LatinaLista -- With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, no fiesta is complete without two symbols of Mexican culture -- mariachis and folkloric dancers.
Swirling bright-colored skirts, whipping braided hair decorated with ribbons while performing quick toe-heel tapping dance steps, folkloric dancers attempt to recreate a little bit of Mexico's cultural history. The only problem is that too often the dancers, from toddlers to adults, usually don't know much about the history or culture they're honoring.
One woman in Dallas, Texas wanted to change that. Anita Martinez, a trailblazer for Latinas in politics -- she was the first Latina in the nation to be elected to a major city council -- wanted young Latinos and Latinas to know more about the country whose dances they worked so hard to learn.
In 1975, she created The Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico (ANMBF). Considered the largest professional Ballet Folklorico Company in the United States, the dance company has three levels: Professional, Children's Ensemble and Junior members. The children and young people are from urban areas, underrepresented groups and from low to middle income backgrounds.
In addition to learning regional Mexican dances for public performances, the dance company also instructs its students on "Mexican history, heroes and geography while ensuring students experience teamwork, discipline, responsibility, self-expression and physical fitness."
The organization is also very big on outreach and educating non-Latinos on who are Hispanics. The ANMBF runs a summer cultural camp, youth outreach programs, education and cultural awareness series and special evening and school matinee performances highlighting either Cinco de Mayo, September 16 or Dia de los Muertos.
In order to attend the school performances, teachers receive special educational packets with information about the Mexican holidays to share with their students so they understand the story that unfolds in the dance performances before they attend them.