September 20, 2002

Hispanic Heritage is a family affair

By Paola Hornbuckle

Keeping Mexican culture alive is a family business in the Aguilar household. Rudy Aguilar runs and promotes his company, Karina’s Dance Shoes, which manufactures traditional Mexican dance shoes used in folkloric dancing, his sister makes dolls dressed in dance costume, and his daughter Karina, keeps the finances and runs a dance troupe.

Karina Aguilar

Karina, 17, has at times run several dance troupes in fact. There is the one she created at Mount Miguel High School, where she is a senior, called Mexican Ballet Folklorico Ahkinmai (Aztec for ‘Descendants of the Sun’), the one she helped create at a National City youth center for low-income children, and the one she is going to help get underway at a local elementary school. She spends hours and hours of her time rehearsing, practicing, teaching and then performing all over the region and in other states, all at no charge.

“I feel it is important for young people to learn about their heritage. I felt I had a natural talent for dancing traditional dance and I wanted to share it with others,” says Karina.

Karina first started dancing at nine years of age. By the time she was 15 she felt ready to start her own troupe. During her freshman year at school she approached the Mount Miguel High School administration about acquiring permission to start her own company with MMHS students. During her first year, there were six students in her troupe. Now there are 21.

The Mexican Ballet Folklorico Ahkinmai has performed in El Centro, at law firms in downtown San Diego, local gatherings, the Del Mar Fair, Cristo Rey Church, and Las Vegas where she received the key to the city from City Council Liaision, Kelly D. Benavidez.

Part of the fun of creating a dance troupe is teaching the dancers and the audience about the rich and varied traditions behind each dance.

“Dances from Veracruz are very influenced by the Spaniards,” she says as she demonstrates the traditional Veracruzian white costume with ruffles, “they tend to be very dignified and the dancers use fans and ‘peinetas’ (hair decorations).”

A dance from Guanajuato on the other hand focuses on farmers and highlights their relationship with the earth, featuring a group of dancers scrapping dirt with their toes, carrying bags and planting seed.

Some of the most fascinating dances highlight the Aztec culture, like the ‘Dance Azteca’ where dancers wear long feathers, Aztec costumes and recreate sun worship and ‘El Venado” where a hunt scene is played out. Unlike North American society, in which Native American cultures and practices have been eliminated or isolated within reservations, in Mexico, as in most of Latin America there is a greater integration between the culture of the European conquerors and the rich Native American heritage. A perfect example is the costume of Jalisco. Rife with the ruffles of traditional Spanish costume, it is vibrant with the colorful hues of Native American colors and braided yarn.

In addition to managing and dancing in her dance troupe, Karina plans to get a degree in business too and a teaching degree in dance from a school in Guanajato, Mexico.

Multitalented and multicultural, she lives in both the United States and Mexico while keeping the past alive for future generations.

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