Hispanic Heritage: Preserving the past through dance

Hispanic Heritage Month

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Dance is a crucial part of Hispanic heritage, as a way of celebrating cultures and preserving the past.   

A new group is already making a lasting impact in Las Vegas and beyond.

Step by step, movement after movement, these Las Vegas teens dance with power and purpose. They’re part of “Grupo Folklorico Libertad de Las Vegas” — a team dedicated to preserving and promoting Mexican traditions through dance.

The choreography and the costumes appear exactly as they were intended, without any modifications or modernization.

19-year-old Emily Casillas joined the group three years ago right after it was first created. She says it’s a way to connect to her roots.

“You just want to get that flowy movement of the skirt,” said Emily Casillas. “I like it a lot. It’s, it gives you a new taste of different things, teaches you a little bit about your own culture and history.”

That is also the reason why 18-year-old Brian Mercado-Gonzalez got involved.

“Before Folklorico, I was in mariachi,” said Mercado-Gonzalez. “You know, I was just trying to do stuff that was from my culture, trying to experience it, trying to learn from it.”

Grupo Folklorico Libertad de Las Vegas started with only eight people in 2017 and has now grown into a 50-person group with dancers of all ages.

Each of the thousands of dance styles act as a love letter to the locals in Mexico who created them.

Sub-director Juan Aburto-Cardenas is in charge of the choreography. He says teaching these traditional movements involve more than just going through the motions. It’s about explaining why they do them.

“We’re showing them what the Mexican culture truly is,” Alburto-Cardenas said. “Let’s say for example, I tell them, ‘hey do a stomp.’ They do a simple stomp. But if I’m like the stomp is important because of this and that, now when I say do a stomp, they go stomp and add a little emphasis into it.”

Attention to detail has led to major performances in Las Vegas and around the country.

But this year has been a challenge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of plans for this group, including postponing rehearsals, and canceling a trip to Paris, where they were set to perform on the international stage.

Co-founder and director Karla Villalobos-Cardenas said once the pandemic passes she wants the group to get back on track and perform at festivals all over the world.

But her main mission is still top of mind.

“We’re still planning for the future. We’re not leaving. We’re here,” said Villalobos-Cardenas. “Sharing knowledge from generation to generation — that’s what keeps our roots and culture going on from even when we’re not even here anymore.”

Emily and Brian are the future of Folklorico in Las Vegas and understand it’s up to them to keep the legacy alive.

“By the time we get to that certain age, we can start teaching it as well,” said Mercado-Gonzalez.

“I would like to pass it on to my children as well, so the culture won’t be lost,” Casillas.

Preserving the passion — one step at a time.

Grupo Folklorico Libertad de Las Vegas says its impact goes well beyond its members.

Families of the dancers are very involved and are often included in the lessons about traditional Mexican folklore.

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