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Crosscurrents logo 2021

Expanding traditions: LGBTQ folklórico takes to the stage

Leslie Griffy
Members of Ensamble Folclórico Colibrí rehearse in a San Jose studio. The group brings together members the LGBTQ community and their supporters to dance Mexican folk dances, known as folklórico.";s


Arturo Magaña loved folklórico dancing — but he wanted to perform his own story. So, he founded his own LGTBQ folklórico group, Folklórico Colibrí, an ensemble that performs Mexican folk dances in San Jose.

Fourteen-year-old Magaña did not feel like he belonged when his family immigrated to the United States from Mexico 30 years ago.

He was looking for something to feel more connected to home, and so he found folklórico — traditional Mexican dance dating back to the Aztec empire, and later influenced by immigrants from around the world. Magaña worked hard, practicing during all his available hours. Quickly he became the youngest member of a professional troupe.

“I remember being so excited,” Magaña said. “There wasn’t enough time in the day to dance.”

But, as he grew older, Magaña found there was something missing. Folklórico dances often tell a story — of celebration, of growth, or of love. Those love stories always featured a man and a woman. As a gay man, Magaña never once danced a story that reflected his own experience of love.

“I was never given the opportunity to present myself as exactly who I was,” he said. “But as a I grew old I thought ‘you know, my story is just as important as a hetero-conforming story.”

After considering the strides the LGTBQ movement made over the years, Magaña decided it was time to create space for a new kind of folklórico. He put the word out on social media, and through his friends and family. Soon, dancers began coming to rehearsals in a San Jose studio. They returned week after week despite having day jobs and families.

The dancers include Sandra Torres, a doctor who dreamed of dance as a child, and Alexia Diaz, a transwoman who found a community in folklórico.

“To be able to break the hetero-conforming mold in any art form  is amazing,” said Torres. “But it’s especially amazing through dance. You actually have to tell the story through dance because you cannot talk. There are no words. You really have to give it your all and portray the feelings through movements and your facial expressions.”

This crew became Ensamble Folklórico Colibrí, a semi-professional folklórico troupe of LGBTQ dancers and their allies. It tells stories that feel more relevant to their experiences one dance features  a gay wedding, others tell coming out stories — through dance.

Portraying these stories was scary at first. When Magaña first danced with a man in front of an audience outside of the community, it was scary, he said. The music began. They were hesitant to even touch hands. But they heard the crowd cheering them on and, slowly, they relaxed.

“I think even though we are very proud of who we are, there’s always still a little bit of internalized homophobia,” said Torres.

For Diaz, another woman who dances with the troupe, the discrimination wasn’t just internal. She faced violence from her one-time partner and struggled to cope. The group, she said, gave her a safe haven and let her spread her wings.

“When we dance it looks so beautiful,” Diaz said in Spanish. “I can forget everything when watching my fellow dancers. That we are going to do this in public, that’s what makes me really excited.”

This month, they will perform in their biggest show yet, Tradición Sin Fronteras, or Tradition Without Borders, featuring a professional Mexican dance troupe. The Mexican Consul will be there.

In three years, Folklórico Colibrí has come a long way.

The dance is beautiful. The female role in folklórico often wears large, beautiful, colorful skirts. Dancers flick the 15-pound skirts in the air, making them look like ribbons. For Colibrí’s show this month, the skirts are a rainbow.

It is a new statement building on a long tradition of dance.

“We are depicting our stories, because they matter,” Magaña said. And for the dancers of Colibrí, they’ve found a home to tell those stories.