Traditional Mexican dance club takes off at Park City High School
When moving to the United States, Dulce Chavez Rea left behind a lot of people and traditions from her hometown in Michoacán, Mexico. But she realized several months ago that there was one thing she did not have to say goodbye to.
Chavez, a senior at Park City High School who grew up doing traditional Mexican dancing, decided to keep dancing and start a Mexican folk dance club at her new high school. The club currently has four members, and it is set to perform during a community event on May 24.
The students in the club practice and perform traditional dances from different regions in Mexico. They rehearse two times a week for two hours in the school’s cafeteria.
Chavez said she came up with the idea for the club after some students performed a traditional Mexican dance during a Day of the Dead celebration in 2017. She approached Dirk Gootjes, the Latino outreach coordinator for the high school, to see if he could help her get a dance club off the ground.
Gootjes and Chavez organized and launched the club in the fall. They had their first performance at the school’s Day of the Dead celebration in November. During the club’s three numbers, Chavez said, the crowd applauded and cheered for the dancers. She said the support motivated her to keep the club growing.
Gootjes helped secure grants from the Park City Education Foundation and the high school’s parent-teacher-student organization to pay for the club’s costumes, which are from Mexico. The club also raised money during the Live PC Give PC event.
The club was also able to secure an instructor shortly after it started. Lilia Suarez, who immigrated to the Park City area from Mexico 10 years ago, agreed to choreograph and teach the dances.
She brought decades of dancing experience to the group. She started taking dance classes in Mexico at the age of 8. By the time she was 18, she was touring the world with The Ballet Folklórico de Mexico.
She toured with the group for 10 years and then taught dance and art in Mexico. She was happy for the opportunity to teach students again and share her culture with the town.
“We are giving those who are here a little bit of the culture that we have in Mexico,” Suarez said in Spanish.
Alejandro Arredondo, a member of the club, is glad to be dancing again. He grew up doing traditional Mexican dancing in school. When he moved from the Mexican state of Baja California to Park City two years ago, he said he was sad there were no dancing groups he could join.
“All my life I have been dancing,” he said. “It is a way to express how I feel and my culture.”
He hopes the club is able to break stereotypes some people have about Mexican immigrants and teach the community about Mexico’s diversity. Each state in Mexico has its own dance styles, music, clothing and food. The club plans to showcase the various dance styles during their performances.
Chavez said the club is not only a way to teach the community, but a chance for her to honor where she came from.
“I am not going to forget my roots even though I am not where they are,” Chavez said in Spanish. “I feel proud of who I am and where I come from.”
The club plans to perform six dances at its upcoming event. Three of the numbers are dances from the northern region of Mexico, and three are from a western state called Jalisco. The show will include group dances and couple’s dances, as well as traditional Mexican songs and poetry. The event is set to take place at Ecker Hill Middle School from 7 to 8 p.m.
Chavez said now that she is graduating, she hopes the club will continue. The remaining students and Gootjes plan to grow it next year so students in junior high and middle school can also participate.
There is a lot Park City can learn from the club, Gootjes said.
“The Latino population is growing here, and they need to remember their heritage, remember where they come from, be proud of their heritage and know they are part of the community,” he said. “The community should see that Latinos are an important part of who we are in Park City.”
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The South Summit Board of Education voted 4-1 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot asking for $87 million to build a new high school.