Friday, March 8 — You don't have to be Hispanic to appreciate Mexico's energetic and often romantic folk dances, the colorful, sweeping skirts and the lively bowing and strumming of a mariachi band.

You don't have to be Mexican to appreciate the country's energetic and often romantic folk dances, the colorful, sweeping skirts and the lively bowing and strumming of a mariachi band.

"It makes you feel like you're on vacation," says Victoria Snow Mountain, executive director of Ballet Folklorico Ritmo Alegre.

This year, the local dance troupe, accompanied by the six-piece Mariachi Centella, presents its 15th annual Dance Spectacular at 7 p.m. Friday, March 8, in the Central Medford High School auditorium, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.

Artistic Director Luisa Zaragoza, her son Hector and, new this year, Maximino Casillas Acuna, who has a degree from the National School of Ballet Folklorico in Mexico City and carries the official title of instructor of Mexican folk dance, have choreographed traditional folk dances from eight of the 31 Mexican states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Veracruz, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Guerrero, Michoacan and Sinaloa.

Luisa Zaragoza says she grew up dancing these types of traditional dances in her hometown, Ciudad Altamirano. She moved to Medford in 1989, began working with Ballet Folklorico Ritmo Alegre in 2001 and, more recently, spent three summers studying ballet folklorico in Mexico City.

"I wanted to keep my identity — that's who I am — and I also wanted to pass it on to my people," she says.

Friday's program will open with dances from the state of Veracruz in eastern Mexico and music with the Caribbean and African influences that distinguish that region. This part of the show will be arranged like a quinceanera, a celebration that marks a 15-year-old girl's passage into womanhood, and will feature a combination of dance styles — from the haunting "La Bruja" ("The Enchantress") to wildly festive party dances, Snow says.

A more familiar dance style emerges from Chihuahua to the north.

"This is where the polka comes in," Snow says. "The German and Poles brought polka — and beer — to Chihuahua, the state, and the Mexicans adapted them and made them their own."

Dances here are similar to square-dancing and "kind of Tex-Mex." For this region, the ladies will don shorter, Western skirts, and the men will wear cowboy hats.

Jalisco is the state typically associated with mariachi music. Dances are characterized by lots of stomping and fancy footwork and skirtwork, and the ladies wear the iconic full, ribboned skirts — some made with more than 18 yards of fabric and 200 yards of ribbon and lace.

"These dances are recognized worldwide as a symbol of Mexico," Snow says.

Advance tickets, available at La Placita in Medford and El Tapatio Restaurant in Ashland, cost $10, $8 for students and seniors and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. At the door, tickets cost $12, $10 for students and seniors and $6 for children. For more information, see