Folkloric dance brings Cinco de Mayo color to campus

Performance adds to outdoor reception after commencement

The date of the Mexican national holiday, Cinco de Mayo, never varies; the celebration of Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862 is listed right in the name, May 5. But the local observation of the day has changed over the years, and 2017’s festivities overlap with another big day in Liberal: Seward County Community College’s commencement ceremonies.

The result? A vibrant addition to the after-commencement public reception. The folkloric dance group, Ballet Folklórico Omawari will perform in the SCCC amphitheater during the outdoor reception May 6.

“We’re really excited that we can work together in this celebration,” said SCCC adult education instructor and Cinco de Mayo committee member Sonia Hernandez. “I’ve been involved with Cinco de Mayo for a long time, but now it’s not just me, it’s a lot of us from the college.”  The list of Cinco de Mayo committee members now includes Adult Education Director and Interim Dean of Industrial Technology Travis Combs, and Student Support Services transfer coordinator Janeth Vazquez.

Made up of engineering students from the Technological Institute of Delicias (ITDel), the group of more than 20 performers is known across Mexico for presentations of multiple traditional dance styles. Hernandez, who has also mastered several styles of Mexican dance, played a key role in bringing the students to Liberal. For several years, she coached young Liberal residents in traditional dance, but knee surgery last year interfered.

Those circumstances inspired Hernandez to reach out to ITDel, which is in her hometown of Delicias in Mexico.

“These young people are real professionals,” she said, “and they’re also college students, so it’s a great opportunity and very exciting for them to see our commencement ceremony.”

Folkloric dance itself performs double duty for participants and audience members, Hernandez pointed out.

“This is a style of art that blends two things. Some of the musical instruments are coming from Europe, Spain … and you’re also going to see dresses and costumes that are coming from the Indian cultures in all these parts of Mexico,” she said. “It’s a combination.”

For Southwest Kansas residents, the performance connects two countries, multiple traditions, and many generations, much in the way square-dancing classes in public school once helped elementary students understand regional and American history through music.

“These dresses might be the same as my grandma wore,” Hernandez said. “It’s a connection to tradition that has kind of been fading, but many people are trying to rescue.”

On the SCCC campus, the dancers will perform after the commencement reception, in the amphitheater space adjacent to the outdoor celebration on the courtyard green. Later that day, Ballet Folklórico Omawari will perform at the Miss Cinco de Mayo Pageant, at 7 p.m. at the Seward County Activity Center. A final performance for the public is planned for the the continuing celebrations at the activity center, following the 3 p.m. Sunday Cinco de Mayo parade.

The group’s travel arrangements required significant paperwork and documentation completed over a year’s time. Hernandez thanked SCCC, the Liberal Convention and Tourism Office, and Great Western Dining for providing support for the cross-cultural project.

Photo caption:  In an on-campus performance for Hispanic Heritage Month activities in 2015, SCCC students trained by Hernandez perform folkloric dance similar to what will be presented at the after-commencement outdoor performance May 6.

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