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A folk dance spectacular

According to the custom of Nayarit dancing, "las bailarinas" gracefully twirl about, rustling their full skirts and fanning themselves while male counterparts show off with machete duels, knee bends and kicks. The dance, common along the Pacific coast of Mexico, is reminiscent of bygone courting rituals.

"At the end of the dance, the gentleman chooses his lady by kneeling before her, and she accepts by striking a pretty pose and setting her foot on his knee," says Victoria Snow Mountain, artistic director for Ballet Folklórico.

The multicultural dance group will showcase folk dances from Nayarit and eight other regions of Mexico at the 13th annual Dance Spectacular at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Central Medford High School, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.

More than 70 dancers, ages 4 to 21, from local schools will perform. Ballet Folklórico features students of Hispanic, Jewish, white and black descent, says Mountain.

Kids who aren't from Mexico participate to experience multicultural diversity. Mexican-American youth perform in order to stay connected to their traditional folk culture, says Mountain.

"What happens so often is as the kids learn English and get 'culturized,' they lose that connection to their parents," she says.

The program will feature dances from the Mexican states Nuevo León, Baja California Norte, Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacán, Veracruz, Zacatecas, Sinaloa and Yucatán, as well as Peru.

"We did a survey in classes to find out where their (students') roots in Mexico were, so we tried to pick regions that some of the kids in each class had a connection to," says Mountain.

Each dance is based on the traditional choreography, but some have been adapted for the age and skill level of the dancer, she says. The footwork, girls' skirt movements and costumes help identify the region and style of dance.

Advanced-level students, the Gala Performance Company, under the direction of Phoenix High School senior Secilia Gonzalez and Rogue Community College student Alex Zaragoza, will open and close the show with dances from the northern states of Nuevo León, Baja California Norte and Jalisco. Nuevo León features a Tex-Mex, polka-style dance. Baja California Norte is characterized by cowboys struttin' their stuff; and Jalisco for its mariachi music and sombreros. Advanced students also will perform with Medford intermediate students in the Nayarit dances.

Talent and Phoenix students will perform a Michoacán dance called "Veijitos" ("Little Old Men").

"They have a mask, a hat and a cane, and they lean over as they stamp out their dances as though they were 80 years old," says Mountain.

White City middle-school and high-school students will perform the more sensual, flirty dances of tropical Sinaloa, and the city's elementary students will demonstrate the marching steps of Zacatecas, an area from which many local Mexican-Americans emigrated, says Mountain.

Medford elementary students will perform dances from Yucatán, and an adult group, La Palomas, will perform traditional, Peruvian folk dances to Andean music.

Tickets to Saturday's show are $7, $5 for middle-school and high-school students and $4 for children ages 12 and younger. Purchase them at La Placita in Medford and El Tapatio Restaurant in Ashland. For more information call 541-261-1906.

Dancer Mindy Rivera dances in the finale of the Mexican hat dance in Ballet Folklorico's 2010 show. - Photo by Andrew Kemp