Finding Home Through Folklórico

Grupo Folklórico Miztontli’s dancers promote cultural awareness while tapping into their heritage.

Spring 2024
Group photo of Grupo Folklórico Miztontli,

Grupo Folklórico Miztontli

Photos: Chris Richards

In the basement of the Ina Gittings Building, which houses the University of Arizona School of Dance, a group of dedicated students gathers twice a week to practice Mexican folklórico dance.

Students lead each other in choreography, dressed in joggers, baggy T-shirts and heeled dance shoes. The infectious rhythm of the music bounces off the gray walls as their feet click and they clap along to the beat. Smiles beam across their faces, and their eyes focus as they learn the routine for their next dance.

“When you’re watching folklórico, you are looking at a piece of history that has been preserved in these presentations,” says choreographer Joel Saldaña, a doctoral candidate in Mexican American studies.

From the charro suits and brightly colored embroidered dresses of Jalisco to the simpler vaquerostyled slacks and jean skirts of Baja California, every song, outfit, style and technique is tied to one of Mexico’s 32 federal entities and diverse cultural subgroups.

Saldaña, who is from Guanajuato, Mexico, had never danced folklórico before coming to University of Arizona.

“Coming from Mexico here to the United States, you start to assimilate some of the culture, and you might forget some of the things that you grew up with,” says Saldaña, who has been with the group for over nine years.

Image of Grupo Folklórico Miztontli members dancing

Before 2006, the university didn’t have a folklórico student organization, despite its ties to Tucson’s Mexican community and the proliferation of folklórico groups in the area.

Then Denise Garcia, an undergraduate from Albuquerque, came to UArizona and began searching for a folklórico group to join on campus. She connected with Socorro Carrizosa, then the director of the Guerrero Student Center, and the two began to lay the foundation for what would become Grupo Folklórico Miztontli, the university’s first student folklórico dance group. They chose its name from the Nahuatl word “miztontli,” meaning “puma cub” or “cat,” a nod to  UArizona’s wildcat mascot.

“This is very important, because it’s who I am,” says club co-president Luisa Becerra, an undergraduate studying molecular and cellular biology with a minor in astrobiology.

Becerra, whose family is from Chihuahua, says that folklórico has given her the chance to showcase where she comes from in a beautiful form.

“My ancestors before me saw those dances and grew up with those songs. For me to be able to dance with similar steps that have been passed on from generation to generation is something very, very overwhelming,” she says. “There are no words to explain it when you’re on stage.”

Becerra leads the group’s Wednesday night practices alongside co-president Adrian Gonzales, who is studying computer science and game design and development with a minor in Spanish.

Gonzales fell into the world of folklórico by accident in high school. Originally wanting to pursue a guitar course for mariachi, he was randomly placed in a folklórico class. He soon fell in love with performing and decided to continue as a college student.

“My family comes from Sonora, and when I was little, my dad and my grandma loved to take us to watch mariachi,” Gonzales says, referencing shows where musicians and folklórico dancers perform side by side. “Every time, I try to do my best so I can make my grandma proud.”

He recalls that during high school, his friends would try to pressure him to drop folklórico and join either football or baseball.

“Folklórico can be cool,” Gonzales says, smiling. “Just because we’re not on the field throwing touchdowns or whatever doesn’t mean that we’re not as worthy as they are.”

While Gonzales never played a sport, Grupo Folklórico Miztontli had the opportunity to perform on UArizona’s football field during the Hispanic heritage football game halftime show.

In fact, the group has performed at a variety of venues, such as Tucson Meet Yourself, a folklife festival that celebrates the traditions of the Arizona-Sonora region’s communities, and the All Souls Procession, a local event that honors and remembers those who have passed.

Grupo Folklórico Miztontli members dancing

The club's vice president, Andruw Cruz Martinez, says that while folklórico looks effortless, rigorous physical fitness and dedication are required.

“When you go watch people dance, you’re thinking, ‘this looks beautiful, it looks great’ — but in reality, there’s a lot of hard work that goes behind the scenes into it,” explains Martinez. “Even onstage, it isn’t easy. It’s tiring out there.”

Martinez, currently pursuing a neuroscience degree with an emphasis in neurobiology, emphasizes the significance of folklórico to honor his heritage and promote cultural awareness.

“In a lot of spaces I’m in, there’s not many people who are of Mexican or Hispanic descent,” he says. “So, for me, it’s very important to not only represent myself well but represent my culture.”

Annett Trujillo, who serves as the club’s outreach director and is studying communications and public relations, says that her favorite part about Grupo Folklórico Miztontli is the sense of belonging it provides.

“It’s hard, if you’re in a lot of places around campus, to find people that look like you, talk like you or just are around that same culture,” she says. “It’s important to spread out and find other people like that.” 

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