The Passion That Dances In My Roots | Teen Ink

The Passion That Dances In My Roots

June 23, 2019
By fridawrites SILVER, Santa Ana, California
fridawrites SILVER, Santa Ana, California
6 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

van gogh


The start of my passion began downtown.

At downtown Santa Ana, California, there were tall skyscrapers, the best hot drinks in hidden cafés, and best of all, the best place to be with our people— La Raza, or referring to Chicano community and people. I took pride in the mom and pop shops on Fourth Street offering the work of gifted dressmakers and bakers. Outside, on the platform tucked into one of its corners, happiness resonated from the passion of the local high school dancers or mariachi bands. Most were simple shows on a street not very known, but they were pleasing for the moment and it was enough.

I saw these little roles in my city often and took the time to admire them. I found myself longing for some self-purpose to be equally as proud of. I tried to imagine myself as any sort of extra-curricular persona, usually ones that I had taken as inspiration from my peers; an actor at the local children’s playhouse, a strategic softball player, an effortless pianist. I pulled at my braids in the mirror thinking of these things and wandered off, not knowing that the lips frowning back at me would one day find their purpose giving a shrieking cry traditional to the nature of Mexican Folklore dancing.

I have this epiphany at the very place to be— downtown. It was the jewel that stuck; ballet folklórico, a show of trimmed ribbons and glinting jewelry and best of all, long, thick skirts that flowed in every color imaginable.

There were always traditions that our family celebrated that went unspoken in most Mexican households. A lot of them took place in our own city, with the majority population of Chicanos. One was Fiestas Patrias, or Mexican Independence Day Celebrations. This grand event was set on the 16th of September, with a big parade of proud trumpets and streamers bleeding green, white, and red into the sky. My favorite part of the 16th, somewhere in the line that had no beginning or end, stood the grand part of the show. They were the folkloristas; always there for me, waiting.

Tall, beautiful girls, obsidian hair slicked back into a hairpiece threaded with ribbon and flowers. I still had an eye for their beauty as I grew older, but as a child, all I ever wanted was one of their ethereal dress costumes. My mom would push me up to the front, and I would snake my way through the crowd until I stood at the sidewalk curb at sunset and saw them. Looking up, I could see the lace fringes rising and falling on the dancer’s chests, and down, just below their crinolines, their smooth heels hitting and twisting at the asphalt. They seemed suspended in air, the banda playing mercifully and drowning out their breaths. Trumpets and guitars big enough for a child to fit through blared into every corner of the narrow streets.

I never wanted it to end, color bursting through everywhere—  the wave of a skirt or the flash of red lips up against the backdrop of a cerulean sky. The girls seemed happy, so happy, and God knew that seven-year-old Frida wanted one of those enormous rainbow dresses to lift high above her head. Floreos, long, sweeping waves made with the magic snap of the wrist, were just about the most gorgeous thing she had ever seen.

It was always an exciting day. Fireworks at midday made my heart jump, but everything felt right— the honks of the carts of eloteros made me feel at home, and I hadn’t missed a year where I fell asleep in front of the little TV in my living room streaming live from Mexico City. Even after knocking out after a long day, I never stopped thinking about striding in clicking heels and throwing yards of ribbons stitched to soft seams all around me….

For an update, I have not only grown into a teenager but in a whirl of time, have taken up this style of dance that I longed for so. For starters, I have grown used to being in front of a mirror as much as I once felt intimidated by. I walk into a room with an entire wall of it now, my once hanging braids now twisted into a bun at the nape of my neck. I step into class, lift my chin, and know my purpose. As a kid, I would have never imagined how now, it’s in my head all the time, when I get up to stretch from typing at my computer, or when I’m at the store and can slide against the linoleum to practice footwork. It’s in my mind, and I’m running its intricate patterns and wondering things like from which region of Mexico our number for the upcoming company showcase will be.

Despite relishing in a crisp new skirt or hairpiece, I don’t go to the studio with a fully costumed fantasy in mind anymore. Rather, I enter wanting to see scuffed heels moving swiftly before anything else can, satisfying me more than any itchy costume. However, this doesn’t stop me from taking the time to admire its visuals. I go to festivals on burning hot summer days to cheer on other companies and watch it from a speculator’s point of view. I get to relax, slack my feet,  roll my head down and indulge in the mirage of effortlessness. There’s nothing like seeing perfectly pieced primary colored dresses move in sync to music that is my epitome of cultural familiarity.

And now, as choreography has grown from flat stomps and toe taps to rattling, tricky combinations, it hurts me quite a bit. Soreness is just the norm now, and deep in me, there’s this fear of twisting my ankle. The heel of my shoe could easily pop off, and my heart drops when it feels loose and wobbly after slamming the floor too hard during a combination. There’s also no pain like crushing my own toes with the hard nailheads embedded in the soles that I need to step with to get a satisfying clack.

I don’t get caught up on the ugly part of it after the pain subsides, though, and live for the uniform rhythm of everyone’s shoes together. The clicks that roar up with the proud brass or percussion, or joyous notes of the marimba floating with our skirts in our hands, make the struggle disappear. It’s exhilarating— there is the occasional whoop that the boys make or a strong, clear shout made amidst a grin by one of the girls in rehearsals. I look over to my friends dancing around the room, and we compete with our voices teasingly. During these moments, I close my eyes and laugh, my feet doing some sort of pattern meanwhile that I would have never thought to be my place to perform. I have grown to be grateful for that.

Sometimes it surprises me to have such an extensive memory and love for this dance when truthfully, it is not my biggest priority. I realize that maybe that is a good thing for me, though. Stress for this hobby never clouds me like my grades or chapbook submissions. Instead, practices early weekend mornings make the day productive. Training for a show or performance is a treat, and a privilege, because no one is critiquing us at these performances but us, and we long to be there.

Even without much rehearsal, shows always come together, even with last minute mending from the costume director. The costume team’s hero, Ms. Dina, is old and recently widowed. She tells my mom she enjoys the hustle and bustle. She is very much appreciated, especially over the frantic request for missing jewelry or bloomers— one night, in the cold parking lot of a high school that holds the stage for our show, she tells me, “in times of war, it doesn’t matter,” in croaky Spanish while she messily re-sews a button on my skirt. She and I both know that I am jittery to get my skirt to fit to simply get up on stage and dance, which was my intention from the start.

Younger me would not be surprised to know my admiration for this passion. She knows the cultural pride, yes, but she does not know the satisfaction. Younger Frida might think she does— in pleasantly heavy costumes and shined shoes— but she is yet to feel the thrill of hearing the cue of her dance, an anthem of one of the 32 states in Mexico, and have technique take over her body unlike anything else.


The author's comments:

Written for the "What is Your Passion?" prompt in the Call for Submissions section.


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