By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Before becoming an elementary teacher, Danielle Franco used to dance folklorico in high school.
She always kept the desire to teach young children about the traditional dances of Mexico.
It wasn’t until last November, though, after four years at Hilltop Elementary School, in Chula Vista, that Franco was able to make her dream a reality and founded “Los Conquistadores,” Hilltop’s first ballet folklorico group.
“Folklorico is a great way for children to learn about their culture through dance and music,” said Franco, who teaches 5th grade. “It also makes children more self-confident and excites them to see how much they can accomplish through practice and hard-work.”
“Los Conquistadores,” which is a translation of Knights, Hilltop’s mascot, will be able to show their folklorico skills when they perform in public for the first time at the school’s Second Annual Multicultural Fair, on May 5.
Franco said that all the struggles she had to overcome in order to form the folklorico group is worth it when children enjoy what they’re doing.
Even though many people might not know this, but it’s expensive to start a ballet folklorico, she said.
The shoes, the dresses, the hats, all the accesories, they all add up.
Franco was able to pay for all the expenses thanks to several venues: a $2,000 grant from San Diego Teacher Foundation, a $1,000 grant fom Wal-Mart, and a $15 donation from each of the 34 boys and girls who are part of “Los Conquistadores.”
Last November, Franco said she had an information meeting for children who showed an interest in folklorico.
In that meeting, she showed them a video of her performing in her ballet folklorico during his high school years in El Paso, Texas. She also taught them a little bit of the history of folklorico and the different dances that exist. She used slides to show them the traditional dresses that women use in various states in Mexico.
One of the girls who attended that meeting is Edna Villa, a fifth grader who will perform on Friday.
“Folklorico is really cool,” said Edna, who is of Mexican and Filipino heritage.
“Los Conquistadores,” which is made up of fifth and sixth graders, have been practicing since January for their performance at the Multicultural Fair, Franco said. They will perform four dances: two from Veracruz (“Tilingo lingo” and “El pescador”) and two from Jalisco (“Los alazanes” and “La negra”).
Jessica Sanchez, a fifth grader who will participate in the Veracruz dances, said that her mother used to dance folklorico in elementary school in Mexico as well.
“It’s fun learning about these dances, because my mom gets to see me do what she used to do when she was young,” Jessica said.
Hilltop’s Multicultural Fair is organized by the English Learners Acquisition Committee (ELAC).
There, children learn about five different cultures, such as Chinese and Indian, but the main focus is Mexican culture, as part of the Cinco de Mayo celebration, said ELAC President Francis Morales.
“This is an opportunity for children to learn about the diversity that exists at our school,” she said.
Kids are invited to bring an item that represents their own culture, Morales said.
Unfortunately, this might be the only Multicultural Fair that “Los Conquistadores” perform. Franco said next academic year she’s moving back to Texas after four years at Hilltop.
As of today, she said no one has showed interest in replacing her and taking over the folklorico group.
She said she would like to invite any member of the community who has knowledge of the dances of folklorico to volunteer and continue leading the children.