Eye-popping costumes and traditional dance styles set to enlivening Mexican folk music: that’s what community dance group Quetzalén is about. And so much more.
Founded in 2008, Sonoma’s official ballet folklórico for Latin cultural events got its inception from a senior project. A combination of Sonoma Valley High School students and members of St. Francis Solano Church laid the groundwork for what is now a town-wide affair. Wanting to share their knowledge with younger generations, the group grew with the support of local school principals, parents and educators. Now, with over 100 members, they have expanded into three groups: Quetzalén, Grupo Folklórico El Verano, and Grupo Folklórico de Woodland Star, the last two being children groups.
Pioneered by Amalia Hernandez in the 1950s, ballet folklórico literally translates to “folkloric dance” in Spanish. It is a collective term for traditional Mexican dances which incorporate local folk culture with well-known ballet movements such as pointed toes and a focus on musicality.
Most adult dancers in Quetzalén had no prior dance experience. Aside from teaching and performing, the group’s volunteers maintain day jobs. Some work in restaurants while others are supervisors, construction workers and landscape artists.
Quetzalén supports local schools, educational programs, and nonprofit organizations through special appearances and performances. Thousands of spectators have tasted the troupe’s unique and memorable performances around Sonoma County through the dedication of Quetzalén’s passionate members.
Volunteers from the dance troupe also provide afterschool instruction at Woodland Charter School and El Verano School, the same locations where they practice.
“As a dancer, my favorite part about being part of a ballet folklórico is to have the chance of learning about a country’s traditions and culture like Mexico and be available to showcase their beauty through performances,” says Quetzalén member Victor Ferrer. “For us, the dancers at Quetzalén, the applause and the admiration of the public is what makes dancing really special. Being available to perform in different venues inside and outside of the county, in different states, is a priceless experience.”
Sonoma resident Patrick Garcia, 78, has seen the group perform its free public events upward of 20 times.
“The music that the group here offers really brings a lot of the naturalist element to the people there listening to it and watching it,” says Garcia, who was Sonoma’s 2016 “alcalde,” or honorary mayor. “They are upgrading the great feelings of Mexico and what it’s all about and what it is today.”
Add Garcia: “The young ladies know how to really perform.”
For each choreographed piece, a unique costume is designed to represent the meaning or origin of the dance. Noemi Lobato, of Sonoma, and Elias Roldan, of Los Angeles, create Quetzalén’s costumes. The proceeds from teaching and performing, as well as donations from the community, go toward producing the elaborate costumes. A costume can cost between $150 to $750 per performer.
Continues Garcia: “Each one of the regions has different indigenous clothing. It shows their local area and is how they communicate to the world. That’s what Victor (Ferrer’s) clothing is all about. He’s done a good job in doing his studies.”
Former Community Center director Ken Brown first came in contact with Quetzalén while planning for the annual Fourth of July parade. Through his role at the Community Center, Brown has planned and produced events in the city and county for more than 30 years.
Balley Folklorica Quetzalén’s next performances are scheduled for Saturday, March 31, at the Fandango Celebration for Latino Services Providers and Sunday, April 29, at the Day of the Children in Maxwell Park. Just as in years past, the group will be performing at Sonoma’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which include Sonoma Plaza, Robledo’s Winery, and El Verano School, among others.