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Dance group overcomes adversity, prevails with passion

CARLSBAD — A small group of Carlsbad High School students are living proof that when faced with a head-on challenge — passion and determination will prevail.Last June, when the Carlsbad High School Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) dancers discovered they no longer had a school advisor to represent them and finding a new replacement had failed, they decided to form their own dance group, the Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl.

But switching gears wasn’t that easy.

Without an advisor, they didn’t have public relations representation to help plan future dance venues. And above all, they didn’t have dance costumes.

Even so, the group pushed forward with a performance a couple of months after learning the bad news and borrowed some costumes for their upcoming gig.

Garage sales and a tamale fundraiser netted nearly $1,200 for the group to buy material for their new colorful dresses and to pay for various expenses.

“We still kept our determination to continue the group because of our interest in the dancing and getting involved in the community,” said Adrian Mandujano, 17. Mandujano serves as vice president of Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl while Maria Gonzalez acts as president. Both took on the brunt of the responsibility to keep their high school dance group moving forward.

“I thought it was great,” said Mandujano’s mother, Michele. “All of the students were very determined to continue dancing.”

Performing their traditional Ballet Folklorico dances for the community and themselves is a cultural learning experience. Gonzalez, 17, said their styles represent the traditional dances of the Jalisco and Veracruz regions of Mexico. Many dances are themed around a “matrimonial setting” and are punctuated with a flirtatious type of fun.

Currently, there are a total of six dancers in Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl. Four students are from Carlsbad High School, while the others are students enrolled in local colleges. The group, however, is geared towards high school-aged kids.

Although the dancers had their initial hurdles, they soon realized the break from MEChA worked out for the better.

MEChA, a nationally recognized student organization, encourages advanced education and the opportunity for Latinos to learn about their history and culture.

Although Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl still follows the MEChA mission, being on their own has brought more freedom than they thought possible.

“Working through MEChA, there were many things you couldn’t do like perform at private parties,” Gonzalez said.

Performances by the Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl are all volunteer-based. It’s their way of giving back to a community that helped them through a rough time while struggling to keep their dance group going.

Gonzalez’ mother, Irma, tailored the female costumes, while her father’s nonprofit organization, Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, helped promote the dance group to find new sponsors. The community support has been overwhelming.

To date, the group has performed throughout North County, including St. Patrick’s Church, the Boys and Girls Club of Carlsbad, weddings, school events, retirement communities and more.

In April, they performed in front of a huge crowd at Chicano Park Day in National City’s Chicano Park.

“We are in the spotlight more,” Mandujano said.

Keeping with their MEChA belief, the Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl scheduled its “end of the year” performance at the Carlsbad Senior Center in May. With over 100 guests in attendance, the dancers were responsible to pay a venue deposit and insurance fee. And yet, they had money leftover to award two Carlsbad High School scholarships for $200 each.

With the help of Carlsbad High School’s career guidance technician Pauline Dimond and teacher, Elisa Galicia, the dancers created a scholarship application. The scholarship, Dimond said, was open to Latino and Latina seniors with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, a personal statement and a demonstrated financial need.

“To have students organize and advertise a scholarship opportunity to give to their peers is a great example of leadership at our school,” Dimond said.

Ballet Folklorico Cuetlaxochitl is now recruiting new dancers from all high schools in North County. For more information, contact Mandujano at chsfolklorico@yahoo.com.