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Grupo Folklorico del Pueblo: An interview with Director, Velma Roybal

PULP: How did all of this get started?
Velma Roybal: When I was younger, I used to see the dancers dancing and I wanted to do it myself, too, but we couldn’t afford to. I grew up, got married and had a daughter of my own. She started [Folklorico] when she was 6. We started going to national conferences and started learning about how much there was to this. We stayed with that group for a while, then we broke off and started this group – unfortunately, that’s when my husband passed away. We were able to buy this studio in his honor, and because of that, it became our anchor, and we just threw ourselves into it.

PULP: When did this start?

VR: This started in 1996.

PULP: You brought in teachers?

VR: We brought in teachers from away for a while, but that didn’t seem to work out so we started training our own teachers. I have 4 different teachers right now. Sometimes, we’ll have an instructor from Mexico come through the area; they’ll come and do a workshop for us.

PULP: (At this point, Velma suggested that we take a look at her costume collection.)

VR: Each state has it’s own costumes – not just one style or type, but several different styles. It goes from what we call “baile” which means dance, to the “danza,” which is your more indigenous dances.  […] those are ceremonial. The bailes are like what you see from Jalisco, with the big skirts with the ribbons and the hairpieces and the braids – the more colorful and fast – that’s a baile. The Ceremonial dances are more repetitive.

PULP: Do you make most of the costumes?

VR: I make most of them.[…]We’ve acquired quite a collection of costumes of different regions. Our costumes last for years; they are an investment. Ours are traditional, and the designs go back hundreds of years.

PULP: The variety is surprising. This costume is surprising!

VR: We do a dance for the Dia de Los Muertos, and this dance is called Los Diablos, The Devils. One of the characters in the dance is a guy who’s dressed up like a woman, so he has fake boobs and a fake butt. It’s always a guy who portrays a female.

PULP: So, you teach the dancers History and Geography, too?

VR: Oh yes, they get everything. There’s so much to learn. We study maps, too. I work with the kids, and we talk about the history of the dance. We made pineapples because we are studying a dance called “Flor de Pina.”

PULP: Tell me about the culture school.

VR: Yes, we are a school of dance, but we are a school of Mexican Folklorico dance. We have a mariachi that meets here on occasion. We’d really like to get a mariachi going [regularly]. That might be something that we can do in the future. We’d like to teach Spanish. I like to teach the kids why they are doing the dance. They need to know the history behind it. It’s the people’s culture. I really enjoy that part.

PULP: Tell me about your student body.

VR: I have 3 year olds…and we go all the way to mature adults. My oldest is 70-something years old. Men and women. We have about 60 students on average.

PULP: Does a kid have to be Mexican to participate?

VR: Oh, no. Anyone can come in through here…As a matter of fact, there are three main cultural influences in Folklorico: the Spaniards, which really qualifies as European or Anglo, the black slaves that they brought with them and the indigenous people. All three cultures have put their imprint on the dances that we do. Anybody who wants to study here, we’re happy to have them.

PULP: Any possibility of studying other folklores in the future?

VR: I would not mind doing that at all. I’d be more than happy to have a cultural center here. One of our dreams is to find a larger building. We have plans, let me tell you!

PULP: How is Grupo Folklorico del Pueblo organized?

VR: We have a board of directors, and we have a parent representative on the board. We have a community representative who helps us network with the community. The parents are required to do three hours of volunteer work per month, and if they don’t, then their fee will go up – they can help with cleaning, transportation, pretty much anything.

PULP: Upcoming events?

VR: We’ll dance at the Cinco de Mayo…at the Creative Arts building at the State Fair, and we perform at 7:00 or 7:30pm. On May 5th, we will be dancing at 1:30pm at Bessemer Park.[…] We do the main State Fair parade, and we dance the weekend before the Fiesta Weekend at the State Fair because we are trying to broaden our audience. The El Pueblo Museum is planning a Mexican village for the Chile y Frijole Festival, and we are collaborating with them on that. Then we get ready for our big show which will be either the first or second weekend in November. The first time we did it, we pulled in over 1000 people, so we need a big place.

We are planning on doing a dance camp this summer.[…] They’ll learn the dances, the history of the dances, they’ll learn to cook from the region they are studying, and in the end, they’ll pull it all together with a fiesta and a performance.

yI’ve been doing this for 22 years, and the thing is that it’s not boring! I’ve seen dancers come back with their own babies. I’m teaching [a] second generation. They’ve all been real successful kids; they are all interested in a bigger life. The real reason that I do this is because I like to mentor the kids. I just enjoy the kids a lot.

by Rosemary Thomas

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