By John Philip Wyllie
Hundreds of students, educators and administrators were on hand last week at the Bonita Golf Course to say goodbye to Dr. Angela Hawkins, the outgoing Sweetwater Union High School District Director of Special Education. The gala event was a celebration of Hawkins’ remarkable 40-year career, a career that benefited thousands of students and touched a countless number of lives. Among the many paying tribute was Mundo de Ilusiones, a 10-member folklorico group composed of district students and former students with developmental disabilities.
Adorn in the all-white folklorico costumes of Veracruz, the students took the stage and delighted the audience with a faithfully executed a series of dances. It was a proud moment for Hawkins, the student’s teachers and especially their parents. Gloria and Jesus Niebla, watched their son Javier perform and remembered back to his initial introduction to folklorico dancing.
“Javier is very shy. He didn’t want to participate at first,” his mother recalled. “For more than a month, he just watched as the other kids danced, but we kept bringing him to the practices and eventually he joined in.” The sight of his teachers in the audience on this occasion created deep feelings of anxiety and stage fright, but a parental pep talk restored Niebla’s confidence and he joined his friends on stage.
For Mundo de Ilusiones coordinator, Cecilia Pena, the event was the latest success in her 12-year effort to bring folklorico dancing to developmentally disabled students.
“Twelve years ago, I went with a friend of mine to watch her 10-year old daughter dancing in Tijuana,” Pena said. “I thought it was beautiful so, I talked to her teacher and invited him to work with our students.” He accepted the offer and Hawkins provided Pena with a large room at the district office to use as their dance studio. Pena got the word out throughout the district and soon she had folklorico recruits from many of the district’s junior high and high schools.
Students have come and gone over the years and six different teachers have provided them instruction. Jorge Dominguez, a professional folklorico dance teacher, is currently providing the training.
The group’s ranks swelled to 24 at one point. At present, 10 students practice once a week throughout out the school year. One student, Ivette Adrianzen, has been a part of the group from its inception.
Performing primarily at Special Education conferences and at district functions, Pena’s group has traveled all over Southern California.
“Due to the nature of their disabilities it is difficult for some of the students to learn the dances,” Pena said. “They may not even want to participate at first, but after awhile they get over their embarrassment, improve and then really enjoy it,” Pena said. Hawkins’ unexpected retirement, provided the students only six sessions to master the dances. If the ovation they received following their performance is any indication, they more than met their goal.