Student ambassadors

By Marlena Hartz : CNJ staff writer

Laced with threads of silver, the sombrero glitters on the floor as Vanessa Cruz and Navor Estrada weave around it. From a podium, Christy Van Hoose shouts instructions.

“Kick those legs,” she instructs the couple.

Vanessa, 11, and Navor, 12, pound their feet in an impressive rendition of Jarabe Tapatio, Mexico’s national dance.

The children study Mexican dance three days a week under the tutelage of Van Hoose, La Casita Elementary School’s music and dance director. They are members of La Casita’s prized Folklorico dance group.

The original Folklorico dance group was formed at La Casita in 1999 to promote Mexican culture and heritage, according to Van Hoose, who said many students who attend La Casita are from Mexico.

Each year, Van Hoose hand-picks Folklorico dancers. The approximately 100 students who auditioned for Folklorico this year were whittled to 34, she said.

“We have a lot of talented students,” said Van Hoose, who has taught for 17 years.

Those who enter the elite dance group do so for a range of reasons.

“I saw the dances and it was cool to me,” said Navor, who earlier received a light reprimand from Van Hoose for a disheveled uniform (the collar of his oxford shirt was tucked into his black vest).

“I wanted to impress my parents,” Vanessa said.

Culled from fourth, fifth and sixth grades, Folklorico dancers must maintain at least a C average to keep their spot in the group, according to Van Hoose. Their skills have swept them across the state for performances in Santa Fe, Portales and Albuquerque. They also perform regularly at events in Clovis.

They master polkas and waltzes from northern and western Mexico, Van Hoose said.

“Each region in Mexico is almost a culture onto itself,” Van Hoose said.

The little dancers are also ambassadors for La Casita, according to proud Principal Henry Montano.

“They are … ,” he said, “the essence of La Casita.

“They are very proud of what they do. You can notice that in the way they dance,” he said.