexico’s dance history with its 26th annual Festival Folklorico on May 31 and June 1 at the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Performing Arts Center. Both shows start at 7 p.m.
Various folk dances of Mexican states will be highlighted, showing the influences of Spain, the United States, the French and other European cultures. A special highlight is the performances of three Aztec dances.
“The Aztec dances will be our newest region this year and the costumes are gorgeous,” Herrera said.
Asked how he gets inspired as a teacher, he said that he doesn’t want his dancers, himself or the audience getting bored having the same routines annually, “I am a member of the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos, which is the National organization for Folklorico,” he said. “They meet once a year at different locations. They usually offer five to six regions and they have teachers from that region. I’ve started attending in 1991 in Albuquerque and since, I’ve gone to about 10.
“I also brought in (to his class) teachers from Mexico. When I could get the money, I would bring them in for a weekend. It is so much easier if somebody shows you step-by-step. I’ve ordered instructional CDs and music and some from YouTube,” Herrera said.
Monica Lysak has been dancing with Herrera for 19 years. “There was one year I had to stop for medical reasons,” she said. “If I wouldn’t have stopped that year, it would be 20 now.
“I met Frank the first time when he was teaching at University High School. He was teaching back then line dancing. After that, I really enjoyed his class. After I had my oldest son, I found out he was teaching classes. We started at the Roswell Adult Center (Roswell Adult & Recreation Center). I used to bring my baby to dance class with me. To me, that was “Mommy time” — I needed a little time. I had told my husband that I started to dance and he said, ‘Well, if that’s what you want, then start.’ I enjoyed music and dancing and what he (Herrera) taught us.
“What I like about Frank, when he corrects me or tells me something, I say OK, because that’s for my own good, and I enjoy everything he does,” Lysak said. “No issues. He is a good teacher. As an adult, I understand what he is trying to do and what he wants. I try to do my best to always bring what he tells me to. I am really hard on myself — you can ask him — I get upset when I forget something.”
Lysak is especially looking forward to dancing the Aztec dances. “First of all, I love the costume,” she said. “It makes me feel like an Indian. I love the colors, the stuff that you wear. It’s just an excitement, the feathers. You feel like somebody totally different. At that point, I feel like it’s back in time and really me. What I enjoy about the costume, it’s not that much accessories, because most of them have a lot of accessories like Vera Cruz, which we have been doing for a while has a lot, and Jalisco, that one is a very heavy dress, even though it is just one piece, but because of all the layers it has. That is why I enjoy this one, it’s lighter. I am looking forward to this show.”
The three Aztec dances each have a deeper meaning. The first dance is performed to “Son de Aguila Blanca,” (“Song of the White Eagle”).
As the eagle rises to swoop down on its prey, so does the sun; it rises and then swoops down and finally disappears. The eagle symbolized the largest bird, which was fearless, powerful and brave and so were the bravest men. This bird was a symbol of warriors. While warriors were men, women were considered eagle warriors if they died in childbirth.
The white eagle, according to researchers in the Aztec and Mayan belief, refers to a “ghost warrior,” or it can be a name for the sun.
Other dances performed by Roswell Folklorico will be Danza Al Sol (Sun Dance — the dance, performed in the conchero tradition, serves to realign the human spirit with the forces of water, earth, fire and wind) and the dance Los Matlachines.
There is no reliable data on the origin of “matlachines,” according to Arturo Warman who wrote about dances in different cultures including Mexico. Etymologically matlachin may come from the Aztec Náhuatl word “matlatl,” which means network. However, researcher Juan J. Zaldivar, proposed the word comes from the Náhuatl word “Mala-cotzin,” which means to turn or spin. According to The Sun of Zacatecas newspaper, May 10, 2017, the dance itself dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. It is presumed that later on Christianized Tlaxcaltecans practiced it. The dance depicts indigenous people, hunters and collectors, as well as the execution of the drum, which calls for either combat or war.
One of the longest members dancing is Roswell-born and raised Liana Perez. “I have been dancing for 20 years. My mom saw it (an article about Roswell Folklorico) in the newspaper,” she said. “I think I was about 11. She asked if I want to try and I said yes. I liked it and fell in love with it. I like meeting people and going to competition, learning dances, and the dresses are so pretty. I can’t stop, I am not sure if it runs in the family. If it does, that’s why I like it. My mom thinks it may have been a great-great-grandfather who used to dance.
“I love everybody, they are just so nice. I like Frank, he is a good teacher,” Perez said. “The steps are challenging, but I like that, the challenge, if it’s a new dance. He (Herrera) brought one this year, it’s a new dance from Jalisco. That’s one of my favorite dresses.
Roswell Folklorico dancer Silvia Flores has been dancing with the group this year 15 years. “It was recommended to me because I am also a race walker,” she said. “I compete in Senior Olympics — I was told that dancing would be something really beneficial to that. That’s the main reason I got into it and then I found out I really liked it and stayed with it.”
Asked what she likes best, Flores said, “There are some favorites (dances). I like all of it. All of it is so much fun, enjoyable. You learn about the culture, all of that as well.”
Dancing also brings challenges, Flores said. “Learning all the steps, there are some dances that are very intricate with the steps, like Vera Cruz, some of the Jalisco steps. The audience sees your feet and they can see immediately if somebody is off. You have to really learn them and that is part of the challenge,” she said.
Mary Gonzalez shared the reasons why she started dancing with Roswell Folklorico 12 years ago. “I joined Folklorico that many years ago for exercise because I had a real bad back, and after that I fell in love with the dances, the regions, the culture and then when you go out and perform, you see the smiles on the faces — it just gets you. We really enjoy it. Silvia and I are the only two that were in advanced (class) and also with the adult group. In the senior group, the oldest is 70 plus.”
Gonzalez is looking forward to a very special dance partner this year. “In this group, I had nephews and nieces dance, but right now there is only one grandniece dancing with me,” she said. “This year, we are going to do the Vera Cruz — the one with the white dresses — and she’s going to dance with me together. We’ll be onstage at the same time, he (Frank) is putting both groups together. I am excited.”
Tickets for the event are available from the dancers and at the door on the day of the festival. For more information, call 575-624-2724.