“When I first saw it, I didn’t know if I was gonna like that costume because it was so different than the ones I was used to in my childhood”

May 18th, 2019

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She was leaning on a backstage fence, looking ahead, preparing her body for a dance that was part of Cinco de Mayo – an annual event that celebrates the Mexican-American culture in the Mission neighborhood. She was beautiful, her body posture was impeccable and I just kept staring at her. I wanted to learn more about her passion for dancing, about her dance group and about the costume she was wearing that day. She said yes when I invited her out for coffee.

The passion for dancing

Lisa started to dance in El Paso, Texas. She was about three years old at that time. She danced until she was 11 or 12, then she stopped because dancing was no longer fun. Earlier this year, she googled for ballet folklorico groups in San Francisco and one drew her attention. The dancers had a great reputation, they were very good dancers and the instructor had managed the group for 25 years.

“I said to myself –  OK, I’m just gonna show up there and see if they let me dance with them. I had to relearn everything because it had been 24 years since I had last danced. It was hard. We have rehearsals three days a week. My teammates are advanced and they don’t stop to show you the steps, you just have to pick up. For a while, I stood in the back of the room and I watched them dance. The instructor saw that I was dedicated and told me at one point – Ok, I’ll cast you in the Cinco de Mayo performance, in the Mission.”

She was happy, but she knew that she needed to learn a lot. When she came home after work, she just turned on the TV and practiced the steps for hours. Sometimes her husband would ask her – When are you gonna go to sleep, Lisa?”

“The dances I’m learning again now are part of my culture. It’s like a representation of all the different cultures that exist in the Mexican region, that are passed on and shared with people. I’m practicing again because I feel something that brings back memories of my childhood, the joy of my parents when they watched us, the joy of dancing.”

The story of her costume

“When I first saw it, I didn’t know if I was gonna like that costume, because it was so different than the ones I was used to in my childhood – big skirts, tops with large ribbons. But on me, it fit perfectly and I said to myself – Ok, the whole look is starting to come together.”

“When I first saw it, I didn’t know if I was gonna like that costume because it was so different than the ones I was used to in my childhood – big skirts, tops with large ribbons. But on me, it fit perfectly and I said to myself – Ok, the whole look is starting to come together.  Our costumes are all ready-made. Our instructor has a supply and you just have to hope you fit in that size. A lot of the costume styles started from Nuevo León, a region that is located in the Northern part of Mexico and that borders the state of Texas. The region was home to many German immigrants, causing a heavy polka influence on the region’s music, dances and clothing.

A funny fact is that I didn’t do any rehearsals wearing the costume, and when I put my feet on the stage, I was so nervous. I thought about my arms and how to hold them around my body, I was scared that the white bloomers were going to fall down because they were too big, and so on. But now, looking back at the performance, I feel very proud because it’s been so long since I put on any type of folklorico costume. I really feel proud and excited.”

Lisa relived many childhood moments this year – the whole experience of being in the backstage, on the stage, hearing some of the songs that were familiar to her. When she was a toddler, her mom did all her make-up and all her hair for the shows. Now, Lisa does them herself, and she often thinks: “Where’s my mom? I need my mom!”

However, the moments of panic would disappear when she was backstage. Her dance group is her family now. Everyone helps one another with the clothing and with the accessories. She still hears their voices murmuring around her: ”I’ll zip you up. I’ll help you out. Don’t forget about that hat!”

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