A deafening cheer arose from the students seated in The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall as dancers in flowing dresses dashed through the aisles, followed by sashaying performers bearing enormous mojigangas (large-scale puppets).
This jubilant scene of ornate costumes and lively dancing was a direct homage to the authentic Mexican Fiesta en Tlacotalpan – and Southern Nevada students were experiencing it firsthand at The Smith Center.
Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, The Smith Center presented two special matinee shows of the world-renowned Ballet Folklorico dance company in October for approximately 2,600 students from across Southern Nevada.
Thanks to public support, The Smith Center — a nonprofit organization — provided these matinees at no cost to schools.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for our kids,” said Kathleen Flynn, magnet coordinator with Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts, who attended with her school’s students. “By coming here, they can learn about a culture in a different venue. We don’t live in one culture, so we need to understand other perspectives and backgrounds.”
Seen by over 45 million people worldwide, Ballet Folklorico performs traditional dances from across Mexico’s history and culture.
Students at the matinees experienced Mexican dances and music from a wide range of eras and influences, including the Mexican charreria (a rodeo-like event), folk dances influenced by Spanish, French and Austrian colonials, and even a dance celebrating Mexico’s aboriginal tribe, the Yaqui.
“The Ballet Folklorico was very exciting to see, because it represents my family culture,” said Byron Vaca, a sixth grader at Thurman White who had never been to The Smith Center before this matinee performance. “When we returned to school, I shared a little about how my family came to America and some of the things we do to (preserve) my family history.”
Mixing Cuban Heritage with Hip-Hop
Ballet Folklorico wasn’t Southern Nevada students’ only exposure to Hispanic culture in October.
The Smith Center also presented matinee performances to over 2,500 students of “Havana Hop!” — an energizing, one-woman show in which acclaimed artist Paige Hernandez combines her love of hip-hop dancing with her Cuban heritage.
Throughout the interactive, bilingual show, Hernandez led elementary students in learning hip-hop, salsa, Spanish vocabulary and even sign language, all as she shared insights about Cuban culture.
“I wanted to create a performance to share my family’s story with you, but also so you know that you should be proud of where you come from,” Hernandez told students after the show.
Sarah Howard, a teacher with Doral Academy - Red Rock Elementary School, said the show was great for students at her school, who are also learning about performers like Rita Moreno for Hispanic Heritage Month.
“It’s valuable for them to see another performance art that integrates the culture,” Howard said. “And to normalize (multi-culturalism) at this age, it helps them see the value in what cultures they bring to the table, and that differences really bring us together.”
Thanks to generous support from Windsong Trust, The Smith Center presents matinee shows to an average 80,000 Southern Nevada students each year, all at no cost to schools.
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