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June 2001

Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance
by Magdalen Toole

This August the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance company will open their children's program for ages 5-8 and possibly 9-12. Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance (PRFDance) is the first and only Austin-based dance company dedicated to bringing Puerto Rican folklore to this city. Puerto Rico has a rich history whose origin can be traced back to native Taino Indian, Spanish and West African roots. These three roots combine to create a uniquely woven and colorful culture. Although Puerto Rico has been part of the United States for over 100 years, many Americans are not aware of its significance to us.

PRFDance has been named the Ambassador of Puerto Rican culture in Austin. Founded in 1997 by Ana Maria Maynard, PRFDance is an all-volunteer dance company. Its mission is to promote cultural awareness and pride through performances and educational programs in the arts. PRFDance teaches traditional Puerto Rican folkloric dance, percussion, music, song and the Island's customs and traditions.

Music and dance is a very important part of Puerto Rican culture and PRFDance is proud to share it with the community. The Seis Chorreao has its roots in musical forms that came from Spain during colonization. This dance is associated with joyful celebrations and lively holidays. The Danza, a Bailes de Salon (ballroom dance), was influenced by the classical music of Europe. When Puerto Ricans think of the Danza, they remember an elegant dance from days gone by, ladies with fans and ballroom gowns and men in white tie-and-tails. In those golden days, the orchestra would begin by leading dancers in a paseo, an elegant walk around the ballroom, giving gentlemen the opportunity to show off their lady's grace and beauty. The Plena was born about 100 years ago in the working class barrios of Ponce when the abolition of slavery changed Puerto Rican society. This musical style, based in West African roots, and influenced by Jibaro (Spanish-Arabic), native Taino Indian, and European salon music is still the "sung newspaper" of Puerto Rico. Beginning in the 17th century, West Africans who worked the colonial plantations celebrated important occassions in their lives with Bomba dances.

In Bomba, dancers take turns challenging the drums, creating a dialog with their movements that the solo drummer answers. The Seis Chorreao, the Danza, Plena, and Bomba are a few of the dances taught at PRFDance's weekly classes that attract students from a variety of cultural backgrounds experiencing Puerto Rican culture for the first time as well as Puerto Ricans interested in learning more about their heritage. Students are also taught about the history, food, language and traditions of the Puerto Rican people.

The PRFDance company performs at international events at local universities and many cultural, artistic and family events such as the Zilker Park Trail of Lights Festival, the Austin Salsa Music Festival, DANCEfest, Colectivos: Seeds of our Ancestors, and the African American Festival of Dance. The PRFDance annual full-length performance is June 24, 2001 at the State Theatre (see calendar for details) PRFDance's high quality programs are funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Austin Arts Commission, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, and IBM.

Author's Note: I am sixteen and I attended one of PRFDance's classes and rehearsals for their upcoming performance. I was warmly welcomed and had great fun joining in the lively dances. The music, live drumming and dancing create a joyful atmosphere. Whether you would like to learn to dance, want to experience Puerto Rican culture or you just want to have fun I would definitely recommend this.

Magdalen Toole is an Austin Waldorf School Spring 2001 student intern for Austin Family.

Copyright 2001 Austin Family Magazine