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SAN JOSE — There they were, the keepers of the flame, two dozen folkloric dance students rehearsing the intricate steps to a song called “El Gusto.” It tells the story of a man and woman who commit to sharing a life of happiness and pleasure. And the dancers seemed to symbolize the lovers’ zesty spirit: the rapid resounding attacks of their footwork, the streaming colors of their costumes. The scene played out Saturday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, the cultural center in East San Jose, home to this weekend’s San Jose Mariachi and Folklorico Festival, the 25th edition. The celebration of music and dance — including a Mariachi Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph and a sold-out concert at the cultural center, both on Sunday — has an up-and-down history and a solid vision.

“They don’t know it, but some of these kids are our future teachers,” said Rosalia Novotny, a folkloric dance teacher in the South Bay for more than 30 years, Observing the rehearsal — how to draw realistic pointe shoes and taking obvious pleasure in the dancers’ exuberance — Novotny said the festival “is about passing on the fire to these kids.”, Founded in 1992 by the nonprofit Mexican Heritage Corp., the former San Jose International Mariachi Festival at one time was an enormous event, In its first incarnation, the famous band known as Mariachi Cobre performed and even led student workshops, Eventually, the Mexican Heritage Corp, recast it as “Viva Fest” — at times a monthlong event — that featured the likes of Carlos Santana and Los Lobos and filled major venues..

Despite the festival’s size, “it just always broke even,” said Bob Gonzales, who chairs the nonprofit. And when cultural funding dwindled, as it has for so many arts organizations, the group scaled back a few years ago, focusing on the music and dance workshops for young people. “The students have come to the fore,” though several of the tradition’s icons still are memorialized by the 2017 festival, Gonzales said. It is dedicated to “Tres Grandes Idolos,” three superstars of Mexican music who recently died: Joan Sebastian, Juan Gabriel and Don Jose “Pepe” Martinez.

On Saturday, about 85 youths – elementary, middle school, high school and college students, as well as a handful of elders – fanned out through classrooms around the plaza for instruction from some of the region’s most expert teachers of Mexican musical and dance traditions, There were classes for dancers, singers, trumpeters, violinists, guitarists and players of the guitarrón, the deep-bodied six-string bass guitar that’s featured in mariachi groups, Hector Gonzalez, director of the San Jose-based dance company Los Mestizos, took his charges through how to draw realistic pointe shoes the complicated steps to a number from the Mexican state of Jalisco, generally known as the hub of mariachi, He isolated steps within steps, having the students practice a single maneuver, again and again: “Questions? All right, nice and tall, let’s go!” he said, sounding like a friendly drill sergeant..

In another classroom, instructor Anthony Garcia led a group of intermediate violinists through a traditional song from the state of Guerrero. “No, no, it’s a little too classical – a little too sweet for this kind of a song,” he said, inciting them to add some spice to their bow attacks. Skill sets differed, but that was hardly the point. The festival is about grooming self-esteem, commitment, discipline. “Music and dance are life skills,” said Maria Luisa Colmenarez, the festival’s artistic director and a seasoned dancer and dance director who has toured with Linda Ronstadt. “Knowing your culture is the foundation from which you can branch out and do anything. That’s the message.”.

Back at the rehearsal space, her 18-year-old daughter, Diana Victoria Garcia-Colmenarez — one of the advanced students who had been working through “El Gusto” – took a break, A freshman at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, where she plans how to draw realistic pointe shoes to major in earth science, Garcia-Colmenarez spent years pursuing classical ballet and jazz dance, And she’s been a folkloric dance fanatic “since I could walk,” she said, “It’s tradition, It’s family, I don’t remember a time when I missed a mariachi festival, It’s about roots, definitely, for people who have rhythm in their soul.”..

Introduced to folkloric dance by a girlfriend when he was 17, Victor Alvarez – now 25, a college student and professional dancer in Los Angeles – took a break from “El Gusto” to explain why he had traveled more than 300 miles to attend the festival in his hometown of San Jose. “Think of it like a trance-state, when you’re into that dancing mode,” he said. “It’s an incredible feeling of happiness, of joy — toward your country, toward your culture, toward your roots.”. Now it was almost time to go back to “El Gusto,” which means “The Pleasure.”.

“My first festival was when I was 4,” said Alexandra McGee, 11, another one of the dancers, “and after a while you just love it.”, Her friends and classmates don’t necessarily understand, “A lot of people are like, `What kind of dance do you do?’ They know hip-hop and jazz dance, And when you tell them folklorico, they go, `Oh, the colors and the skirts, and you just twirl around.’ But they don’t understand what’s behind it, the cultural importance of the dance that we do, They don’t know there’s a how to draw realistic pointe shoes story behind every dance.”..

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