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.

Grupo Folklorico de UCLA: Becoming a reality

Every Tuesday and Thursday night, Grupo Folklorico de UCLA practices on the Bruin Plaza stage. From bailes folkloric del Norte to bailes de Veracruz, Grupo Folklorico performs regional dances to tell the stories of Mexico’s past. Grupo Folkorico attracts students who wish to express their love for Mexican traditional culture.

Beginning in 1966, Grupo Folklorico was originally housed in the UCLA Dance Department. Due to budget cuts in the 1980s, the group lost its place but was rescued by alumni and community members. However, under new overseers, student members had little influence in decision-making. With cabinet meetings held in East Los Angeles and lasting up to four hours, students went out of their way to participate in the organization that supposedly served their demographic. “They were using student registration fees to fund [the group] when students were not getting some of the privileges of being in [it],” said Rosemarie Molina, a fourth-year sociology and global studies student.

Student members took action, developing a student constitution to consolidate the non-student membership into one vote. In 2007, with the help of mentors, the student members transformed Grupo Folkorico into student-run organization. With a new administration, Grupo Folklorico wrote proposals to USAC and held fundraisers to revive the organization.

With less than 10 students members in 2006-2007, Groupo Folklorico tripled in size by the end of 2008. Grupo Folklorico further expanded its horizons by reaching out to the community. “We have a program at Freemont High, which is a Title I school in South Central,” said Jearelly Pinedo, third-year sociology and public health minor and the 2008-2009 assistant coordinator. “We teach the students dances and hold workshops on nutrition and overall health. It’s a fun experience and you feel good doing it.”

“Grupo Folklorico promotes culture and diversity. No experience is necessary, and it helps students do something outside of school,” said Ruby Rivera, fourth-year Spanish & Community & Culture and Chicano/a studies student. Grupo Folklorico is a home-away for its members.

Grupo Folklorico has flourished into a strong, unified dance troupe. With its madrino and padrino buddy systems, current members reach out to new members to make them feel welcomed into the familia. Futhermore, Grupo Folklorico has also built networks with other Latino/a clubs on the UCLA campus.

Grupo Folklorico has endured successes and losses in the past 40 years, but the group maintains an inexhaustible enthusiasm and dedication to its art.

Printed Winter 2009