José Ignacio Alejandre has been attending the Danzantes Unidos Festival since 2012.
Alejandre, 26, is a folkloric dancer with Sacramento’s area Folklórico Calli Dance Academy, a non-profit performing arts program in Elk Grove with the purpose of promoting cultural awareness, self-confidence, perseverance, social interaction, self-esteem and physical activity while providing structure and a creative outlet to the youth in its community.
Alejandre said what he loves about Danzantes Unidos Festival is that “you meet so many other dancers and instructors that share the same passion that you have for the culture, the knowledge of our ancestry, our heritage.”
This year, Danzantes Unidos Festival took place the first weekend in April in Clovis.
“Coming to DUF for those three days we learn different regions, things that you might not learn from your regular class, from your regular group,” Alejandre said, adding that this year at Danzantes Unidos Festival he wanted to learn more about the folkloric dances from the state of Guerrero – “Tierras Calientes.”
“I was learning a new side of Guerrero, the tierra caliente, which is more foot work, no so much show,” Alejandre said. “It opens your eyes to other stuff that I wouldn’t be able to know.”
Alejandre added that one of best things about the festival is the opportunity to meet “new people that just like me are learning, or have that drive, that hunger to learn more about it.”
During the past five years that he has attended DUF, Alejandre said he usually selects different regions. For example, his first year at the festival Alejandre took Veracruz’s Fandango, “which was fun.”
“The second year I took Folklórico 101, which was great because I was having trouble with some of the basic steps,” Alejandre said. “The instructor broke down the whole class to help individually.”
The following year he took Veracruz Huasteco and then Nayarit.
Alejandre said the festival gets better every year, adding that his group Calli Dance performed during the first night of the festival’s showcase event at Warnors Theater in downtown Fresno.
“It was a little nerve racking, to be honest,” Alejandre said about his experience performing in front of other fellow folkloric dancer groups from different parts of California. “Being here is like you are performing in front of your peers. Everyone here is a folklórico dancer, they all know.”
Another Sacramento area folkloric group that attended the festival was ‘Rincones de Mi Tierra’ which has been in Sacramento for more than two decades.
The group’s director, Marco Sánchez, 40, was also a maestro at Danzantes Unidos Festival and this year he was teaching a workshop on Tamaulipas.
Sánchez said his group Rincones de Mi Tierra has attended the festival for more than 10 years.
Sánchez started dancing in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México when he was about four or five years old.
He was 18 years old when Rincones de Mi Tierra was founded in Sacramento with a couple of dancers.
“This year we are celebrating 22 years of existence,” Sánchez said, adding that throughout the years his folkloric group has grown to what is now.
Sánchez remembers how the group started practicing in a garage, then they moved the practice to a community center and as the group got bigger, to different locations until they found its current location which accommodates all the group’s needs. Currently his dance academy has 70 to 80 students.
Sánchez said he goes back to different parts of México a couple times a year to continue his training on different regions of folkloric dances. He has certification from the state of Quintana Roo and Chihuahua as a dance teacher for those regions.
Sánchez said that festivals like Danzantes Unidos are important because “that way children and young adults can realize that there are more people who do the same thing they do, and that they like what they do, too.”
Sánchez said that being in Sacramento, children might not realize that folkloric dance is something that many groups across the state perform.
“They come to the festival and they share the same passion with hundreds of kids, youth and adults,” Sánchez said, adding that children recognize they are part of something bigger. “They realize that there are more youths that share their same passion. Also it is important that they have the experience of sharing what they perform on stage with other groups in California.”
Sánchez said during the showcase, his student can also see the work of other groups, compare styles and learn from that experience.