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La Cultura Cura: Bridging Cultures Through Dance and Music
Grantee SpotlightWatsonville ArtsEquity
byMercedes LewisonJuly 2, 2024

Reinforcing Cultural Identity: A Vibrant Dance and Music Exchange

This August, the vibrant rhythms and colorful traditions of Veracruz, Mexico, will come alive in Santa Cruz County with the inaugural - Por el Reforzamiento de la Identidad Cultural - Reinforcing Cultural Identity - an International Folklórico Dance and Music Conference. From August 15-25, 2024, Esperanza del Valle, Cabrillo College's Visual, Applied, and Performing Arts Department, and the Universidad Veracruzana will join forces to present this event. Bridging cultures and continents, the conference celebrates the rich artistic heritage of Veracruz while showcasing the thriving arts community of Watsonville and Santa Cruz County. This landmark gathering marks the beginning of a four-year collaboration, born from decades of cultural exchange and relationship building fostered by the local dance company Esperanza del Valle.

A Legacy of Cultural Connection

For over 40 years, Esperanza del Valle has been a cornerstone of Santa Cruz County's arts community. Their journey with Veracruz began in 1991 when dancers, including founder/Artistic Director Janet Johns and Assistant Director Ruby Vasquez, attended an international dance conference. The experience sparked a deep, ongoing relationship with the folklórico traditions of Veracruz. This dedication has led to numerous cultural exchanges, including bringing master teachers to Watsonville and sending local dancers to study in Veracruz.

"We've continued to travel to and walk with these communities, researching, learning, and developing an important network of relationships for over 35 years," explains Janet Johns.

From Grassroots to Formal Partnership

The seeds planted by Esperanza del Valle have blossomed into a formal agreement between Cabrillo College and the Universidad Veracruzana. Dr. John Graulty, Dean of Visual, Applied, and Performing Arts at Cabrillo College, embraced the opportunity, recognizing the alignment with Cabrillo's mission as a Hispanic-serving institution. This partnership opens doors for students on both sides of the border. "Students studying dance or music at Cabrillo might want to take a summer or semester and go study the amazing program they have in Veracruz," Janet explains. Similarly, students from Veracruz will have opportunities to study at Cabrillo.

A Celebration of Culture and Community

From August 15-25, Santa Cruz County will pulsate with the vibrant traditions of Veracruz, offering residents and visitors alike a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in Mexican folkloric arts. This vibrant program offers something for everyone – whether you're a seasoned dancer, a curious beginner, or simply an appreciator of rich cultural traditions. By bringing these art forms to schools, theaters, and community spaces, the conference aims to make the beauty of Mexican folkloric arts accessible to all of Santa Cruz County. You can expect these highlights:

  • Dance and Music Classes: Twenty-four Ballet Folklórico del Puerto de Veracruz dancers and five Nematatlin de la Universidad Veracruzana musicians will lead classes for youth and adults, from beginners to advanced practitioners. "We really want to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and, instead of being a spectator, sign up and take a class," urges Ruby Vasquez, emphasizing the event's inclusivity.

  • School Workshops: The visiting artists will bring their expertise directly to local students, conducting workshops in selected PVUSD schools and after-school programs.

  • Gala Performances: Two distinct shows will showcase the diversity of Mexican dance and music. Ruby Vasquez explains, "If you attend the gala performance at the Mello Center, you'll see 'Rostros de Mexico,' featuring dances and music from different states in Mexico. The following weekend at the Crocker Theater, 'Raices del Pueblo' will focus purely on the dances and music representing the state of Veracruz."

  • Community Events: Free events like "Todos Bailan Su Son" and a community Fandango (a party where people get together to dance, to play and sing in a community setting) will invite everyone to participate in the joyous celebration of Mexican culture.

The Power of Cultural Exchange

This event goes beyond teaching dance steps and musical notes. It's about fostering understanding, appreciation, and mutual respect between cultures. As Janet puts it, "We hope that the conference brings a really deep understanding in our community and appreciation and respect for our arts community in Watsonville and Veracruz." Ruby adds:

"In Spanish, there is a saying 'la cultura cura' - culture cures. This is going to be an opportunity for folks to be introduced to another look at Mexico through the culture, dances, and music of Veracruz".

Looking to the Future

This August's events are just the beginning. With a four-year agreement in place and steps being taken to establish Watsonville and Veracruz as sister cities in arts and culture, we can look forward to many more opportunities for cultural exchange and artistic growth. Whether you're an experienced dancer or have never set foot on a dance floor, there's a place for you regardless of your cultural background and country of birth.

The Por el Reforzamiento de la Identidad Cultural - Reinforcing Cultural Identity conference is more than an event; it's a celebration of heritage, inclusive community, and the profound healing power of creative culture.

For more information on classes and performances, visit Esperanza del Valle.