Growing up in a Mexican household in San Diego, California, third-year UC Berkeley student Alexa Carrillo Espinoza says there was always dancing in her home. She’d always wanted to try ballet folklórico, a traditional Mexican folklore dance, but never had the chance. So, when she got to Berkeley in 2019 and saw the student group Ballet Folklórico Reflejos de Mexico tabling on Sproul Plaza, she signed up right away. “As I dance, I have this overwhelming sense of pride,” she says.
Reflejos co-artistic director Graciela Ruiz, a fourth-year social welfare major, began dancing folklórico when she was 5 after her mom enrolled her in community classes near her hometown, Madera, in the Central Valley. She co-leads two classes — one for beginners and another for intermediate and advanced dancers.
“We welcome students of all identities, regardless of their level of experience,” says Ruiz. “Each semester, about 80% of the students have never seen this style of dance. It’s been a really refreshing and rewarding experience. All we ask is that you have an enthusiasm to learn.”
Read a transcript of Berkeley Voices episode #85: “Ballet folklórico: Celebrating Mexican culture through dance.”
Intro: This is Berkeley Voices. I’m Anne Brice.
[Music: “El Son de la Negra” by by Mariachi Vargas De Tecalitlán]
Graciela Ruiz: I started dance at a very young age. Or, this style of dance — called ballet folklórico. I used to go to my older brother’s practices. And I remember seeing him and the group that was in practice and I would go on the floor and disrupt their practice because I thought it was so fun, the way the girls were wearing their skirts for the region they were practicing. And I was just in awe of the way they were moving. And I guess my mom took that as a sign that maybe this is something that I, as her daughter, would be good at.
My name is Graciela Ruiz, and I’m a fourth-year here at UC Berkeley, so senior year, I’ll be graduating. Very exciting.
The dance group is called Ballet Folklórico Reflejos de Mexico, but usually we just refer to ourselves as Reflejos. In English, that means “reflections.” So, it’s reflections of Mexico, right?
Our group is a Mexican folklore group. We try to showcase traditional art, traditions and customs through a folkloric style of dance. Our mission is to promote cultural diversity here at Cal.
I’m one of the artistic directors. I lead the group, along with my co-director, Mariela. We have a class that’s for beginners, so that’s for people who don’t have experience or maybe they have a little bit of experience. And then we also have an additional class for intermediate and advanced dancers, so those are students who might have had more years of experience or are pretty advanced.
[Music: “Veracruz” by Conjunto Jarocho Medellín de Lino Chavez]
Alexa Carrillo Espinoza: My name is Alexa Carrillo Espinoza. I’m a third-year linguistics major at UC Berkeley. I feel like part of growing up in a Mexican household, there’s always some kind of dancing or some party, something to practice your steps for.
I never did folklórico until my first year here, the first class that I took with Reflejos.
I was definitely a little nervous like I get for most things, just like being with people I didn’t know. But immediately, as soon as I got there and we were… I think when I got there, they were doing stretches and they were playing music that I usually hear, like Reggaeton. It wasn’t the music we were going to be dancing to, but I immediately felt that sense of comfort. Almost a sense of belonging, like, “Oh, I belong here,” which was very meaningful being a minority in this big, big school.
I think it has just really become… I have gotten a deeper sense of connection with the dance itself and even my Mexican-ness, I guess you could say.
My parents were undocumented, so I was never really able to go to Mexico, as a lot of my other friends were. I never really had… I almost felt like I didn’t have that deep of a connection because of that — like I lost out in a certain part of that.
But doing this and being able to represent so many different regions of Mexico has definitely led me to have a greater understanding and appreciation for my culture and its beauty.
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