I never believed that folklórico would become such a big part of my college experience. But as I find myself nearing the end of my time here at UCLA, I find that my experience as a member of Grupo Folklórico de UCLA has become the biggest part of my last four years.

Grupo Folklórico de UCLA is a welcoming, student run dance group where experience is not necessary. Throughout the year students learn Mexican Folklore dances and prepare for a dance show that is to be performed at the famed Royce Hall. The group prides itself in being the only Latin group to perform at Royce Hall and, attendance has risen in the last three years.

Looking back, I see how important the group has been in forming the friendships and memories of my university years. Unlike the stereotypical college student leaving home for the first time, I never became wild my first year. Many people create lasting friendships with floor mates at the dorms. I didn’t. I tend to be very shy or uncomfortable in new environments and while meeting new people. Although I went to dinner or to Diddy Riese with some acquaintances I never really opened up to any of them.

In Folklórico, like any other club on campus, the intimacy of collaborating with the same small number of people allowed me to open up and begin to interact more with the members. My first year, with all those meal swipes, we would eat dinner together after practice, staying after to talk, make jokes, and plan days to the beach or the mall. Everyone knew everyone, and the performance at Royce reflected our hard work and closeness.

My second year more members came on board, and with that, more friends. For me, practice became less about learning the dances as well as I could and more about hanging with my friends, cracking jokes and messing up on our steps together. At Royce, I had the privilege of dancing for the first time with a live mariachi band. My parents brought friends to visit the school and to view the performance.

My experience with the group began to change my third year at UCLA. It dawned on me that the end of my college years were near. I began to branch out into other areas and form friendships other than those from dance. It was the first time I lived in an apartment on my own. However, that entitled that I had to work twenty hours a week to pay rent and for my  “chickles.” My work hours cut into practice, into performances, and into social events. Following my love of cinema, I began volunteering at the AFI Film Festival not allowing me time to dance in the yearly Día De Los Muertos performance because I had to be at the AFI school and in Hollywood for many days at a time.

While my involvement decline, the bright side, was that the group had become more popular and grew bigger. But my decreased involvement limited the number of people that I met and the dances that I performed at Royce.

Now, as I head into my final Royce Hall performance, my experience in the group is coming into focus. My current roommates are close friends that I made in Grupo. One of my friends and I have quarterly trips to the beach and the mall because whenever she “sees the water she has to touch it.” Elections for next year’s cabinet are coming up (an election where my opinion for the first time does not matter) and the group has more men then I have known it to have.

For the next few weeks this blog will describe the road to Grupo’s big Royce Performance on May 26th. I will describe everything from cramming the last few regions, the insanity of the senior dance, Royce nightmares, and the tequila shots of a night well done.

I am off…Royce mode is on.

Letter from Grupo Folklórico de UCLA

 In an effort for all to be aware that there was a successful Chicano/Latino population on university campuses in the 1960s, Folklórico groups began to form. It was also a way for them to have a part of home, culture and traditions, away from home. The first of these groups started here at UCLA.

Professor Emilio Pulido-Huizar, the founder of the great Jaliscience folklorico group at Universidad de Guadalajara, established Grupo Folklórico de UCLA in 1966. Since then, the group has grown and flourished to consist of UCLA students, alumni, grad students, and community members beyond just Chicano/Latino students. The purpose of this group is primarily one of promoting and educating the UCLA community and the greater Los Angeles area about Mexican traditions and culture.
This is done through music and dance. Each individual dance represents a region of Mexico and tells a story of its people, animals, daily life, and rituals as it is accompanied by the regional music. The members of the group don’t dance just for the sake of dancing; it is for the sake of cultural art.

Today, Grupo Folklórico extends out to the Los Angeles youth in order to promote higher education among minorities and show them that our raza is still present even at the most prestigious universities, encouraging them to strive to better themselves as well. Starting this academic school year, the group has a membership of over 50 students, community members, and graduate students. The largest membership it has ever had since its inception. Our motto is: “No experience necessary.”

Our biggest struggle as a group, however, has been finding a space to dance. Every Tuesday and Thursday, folklórico members, without fail, dance to the beat of different regional songs at the McClure stage. The stage has served as a practice space for many years, but even this open space does not meet the need of such a large membership. The concrete does not allow for members to truly reach their full potential due to the risk of knee injuries. Using special dance shoes, similar to tap shoes, these zapatillas and botines have metal nails at the toe and heel of the bottom of the shoe. Concrete does not absorb the shock of a foot stomp as a wooden floor would. Aside from that, the lack of mirrors, which allow for one to witness his or her progress, are unavailable to us.  The exception is the occasional Saturday practices when we book a room in the John Wooden Center, but even there we may not use our shoes because they may scratch the floors. Yet, once every other week does not suffice, even for the best dancers. We are currently hoping that the university provides us with a space to practice with mirrors, seeing that the majority of members are UCLA students, whose needs should be met in order to achieve their greatest potential.

Even with these constraints, the love for dance and show must go on. Grupo Folklórico de UCLA’s primary goal is to perform at our annual Royce Hall performance, which takes place the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (this year, landing on May 27th at 7pm). Keeping true to our mission, we provide this educational and cultural show to UCLA and the greater Los Angeles community at a world-renowned theater free of charge.

Yet ironically, this becomes harder with budget cuts as things begin to cost more. Although we are a student group, the cost to put on the show this year has come to be about $18,000, which the student-run group simply does not have at hand.  Some funding is provided from the school, but not enough. As a non-profit organization, we fundraise and reach out to the community in hope of being sponsored in order to continue these wonderful traditions. We make as much an effort as possible, through performing on campus, by outreaching to youth and by being a home away from home for many members. Despite the obstacles we must overcome, we strive to keep this 45-year-old tradition and organization alive.

Like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter!

Look at previous La Gente coverage of Grupo Folklórico de UCLA:

Watch the video as Grupo Folklórico de UCLA prepares for its Dia de los Muertos show!

Here’s a photo essay from the Dia de los Muertos performance!

Here’s an article about the organization’s growth as a student group!