| "We moved them to a level that was incredible for me to even comprehend at that time," Jesus Avila said after an appearance on La Movida. "It was so overwhelming and it brought tears to my eyes that a small group from Madison had conquered the audience in Chicago. At that time, I knew we had a very special group of people and a very special group, which is the Ballet Folklorico Mexico. The following year, we were given 30 minutes and no other group -- not even those that come from Mexico -- has ever been given that amount of time at that event."
Ballet Folklorico went on to become one of the premier traditional Mexican dance troupes in North America. Yet while Ballet Folklorico has become a full-time dance troupe, traveling across the U.S. to give performances, Avila and Ballet Folklorico have not forgotten their roots. They are regularly seen performing at festivals in Madison and Milwaukee. And while it is a relatively modest venue, Ballet regularly performs at Bayview's annual Triangle Ethnic Fest.
Avila took his art to a new level last year when he established Academia de Danza Mexico to bring the arts to everyday people and to inspire a new generation in traditional Mexican dancing.
"We offer different classes of art, violin, trumpet, guitar and drumming," Avila said. "In dancing, we offer salsa, meringue and bachata. We have an extraordinary teacher from Puerto Rico who teaches those classes. He is a professional. Within the folklore, we teach Mexican folk dance and we separate that from the traditional dances of the Aztecs and the Yachis. We also have hip hop break dance for the young people and also a couple of karate classes per week." Classes are offered six days per week.
A special project that Avila has undertaken is ensuring that the music of the mariachis is handed down to another generation. Look at almost any mariachi group on stage, and one can readily see that most of the members are a part of the Baby Boom generation or above. Avila is working to ensure that the music will play on. "We started Mariachi Juvenil," Avila said with pride. "The ages are between 15-25 years old. The rehearsals are already on their way and they should be ready in six months to a year. This is something beautiful because we're going to have our own mariachi right here in the Midwest." Mariachi Juveni will be based in Milwaukee where all of the students live.
While Avila emphasized that no one is turned away due to skill level, he does expect the school and its students to propel Ballet Folklorico to greater heights. "It's getting to the point where people are going to have to work extra hard to somewhat compete for spots within the choreography because the students in Milwaukee are doing an outstanding job," Avila said.
And while Ballet Folklorico used to be composed primarily of people who had emigrated to the Madison area from Mexico, the composition of the group is changing. "Nowadays, we have a lot of young people who were actually born here in the States and are really motivated and very happy to be doing something worthwhile and to be a part of such a beautiful and important group within our community," Avila said. "So it's a mixed group of people nowadays."
Avila envisions Danza Mexico to eventually have 700 students from the Milwaukee area. He feels that if the Milwaukee Ballet's school can have 700 students, why can't Danza Mexico. His dream is not farfetched when one considers that the school received over 100 phone calls inquiring about the school after Ballet Folklorico's performance at Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee last August.
Avila established his first school in Milwaukee because of the size of its Mexican community. But he plans to establish Academia de Danza Mexico in other cities including Madison, Racine and Chicago. "If McDonalds did it, so can we," Avila said with a smile. "We're off to a real good start. We're very happy with the response of the community in Milwaukee. This is just the beginning."
While he seems to spend a great deal of time expanding Ballet Folklorico's influence in Milwaukee and beyond, Avila still enjoys performing after 36 years. He and seven other members traveled to Puerto Rico in conjunction with a Call for Peace performance in San Juan. The performance at the University of Ponce was very warmly received. Nothing could please Avila more.
"Dancing and performing keeps me happy," Avila confided. "Some people say it keeps me young looking even though Jesus Avila is very near 50 years old. But I think this keeps me going and motivated. It does that for me and I'm glad that I was able to find that one thing in life which drives me to go to higher levels and to be happy with what I do. I'm very blessed. With this, I've taken both myself and my family and friends to many different places throughout the world. I've had the opportunity to meet wonderful people and wonderful artists who have touched my life."
And Madison and beyond has been blessed to experience the richness of Mexican culture through the performances of Ballet Folklorico Mexico.
Academia de Danza Mexico is located at 1724 Mitchell Street. It's open six days per week, Monday-Friday, 3-9 p.m. and Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For further information, call Jesus Avila at (608) 772-1112.
|Academia de Danza Mexico
Continuing the traditions
By Jonathan Gramling
| The time was 1992. A crowd of 50,000 people fanned out from the stage in Chicago's Grant Park at the annual Mexican Independence Festival. While Ballet Folkorico Mexico had been around since 1971 when it was founded at Bayview Townhomes by Jesus Avila and his sister Carmen, this performance could take the troupe to a higher level -- or it could relegate it to a lower echelon of entertainment venues. Ballet Folklorico had been allocated two minutes for their performance, the minimum for any group performing.