Why They Dance
The Importance of Arts and Culture for Puerto Ricans
Story by Brooke Hovey, University of Texas at Austin
As America is home to many diverse peoples, arts and cultural
education are perhaps the most meaningful ways in which various
groups stay connected to their own unique heritages. This is also
one of the most effective ways to educate and excite children, in
particular, about their culture. Parents face a difficult task of
educating their children about culture, but by getting them
involved in the arts, they can make the process fun.
Photos by Deepti Mangla, University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Ana Marķa Maynard, mother of two young children, has
dedicated her life to creating a space in which she can share her
Puerto Rican heritage through the arts. Her inspiration came
after the birth of her first child. Maynard explains that there
was no visible Puerto Rican presence in Austin at that time.
"There was very little here for my own people, my own
culture, and this wonderful heritage that I grew up in," she
says. "Music and dance are a very important part of Puerto Rican
culture. There was nowhere in Austin for my son to learn our
musical and cultural traditions." Maynard was determined to find
a way to educate her children and other Puerto Ricans about their
unique island culture. She has done this through education,
music, and dance.
In 1997, Maynard founded the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and
Cultural Center in Austin. The center attempts "to promote
cultural awareness and pride through performances and educational
programs in the performing arts and culture." The center is a
nonprofit organization, and Maynard works on a volunteer basis.
The performing company is funded in part by the National
Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the
Austin Arts Commission, and the Institute of Puerto Rican
Culture. In addition to directing the professional-level company
of dancers and musicians, Maynard offers classes to all ages,
ranging from young children to adults, and all ability levels.
She encourages all people to try her classes, with or without
At Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance, Maynard strives to make the
experience a family event, in which parents and their children
can learn, grow, and celebrate together. In contrast to other
dance studios, instructors at PRFD encourage the parents of their
students to stay and watch rehearsals and lessons. Maynard
explains, "We make it not only a dance and culture class, but a
family event. There is a family support structure, and they're
all in this together. I don't know what I enjoy more, watching
the children learning and loving what they're doing, or watching
the parents loving their children."
The classes are held in a small room at Tapestry dance studio
off 5th Street. Children and their parents begin to wander in
around 9:45 on Saturday morning. In the 15 minutes before class,
the room is filled with talk and laughter. A young girl's father
helps her tie her skirt, kisses her on the forehead, and then
joins the other parents seated on benches around the room. The
girl rushes over to her friends who are seated around the
instructor, whom they clearly adore. At 10:00, it is time for
class to begin. The students rise, spread out around the room,
and follow the instructor's lead through a lively warm-up.
When the warm-up is complete, students gather around their
instructor for the weekly culture lesson. At Puerto Rican
Folkloric Dance, every class incorporates a brief lesson in the
historical development of Puerto Rico's customs and traditions.
The children's lessons provide a glimpse into their heritage that
is simple and entertaining. The children clearly enjoy this part
of the morning, as do their parents who observe and perhaps learn
something new themselves.
Following the lesson, the next hour is spent rehearsing and
learning new combinations of traditional Puerto Rican dances -
the Bomba, Plena, Seis, and Danza. The music never stops. All
feet are light on the wooden floor. The room is filled with
energy and excitement. On this particular morning, the children
are practicing for their upcoming recital - a chance for them to
show off all they have learned.
In creating Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance, Maynard has provided a
tremendous service to both children and adults in the community.
David and Olga Simons, a couple who moved to Texas from Puerto
Rico, wanted to find a way to teach their 8-year-old daughter
about her heritage. They enrolled her in the children's classes,
and then signed on themselves. "We simply couldn't resist Ana
Marķa's enthusiasm," Mrs. Simons said. "I'm amazed by this place.
This takes a lot of hard work."
PRFD does require a lot of hard work, time, and dedication, but
Maynard believes strongly in the importance of arts and culture.
Dr. Arturo Madrid, a professor at Trinity University, has written
extensively on this subject (Madrid, 2002). He writes that arts
and culture are important for several reasons. First, arts and
culture connect us to the past; they enable us to remember,
recollect, and recall. Furthermore, arts and culture allow
communities to come together and celebrate their values and
uniqueness. Finally, arts and culture expression allow diverse
peoples to preserve and communicate their culture, so that future
generations may share in their heritage.
So when Maynard's young students dance around the room to a
traditional Puerto Rican beat, they may not yet realize the
significance of their dancing. But their parents and instructors
do. Their dancing is the embodiment of a rich cultural tradition
they are slowly coming to understand, and will one day pass on to
their own children. To them, it's just plain fun, but to Maynard,
Fall classes for children and teens begin August 17, 2002. For more
information about the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance & Cultural
Center, please visit www.prfdance.com or call 251-8122.
Note: This journalism story was done with UT Austin students
as part of their school project. Both students were talented and
great fun to work with. Both received an "A" in their project.
Brooke Hovey graduated in 2002 from the
University of Texas at Austin. She earned her B.S. in
Communication Studies and moved to Los Angeles in the
Fall 2002 to pursue a career in communications.
Deepti Mangla is also a 2002 UT Graduate and moved to Washington
DC Fall 2002 to begin her new career. We wish them great luck in
their future endeavors!
Copyright © 2002 Hovey, Mangla and PRFDance.