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Where: Tapestry Dance Studio
Call: (512) 251-8122
Web site: Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance

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Every motion tells a story

[] Dances pulsate with the rhythm of daily life

By Shermakaye Bass
Special to the American-Statesman

Posted: Sept. 16, 1999

'Dancing was part of life'

"Our goal is to bring this culture to Austin, because a lot of people don't know much about Puerto Rico, or that it has been part of the United States for 100 years," says Maynard. A former dancer with Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico de Texas for five years, she left the Mexican folkloric group to have a baby. With her son's birth, she was swept with a nostalgia for her own heritage -- a constant presence that had infused her childhood.

Once in college and away from her old neighborhood in the Bronx, she had begun to miss the familial quality of weekends in New York, when neighbors "stopped by with congas and maracas and cases of beer." Such social gatherings were regular, spontaneous occasions. And "dancing was part of life. Music was part of life."

When she realized that she would have to re-create that life in her new home in Austin (and when she realized that there was a strong enough population of Puerto Ricans who gather at Borinquen restaurant on South Congress Avenue), Maynard decided to start the company. Her goal was threefold, she says: to rear her son with an awareness of his Caribbean heritage, to share the island's traditions with her husband and other non-Puerto Ricans, and to cultivate a sense of pride and community among Puerto Ricans in Austin.

Since then, she has gained support from the City of Austin's Arts Commission, which awarded the company a Cultural Contracts grant earlier this year; as well as more established local Latino dance groups, such as the late Roy Lozano's troupe and Roen Salinas' Aztlan Dance Company -- which have invited Maynard and her dancers to perform at their showcases. The emerging group has also appeared at DanceFest, the Zilker Park Trail of Lights, the Austin Children's Museum's International Festival, the University of Texas International Extravaganza and the Austin Ethnic Fair at Concordia University.

Last weekend, the dancers performed at a salsa festival in Waterloo Park, and they will dance at noon today at Camp Mabry's Hispanic Heritage Celebration for Diez y Seis. Despite the many cameos, though, Maynard hopes her company can launch a performance season of its own, and perhaps even start a school for children -- joining the growing community of teaching/dance companies in Austin.

Blending cultures

Evidently, Maynard and Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance have impressed the right people. Elaine LeMoyne, a volunteer panelist for the City of Austin Arts Commission who advised the dance group for its grant applications, says she expects the group to blossom. "They're new and they've moved very fast and very far," says LeMoyne, a native New Yorker who admits she, too, has missed the cultural cross-pollination of her hometown.

She says the company reminded her of why she loves the United States so much. "We are a land of immigrants. We don't look at people as strangers; we welcome them," says LeMoyne, adding, "I'm a first-generation person, so I feel very close to this (company). My mother is Russian, and my father is Polish, and I married a Frenchman. So this is Heinz 57!"

She is voicing the same sentiments that propelled Maynard to promote Puerto Rican culture in the first place. "Puerto Rico has several cultural roots -- the Spaniards, the Indians and the African slaves," the dancer says. "What we're trying to do as a dance company is to show the whole cross-section. For instance, with bomba, what you're going to see is a part of the culture that the slaves brought to the island, and how that has translated into something different over the years. The bomba celebrated the important things in the people's lives -- weddings, births. . . . But it was restricted by the authorities to only certain times, because the government didn't want the slaves to congregate and plan a rebellion . . . so it became a very special dance."

The bomba is technically unique, Maynard explains, because when a dancer steps away from the rest of the group, he or she improvises, challenging the drummer to a lighthearted, creative duel. It's an interesting role reversal between dance and music -- one where the drummer is asked to follow the soloist's step.

In another dance, Maynard discusses the origins of plena, and how it still survives today. "Plena came from the streets. When there was an abolition of slavery on the island, the former slaves didn't have jobs. So they would gather in Ponce and write songs about life, and so it has these raw lyrics of everyday life. It's alive in the everyday. . ."

Company dancer Santa Yanez-Montemayor says plena represents the things that drew her to the aspiring young company even though she is Mexican-American. "It's saying, `This is what happened today. Someone got killed, someone got married. Someone is happy, someone is sad.' " Yanez-Montemayor says that's what her art form is about -- a need to tell one's story.

"It's the same in any culture. You don't have to be Puerto Rican. This is music and dance of the people -- and we're all people, and we all have multiple cultures."


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