EAST LONDON – Echoes of traditional Mexican folk music filled the air of Island Gardens Park here Saturday when the performers from Tucson’s Ballet Folklorico La Paloma and Viva Arizona dance groups took the stage at the park’s American Dance Festival.
For the majority of the audience, filled with locals and Olympic fans, it was their first time experiencing traditional folklorico dance. For the dancers, it was the performance of a lifetime.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” said 25-year-old Viva Arizona dancer Frankie Grijalva. “I get to represent my culture and not only my culture, we get to represent our studio in Tucson. It’s one of the biggest performances, for me personally, to do.”
The groups were invited to perform at this summer’s Olympics by Matthew Straub, a producer for the American Alliance and Performing Arts Educators. Straub, who has worked with La Paloma before when it performed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, invited the group along with Viva Arizona to join a lineup of dance groups of varying styles from all over the United States.
“We’re seeing heritage alive,” Straub said. “We’re seeing a group of people who are actually carrying this on into the future.”
In the three years leading up to their trip, the performers, along with their families and friends, held fundraisers ranging from concession stands to car washes and spent endless hours rehearsing for their London debut.
“We practiced four hours a night if we had to,” Grijalva said. “When we practiced, we practiced until we were dead.”
La Paloma has performed for more than 30 years and showcases traditional folk dance of Jalisco, Nuevo Leon and Veracruz, Mexico.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said 16-year-old Cloe Canon of Chatham, Kent. “All of their feet must be moving at the exact same time. It’s amazing.”
Adding even more Southwestern flair, Viva Arizona’s performance presents 100 years of Arizona history through a combination dances including swing, mambo and salsa.
“It’s a brilliant idea, bringing these different types of dances here,” said London local Murude Mehment. “It’s like a mixture of Spanish flamenco and country. It’s a shame more people don’t know performances like this are happening. Even if you don’t attend any of the games, just being here in London at this time, the atmosphere is amazing.”
Both goups will represent the state of Arizona for a second time on Sunday at Britain’s Warwick Castle.
“We’re very blessed to be ambassadors of Arizona because we’re bring a style of dance that is very historical,” said Viva Arizona director Julie Gallegos. “We feel very lucky to be able to travel and show our culture.”