“Every dance has a story,” said Hedges Elementary School student Ramon Flores, referring to the traditional Mexican dances he performed last Saturday at the Michigan Union Pendleton Room.

Flores is part of the Back of the Yards Ballet Folklorico, an award-winning cultural dance group from Chicago with over 200 members, whose ages range from 4 to 21. Their performance kicked off the University’s celebration of Latino Unity Month.

“We wanted to have a program for the initiation of Latino Unity Month so we thought this would be a good idea to show the community some of the traditional dances from the culture we come from,” LSA senior Ruben Martinez said. Martinez is part of multicultural fraternity Sigma Lambda Beta, who organized the event.

“It involves a lot of stomping,” Nursing School senior and Sigma Lambda Beta member Joseph Salazar said about the group’s routines, many of which utilize tap dancing. “It’s very vivid, because of the bright colors they wear,” he added.

Many of the dances, such as the Bailemos Polka from the Mexican state of Durango, feature men in sombreros paired with women in long, flowing dresses, who waved their skirts around to the beat of traditional Mexican music.

But there were also routines such as the Almudes from the state of Campeche, in which the younger dancers performed tap routines while balancing a tray of water cups on their heads.

“I was really amazed at the younger kids and how talented they were,” Rackham student Michelle Kelso said. “They had a lot of spirit,” she added.

The group ended its performance with four ritualistic dances from the state of Concheros that reenacted a warrior dance, a fertility dance, a war preparations dance and a dance portraying appreciation for the gods.

The Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, which runs the Ballet Folklorico, is a non-profit group that provides community services to the south side of Chicago.

“It gives them a good environment to be in after school,” Engineering senior Ramon Martinez said about the dance program. “This is kind of a place for them to gather with friends and enjoy their culture.”

Maribel Gomez, whose 14-year-old daughter Erica has been part of the group for nine years, said the program helps keep kids off the streets while learning about their heritage.

“Dancing is a very nice way of expressing the Mexican culture,” Gomez said.

Upcoming Latino Unity Month events include “Yo Soy Latina” on March 20, which will discuss issues affecting Latino women, and the annual Latino Cultural Show on March 29.

The show’s title, “No es lo Mismo Pero es Igual,” can be roughly translated as “It’s not the same, but it’s equal.”

Donney Moroney, the Latino coordinator for the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said the show’s theme addresses the fact that the Latino culture encompasses a diverse range of individuals and ethnic categories.

“If you haven’t had exposure to the Latino community, it is easy to believe that Latino means Mexican,” Moroney said.

While Mexican Americans make up the predominant group of Latinos at the University, Moroney said there are also students, faculty and staff of Puerto Rican, Argentinian, Nicaraguan, Ecuadorean and Costa Rican descent.

Moroney said the Latino Unity Month events aim to celebrate and share Latino culture in order to raise awareness and educate the campus community. Martinez said the Ballet Folklorico’s routines reflect different regions of Mexico and encompass many Mexican states.

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