Maria Serrano admits that some days she is bone tired, working three jobs, seven days a week. But when she’s dancing, all her cares fall away.
“I’m very exhausted sometimes. But as soon as I put my finger on the music my stress just ... whooooosh,” she said. “I hear music, and I can’t not move. I say I have music in my blood.”
Serrano is particularly charmed by the traditional music and dance of her native Mexico and is determined to pass that on to a younger generation, growing up far removed from the pueblos and cities of Mexico where their parents and grandparents came from. She heads up Ireri Ballet Folklorico, a Petaluma dance studio dedicated strictly to teaching the folk dances of Mexico.
“These kids, they are born here,” she said. “They are American kids. But they can learn our traditions, our culture. That’s the most important thing to me, that our culture doesn’t die. I want to just keep it going.”
Hers is one of many groups throughout Sonoma County that teach or perform Ballet Folklorico. But Serrano is the rare teacher who has been professionally trained in the art. And her Petaluma school, held in the community room of Logan Place, a low-income housing complex on Petaluma Boulevard North, is ultra-low fee — only $3 per class — so virtually any child can afford to attend.
Serrano said she does it as a community service and for a love of the dance. Of her 28 students, she has only three boys, but never stops hoping more will join. Students range in age from 3 to about 16. Serrano even has some mothers who are taking classes with their daughters because it looked so fun.
Miriam Soto has been bringing her daughter, Emily, 7, to classes and said she’s itching to start herself. She did it for about a year when she was a little girl growing up in Sonoma. Now, she wants Emily to have the same experience. Her youngest, Mavis, is only 2, but already has her own practice skirt and loves to pretend she’s joining in.
“I wanted them to learn the culture. All the regions in Mexico have their dances, with certain dresses and their own history, and they’re learning about them,” she said. “I also like it because it helps them crack out of their shell so they won’t be so shy around people.”
Miriam Reyes of Petaluma said her daughter, Amber, 7, was afraid to speak to other people before taking up Ballet Folklorico.
“After she started to dance she changed. Now she’s really happy all the time. If somebody is sad she’ll hug them and say, ‘Don’t worry. Do you want to play with me?’ ”
Part of the allure of Ballet Folklorico, also known as Baile Folklorico — baile means dance in Spanish — are the costumes, many consisting of brightly colored, ruffled skirts with beautiful trim that they spread out like peacocks as they fly about the dance floor.
Ask how she feels when she’s dressed up, with the requisite makeup and fancy headpieces, 12-year-old Daphne Garcia declared, “Confident.”
Alondra Ojeda, 14, has been taking lessons since she was in kindergarten. She said she has traveled to Mexico and seen regular people in the villages wearing the clothing similar to the outfits she wears for dancing. She loves that — the fact that it connects her to her family elders.
In this special edition during Hispanic Heritage Month, we honor the rich and nuanced heritage nurtured by all the generations in our Latino community and the value it brings to the lifestyle of Sonoma County. Click here to read our other Latino Life stories.