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Monday
Jan092012

My Life as a Dancer Part 2: When I was a Professional

This is the 2nd in a 3 part series that chronicles my life as a dancer.  You can see Part 1 HERE.

The truth of it is, is that early on in my childhood I enjoyed dancing.  I remember in elementary school I’d put cardboard in my room and work on my break dancing skills.  I was ‘electric bogaloo’. 

Secretly, though, I always wanted to learn how to tap dance.  I still want to learn how to tap dance.  I think that would be a great way to move through life; in rhythm, with a smile, and wearing cool shoes that make noise. 

But I also knew my family didn’t have a bunch of money and in my mind tap dancing classes were expensive.  I grew up in a huge East Dallas apartment complex and no one in my complex took tap dancing classes, so, I figured, it must only be for rich folks.  Kind of like golf and tennis.  Two other activities no one in my complex knew how to do.

But my fortunes would change when I entered high school and joined the Spanish club.  Ms. Barker, my Spanish teacher, was also the sponsor of the Spanish club and she encouraged me to join.  Ms. Barker was an 8 foot tall black Panamanian.  Well, maybe not quite 8 feet, but pretty tall.  Interestingly, the other Spanish teacher in my high school was African American - from Houston I think.   But he was a man and was closer to 4 feet tall.  He spoke with a stutter except when he spoke Spanish.  A fact that still fascinates me, but has nothing to do with my life as a dancer. 

It was in the Spanish Club at Skyline High School that I was introduced to Ballet Folklorico, the traditional dance of Mexico.  Ballet Folklorico is sort of like River Dance but to a Mariachi Band.  It’s fast, fun and you wear an awesome costume and, to my sheer delight, tap shoes.  Or tap boots really. 

For four years I would get up early, head to school and meet a couple of other students and practice dancing.  I danced in festivals, carnivals and parties.  I performed at schools and in parades.  I danced in several competitions and recitals.  Most times, the biggest surprise for the audience came at the end, when I would take my black felt sombrero off and out popped my bright red head.  I love the expressions on the audience faces nearly as much as I loved dancing.  “Gasp!  It’s a WHITE BOY”. 

“Yep, that’s right”.  I’d say in my mind.  “I’m a gringo.  With pelirojo.  Love me.”.

One Cinco de Mayo, I was dancing on the back of flatbed trailer being pulled by a tractor through the streets of Oak Cliff.  Our float was sponsored by the neighborhood Hispanic grocery store.  The people were clapping and cheering and then our float would roll by with the Skyline Folklorico group being led by ‘El Quero’ (the white boy).  We were a spectacle.  But we were good.  And that’s when I went pro. 

I was invited to join a professional Dallas Folklorico troupe my senior year of high school.  I practiced with them for a few months before resigning from the troupe.  2 months after my resignation, the group toured Japan.  I cursed myself.  But it was in Spanish, so my mom never knew. 

When I graduated, Mrs. Barker and the Spanish club gave me one of the two scholarships that the school gave out for Spanish students.  The stipulation was that I had to dance in college.  The Hispanic fraternity on campus caught wind of the fleet-footed white boy and tapped me on the shoulder around April to help teach a dance or two in preparation for a school-wide Cinco de Mayo celebration.  I obliged with the help of another teacher they brought in from outside.  That started my collegiate career in dancing.

I danced with the SMU folklorico group another year or two, but eventually it faded.  I think the last dance I danced with them was “El Javelin” which tells the story of some guys trying to impress some ladies so they go out, hunt and kill a Javelina.  In the dance, I was the Javelina.  I exited the stage, strung up on a pole, wearing a loincloth and a pig mask.  An unfortunate ending to an illustrious dancing career if you ask me.

I still have my boots and pull them out from time to time.  I’ve put them on once or twice in the last decade.  Every time I see them, I smile and wink at them like we have a secret between us and then I dance a “Jalisco" because no one is watching.

Reader Comments (2)

Matthew, my respect for you has more than doubled.. ( from the Mexican with absolutely no rythm )! :) so glad you shared...

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlga

wow! what an inspiring story, I too dance folklorico I started dancing at my local community center when I was 4 yrs old I still dance and i'm 23 now I volunteer at my church teaching under privileged kids different dances I learn at work shops I also take them to different events in just this past month they performed at knots berry farm, competition in Anaheim,a wedding, and a parade....since the classes are free I have over 70 students ranging from ages3+ sometimes I feel very stressed because im teaching so many students at once all in one day and in just 2 hours a week. I've been volunteering teaching these kids for about two years now and it brings me joy to my heart knowing I could make an impact on all these kids somehow I forget the stress when I think how happy they are. im really happy you you didn't care what people thought even if your from a different background you stuck with something you love to do. thanks for sharing your story.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLucia Fernandez

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