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Riverbanks Ballet Folklorico Hits The Big Stage
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This duo was practicing their number with enthusiasm and focus during the rehearsal on Friday, Aug. 16. VIRGINIA STILL/The News

Riverbank’s Ballet Folklorico will be performing its 2013 dance recital ‘Viva Mexico y Su Folklor’ at the Gallo Arts Center in Modesto on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3 p.m.

The group of 40 students, under the direction of Norma Torres-Manriquez and choreographer Daisy Torres, plan to take the audience on a trip through five different regions of Mexico.

The Folklorico group was assembled in 2000, when Torres-Manriquez talked with the Director of Parks and Recreation, Sue Fitzpatrick about offering dance classes to the community.

“They are always looking for something new for the community,” said Torres-Manriquez.

The agreement was made and Mondays were the nights that she would be able to use the Community Center for her classes.

“The first day of class I had 30 kids,” said Torres-Manriquez. “It was exciting to see how many people were interested in it.”

Currently, they have classes available for ages 2 to 5 on Monday at 5:30 p.m., an intermediate class for ages 6 to preteen at 6:30 p.m., and an advanced class from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for older students.

In 2003, the group started traveling and participating in competitions. The group has competed in an annual worldwide competition in Las Vegas with teams from Mexico, Europe, and other places around the world. They have competed in Las Vegas for the past three years and have placed in the top three of the categories that they performed in.

“It was so much fun and the kids had such a good time,” said Torres-Manriquez of the Vegas trip. “It’s a little expensive, because we have to travel and get our outfits.”

First time choreographer, daughter, and assistant instructor, Torres has spent several years in the world of dance and was raised with the folklorico dance traditions her mother teaches.

Torres has learned other types of dance and is also interested in teaching and choreography.

Each song, dress, hairdo, hat, and the colors have a specific meaning and represents a certain region in Mexico. They will have several different costume changes and dance about two to three numbers per region in the Gallo Center performance.

“We started picking states that we knew, and that people enjoy watching and that the children enjoy dancing,” said Torres-Manriquez. “We try to pass on the history to the children.”

The dancing that they do is traditional but they have also added some interpretive dancing and ballet.

“My goal is to keep the tradition alive but I think the younger generation relates to it better when it’s something from their generation also,” said Torres-Manriquez.

The group has been rehearsing several days a week and not only practice the dances but also dress changes. The average costume changing time within the group is two minutes and 30 seconds.

With every dress change, the girls also must change their hair accessories and at times their hairstyle. There are six boys in the production and they will change their outfits as well as their hats for the different numbers.

Performing at the Gallo was something the kids and parents wanted, explained Torres-Manriquez. The parents had been asking her for the past five years for the venue in Modesto.

At the request of the parents and kids, they started fundraising within the community for the past few years. They held a few different fundraisers like at the Modesto Farmer’s Market where they had a tip jar.

“It has taken us over three years to get there because of all the costs associated with such a large production,” stated Torres-Manriquez. “This is the first performance on a theater stage for many of the dancers so it is a debut, sort of speaking.”

After raising the funds, Torres-Manriquez contacted Gallo and set the date.

The colorful outfits are made up of 10 to 12 yards of fabric and are sewn by Torres-Manriquez and her mother. The dresses are elaborate when finished and can cost as much as $150 or more.

The dancers in the group range from two years old up into the early 20s. They are in their final preparations before their big day at the Gallo.

“They have all worked so hard and are so excited,” expressed Torres-Manriquez. “The children’s goal is to share their performance with their community so I want them to see that their hard work pays off with a full house.”

With help from the parents, the students and all the fundraising efforts, the Riverbank’s Ballet Folklorico group will get their chance to debut their talents on the theater stage at the Gallo Center for the Arts for the Central Valley.