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Ballet Folklórico: Using dance to create community
Students must maintain grades, discipline
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico takes to the stage during a past performance. The program provides after-school instruction in Mexican folkloric dance to children in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Santa Fe public schools. - photo by Jordan Curet

Transcending cultural barriers through the art of dance is at the root of what Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Folklórico troupe is all about, and, right now, the entire Mid-Valley community is coming together to help the Garcia family transcend the total loss of their Basalt home and all of their belongings in a recent trailer fire.

Ximena and Joel Garcia are part of the Ballet Folklórico program and were performing on March 9 in Willits with the entire family present when the fire consumed their home and killed their beloved pets. A GoFundMe campaign (link at the end of the story) has been created to assist them.

“People are responding so nice,” says Folklórico director Francisco Nevarez-Burgueño, or Paco as he likes to be called. “When I see the list of contributors, I start crying. I can see the generosity of the community. That has affected all of us.”

Using the tragedy as a rallying point to bring together the Mid-Valley community, Ballet Folklórico moves forward as it prepares for its next performance in May. 

In 1998, the leadership of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) decided to expand their programming, and they created a free, after-school instruction in Mexican folkloric dance and offer something for the kids and for the local artistic community.

In 2002, ASFB coaxed Nevarez-Burgueño, then the leader of a Brooklyn, New York, dance company to venture to the mountains of Colorado and view what they had created in the way of folkloric dance.

Nevarez-Burgueño says of that first visit to the Roaring Fork Valley that he “fell in love with mountains.” He has been the director of Ballet Folklórico (BF) ever since.

“Most of the folk dances in Mexico are from little towns and communities,” Navarez-Burgueño says. “They tell stories about their history, about their cultural traditions. My goal is to teach the [Roaring Fork Valley] kids who are born here these Mexican dances and traditions.”

Nevarez-Burgueño explains how Ballet Folklórico performs music from many different regions of Mexico and reflects the many different cultural styles and music.

“We have a huge repertoire,” he says. “In 18 years, I have been expanding more and more, teaching these kids about the different regions and states of Mexico. I have even worked in indigenous people from the Pacific coast, [from the state of] Nayarit.”

Under the leadership of Paco Navarez-Burgueño, Ballet Folklorico has created a program that builds self-esteem and positive youth development while participants learn about the history and cultural traditions of Mexico. - photo by Jordan Curet
On Saturday, March 9, Ballet Folklórico’s performance at The Temporary in Willits featured dances and music from the Jalisco and Colima states in Mexico with a live seven-piece Mariachi band accompanying the many kids that performed that night.

“Every single village has its own identity,” Navarez-Burgueño says. “Many different types of races and identities. Northern people are different than people in the south. They can appear stronger with more movement to their hands. In the south, they are more soft-spoken, more respectful. All of that is reflected on the stage.”

In the March 9 performance, male dancers in one dance used crudely fashioned knives to represent the machetes many indigenous people still carry around as part of their community life.

“When people get together for parties, they always carry the machetes in the waistband,” Nevarez-Burgueño notes. “Those dances are a show off for the males.”

A highlight of any Ballet Folklórico performance is the patterns created when the young ladies twirl their dresses. In the conservative life of the small Mexican communities, women are not allowed to wear clothes that bring attention to them, so one of the few times they can get young men to notice them is twirling in a colorful dress. The mosaic-like patterns jump to life when the ladies spin and whirl.

Currently, the Ballet Folklórico program encompasses 194 kindergarten to high-school-senior students from Rifle to Basalt. Under the leadership of Navarez-Burgueño and the ASFB organization, they have created a program that builds self-esteem and positive youth development while they learn about the history and cultural traditions of Mexico and bond with other local kids.

In order to participate in the BF Company, the students have to be responsible with their grades and with discipline.

“We supervise their grades. If we see something is weak, I have a lady who works with me. She is the one to help me identify any kids with problems,” Nevarez-Burgueño says. 

For the kids, the program and the Company become family. Some of them participate from kindergarten to when they graduate from high school. Many of the kids go on to college, become professionals or own businesses. And now, with Ballet Folklórico teaching and entertaining for 21 years, the kids of BF are now having kids. Thus, a second generation is being created. 

Future plans for Nevarez-Burgueño and the kids of Ballet Folklórico?

“My plans are to keep working hard with these kids,” he says. “We have been excelling. We have a good level of dance techniques, and we are receiving invitations from international organizations, like in Mexico and Columbia, to go and do workshops. And we are doing festivals and folklorico conventions here in the United States. For many of these kids, it’s the first time they have flown on a plane or had a chance to visit another country.

“It’s a very nice way for these kids to see the world,” Nevarez-Burgueño continues. “I have been so lucky to have Aspen Santa Fe Ballet back me up with these kids and this program.”

To offer your help to the Garcia family, please contact Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (970) 925-7175 or go to:

According to Nevarez-Burgueño, the fundraising effort has raised about $61,000 of its $75,000 goal.