Local Folklórico students travel to Cuba to perform in Fiesta Del Fuego

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
Folklórico students at Aspen Airport on their way to Cuba to represent the United States and Mexico during Fiesta Del Fuego.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet/Courtesy photo

Travel is widely regarded as the best way to learn other cultures, and so from July 3-9, 14 local dancers from Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Folklórico will learn a lot performing in Santiago de Cuba at the 42nd annual Fiesta Del Fuego.

The kids, ranging in age from 13 to 18, join performers from 30 countries across the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Europe on 20 stages.

Folklórico is Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s free after-school program, which teaches traditional Mexican dances to kids in the Roaring Fork Valley. The 180 students will perform at places like the Carbondale Day of the Dead Parade, Aspen’s Fourth of July parade, the Music Tent in Aspen and even the Denver Art Museum.

The invitation to dance in Cuba came from the artistic director of the Festival Del Caribe, a celebration of the arts featuring theater, dance, painting, music and poetry.

Folklórico program director Francisco “Paco” Nevarez-Burgueño, who has been with the ballet company for 21 years, also was asked to discuss the history behind Día De Los Muertos and why people honor it in the United States at the festival’s conference.

Fourteen local students were invited to Cuba to perform in the 42nd annual Fiesta Del Fuego celebrating Mexican traditions.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet/Courtesy photo

Folklórico dancers — four of whom are traveling from Santa Fe to join the valley’s 14 local kids — will represent the Michoacan State and Chihuahua region in Mexico (where Nevarez-Burgueño originates) and dance to music by famous Mexican composer José Alfredo Jiménz.

“(Jiménz) is a big inspiration for me and my family,” said 16-year-old Vanessa Mercado, one of the dancers traveling to Cuba. “I’ve been listening to him since I was little. I know (his songs) by heart. I love the way he expresses himself. You can hear him put his emotions (into the music). There’s this energy that you can just feel, these shivers. I feel a lot of the energy through the songs and through the dance, which makes me love dance, which is why I’ve be doing dance for so long.”

The Day of the Dead is a holiday traditionally celebrated Nov. 1 and 2 and is widely observed in Mexico and by people of Mexican heritage.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet/Courtesy photo

This will be Mercado’s first “big trip” with Folklórico. She has only danced locally and in Denver with the group.

“I’m looking forward to the new experience,” she said. “Cuba is a new place we’re really not used to, and I’m excited to learn from their culture and from the other dancers.”

Mercado’s parents immigrated to the United States, and she started taking lessons through Folklórico as a kindergartner. The program prides itself on teaching artistry and promoting positive youth development while encouraging cross-cultural exchange.

“Overall, I have grown confident. I’ve learned to work as a team, and I’ve learned leadership skills and how to express myself through dancing and to share my culture, as well as to learn about other cultures,” Mercado said. “I’ve learned how to be a good person, with myself and other people. I’m grateful for being in the program. It’s a great source of exercise and a great way to express myself.”

Folklórico is Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s free after-school program, which teaches traditional Mexican dances to kids in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet/Courtesy photo

Though Folklórico has taken more advanced dance students who qualify for trips through such measures as grades, social skills and responsibility to Mexico in 2009 and Costa Rica and Peru in 2016, this is their first time in Cuba.

“They get so many things out of this — first of all, to be around other dancers. We open their minds to this generation of dancers … and immerse them in Hispanic culture in a Spanish-speaking country. They will experience and understand what is a Communist country, not from a book or a movie,” Nevarez-Burgueño said. “They’ll see the lack. Is there going to be Coca Cola? I don’t think so. … Their minds are open to the world events. Now they can see more than the Roaring Fork Valley. They’ll see the world and (how) dance opens doors and doors for them.”

“This experience is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime-type thing for them,” said Aspen Santa Fe Ballet marketing associate Kathleen Reed. “Many of our students have never left the country, been on a plane or even left the state of Colorado before now.”

Folklórico students have been practicing the 12 dances they’ll perform in Cuba since last August. About every four weeks, they’ve learned a new dance based on Jiménz’s music, or from Michoacan State, which most represents the region that celebrates the Day of the Dead, or Chihuahua, which incorporates the European polka into their dance, Nevarez-Burgueño said.

“I feel so proud they’re going to be representing the U.S.,” he said.

For many Folklórico students this will be their first time out of the country, and in some cases, Colorado.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet/Courtesy photo
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