North Texas Ballet Folklórico Contest draws hundreds to focus on traditional Mexican dance

The contest provides an opportunity for educational ballet folklórico programs to be rated by professionals.

By Laura Rice & Alan TiscarenoFebruary 21, 2024 3:04 pm, ,

More than 400 Texas students, from elementary to high school, gathered in Dallas last week to compete in the North Texas Ballet Folklórico Contest.

This year is only the third time the contest has been held in person, and organizers are hoping to follow in the steps of mariachi by showing the need to add traditional dance to official Texas University Interscholastic League competitions.

Autumn Garrison, director of education and community engagement at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, spoke with Texas Standard about the North Texas Ballet Folklórico Contest. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Can you describe some of what you saw at the Performing Arts Center last weekend? I understand y’all are still recovering, right? 

We are. It was an amazing day. We had over 80 dances performed throughout the course of the morning and afternoon, and it was just such a treat and a joy to watch the award ceremony when all of the students were able to celebrate the great accomplishments that they had presented to us on stage that day.

For those who don’t know what’s ballet folklórico like?

Ballet folklórico is a beautiful dance form that originates in Mexico, and it’s hard to summarize it into one sentence because every region in Mexico has its own distinct ballet folklórico dances and songs and costumes. So every performance was very different and unique, and represented a vast swath of Mexican culture.

Are there certain commonalities? I understand it can be rather colorful. 

Oh, very colorful. The costumes are absolutely gorgeous, and we saw so many beautiful costumes on stage that day.

Photography by Jay Simon / Ten Ten Creative / Courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center

Ballet folklórico often includes a variety of colorful outfits.

I understand you work with these schools all the time. Can you describe the effort put into these dances? 

Oh, absolutely. One of the reasons that we adopted the contest is because we spent a lot of time internally listening to teachers in the community and trying to fill the gaps in arts education to help support them.

We had a group of very passionate ballet folklórico dance teachers come to us and say that they didn’t have an opportunity for their students to compete and perform, like some of their other dance groups had. And so that’s really why we adopted the contest.

Dance competitions are very common throughout Texas for a cheer and drill team, but there really isn’t a contest in our area that celebrates ballet folklórico as an art form specifically, and these students and their teachers work so hard to really perfect these dances and bring their culture to life. And so that’s why we brought the contest to the center, to give the students the opportunity to shine and show off all of their hard work.

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You know, as a contest how does one go about judging something like ballet folklórico? What does that involve? I’m imagining something like an Olympics competition where judges make sort of somewhat subjective, but educated, evaluations of each dance.

So, we’ve created a rubric for scoring each one of the dances that mimics the rubrics that are used in other UIL competitions. And we supplied all of those judges with rubrics that very carefully outlined the particulars that we wanted the judges to look for in each one of the dances, which includes rhythm and footwork and all of the things that really go into perfecting ballet folklórico dances.

We’re hoping that the scoring system will help us make our case for a UIL-sanctioned statewide event.

Photography by Jay Simon / Ten Ten Creative / Courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center

Ballet folklórico is not yet included as a UIL competition, but some are looking to change that.

Basically saying “we shouldn’t be excluded because we don’t know how to score this.” We can use similar standards used in other dance competitions.

Absolutely. And we think that that feedback is so valuable to each one of the groups that performs. So at the end of the competition, they get that feedback back from the judges to help them perfect their dances going into next year.

How widespread is ballet folklórico in Texas? I would imagine that you would see a lot of this in the valley. Do you see it in other parts of the state as well?

Ballet folklórico is alive and well throughout the state of Texas. We host the North Texas contests, and we had students from as far as Austin drive in for the contest. So we know there’s a demand for a competition on a statewide level.

Photography by Jay Simon / Ten Ten Creative / Courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center

Well, what would it mean to make ballet folklórico an official UIL event? 

I think it would mean so much for these students and their teachers to give them a statewide opportunity to come together and demonstrate their hard work and to show off these cultural dances that are so important to them and who they are.

You can really help connect them to their families and their heritage. I think it would be a really beautiful thing if UIL would adopt the contest and give them this chance to compete.

So now we have this competition there at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. If the objective long term is to make this an ongoing UIL competition, what has to happen? What are the next steps? 

Well, right now, our planning committee is working on that. We are collecting lots of data from all of the teachers who competed last week. We’re going to compile all of that data and put together a presentation to bring to the UIL board very soon, to make our case for the statewide competition.

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