Arturo Magaña, a 44-year-old San José dance instructor/choreographer, is taking Mexican folklórico dance in a new direction.
His revolution has nothing to do with the music or the dance that has become synonymous with a cultural treasure and tradition that oozes with the machismo of the Mexican male.
Magaña formed Ensamble Folklórico Colibrí three years ago in an effort to fill a void for the LGBTQ community.
“I felt there was a personal need for me to represent myself and identify exactly who I am on stage and dancing my tradition,” said the native of Jerez, Zacatecas, México. “It was also for the community For people to feel it is OK. That it’s OK to see two men dancing together. It’s not a sin, it’s not a forbidden rule we are breaking in folklore.”
What that means is males dancing in skirts.
“It’s an homage to the women that dance with skirts,” said Magaña. “And, because we wanted to dance with skirts. It’s beautiful, and it’s fun. We’ve learned so much respect for the ladies.”
That means females don’t have to wear makeup.
“Their focus is to represent themselves exactly how they feel and identify,” he said.
It means a woman can be the ‘boot’ (male form in a dance number) and not have look like a man.
“We have a dancer who identifies herself as lesbian. She wears her beautiful makeup, but she dances as a ‘boot,’” said Magaña. “I don’t ask her to take off her makeup. I don’t ask her to cut off her hair.
“She wears two, beautiful trenzas (braids); the guayabera (shirt), whatever the costume is ... but she identifies in the male form and dancing looking like a beautiful woman.”
The group is the only one of its kind – at least in California – but isn’t a pioneer.
I felt there was a personal need for me to represent myself and identify exactly who I am on stage and dancing my tradition.
Magaña was a part of Folklórico Pro Latino, a group formed in 1995 in San José that disappeared after five years. The group, he said, required more cross-dressing (males would have to dress as women if they were dancing a female role, and vice versa).
“Everything was done with a lot of respect and done very seriously,” recalled Magaña.
What makes Ensamble Folklórico Colobrí (the last name is Spanish for hummingbird) different is Magaña’s vision of injecting the modern with the traditional.
“I’m a gay male, and I’ve been dancing for 18 years,” he said. “Throughout my dance career, I hve always been put into either a hetero-conforming couple or a specific character that depicts a hetro-conforming community.
“And even though the LGBTQ community forms the majority of the dance world, it hasn’t been represented right. There hasn’t been a coming-out story (on the dance stage). For example, there hasn’t been a gay wedding. There hasn’t been a gay quinceañera on stage, but we do see all other forms.”
Colibrí, which is planning its third-anniversary show ‘Tradición Sin Fronteras’ (Tradition Without Borders), has 16 members. They range from accountants to a doctor to an Uber worker. There are two transgender-to-female dancers.
There are two other dance instructors with a combined 45 years of experience.
“Even though we are relatively new, the material that we are putting together, its research, the three of us have the knowledge,” said Magaña, who started with the well-known Ballet Folklórico Los Lupeños de San José in 2003.
The anniversary show will feature a new skirt style that Magaña has developed. “There’s an extra movement of the skirt that’s stunning. It’s really beautiful.”
Magaña became one of the principal dancers and performed on stage with singers Juan Gabriel and Aida Cuevas. Magaña became the group’s artistic director, and worked for maestra Susan Cashion.
Magaña also traveled to Guadalajara to study one-on-one with Rafael Zamarripa.
“That is like saying I took a painting class from Picasso,” he said.
Magaña sees Colibrí as a vital piece of the folklórico world.
“Dance unifies rather than divides,” he said.
And even though the LGBTQ community forms the majority of the dance world, it hasn’t been represented right.
Acceptance hasn’t been universal.
“The heads of folklórico,” he said, “tend to be very stubborn.
“I don’t blame them. It’s a centuries-old tradition and it is representative of a very macho, machista story,” said Magaña, who added that “doors are opening left and right” to Colibrí.
The majority of people, he said, are realizing the need for a group that represents the LGBTQ community.
“They say, ‘Why couldn’t I let my gay son or lesbian daughter be on stage and represent where they came from?’” said Magaña. “I still haven’t found a document that says a male cannot wear a Jalisco dress. It says ladies wear it, but they never said that a man cannot wear it.”
Magaña had no trouble having his mother on his side.
Last December, Colibrí performed the Virgin de Tepeyac Christmas play at Sacred Heart Catholic Church alongside Teatro Corazón, the group his mother founded.
“When we performed, they explained our mission, which was to promote the LGBTQ community and no one questioned it,” he said. “We performed in church and it was amazing!”