Voices from Paolo Freire: A Weird Day Of Dancing


Have you ever felt like you were awake and you were living the most exciting yet nerve-wracking day, but you were dreaming? Well, that is exactly what happened to me. Let me tell you where it all started. My abuelita Mara would tell me stories of how her tía Olivia taught her a bunch of different life skills. How to sew, cook, clean, and dance. She learned a lot from her tía since she was raised by her and her abuela, my tatara abuela, or great-grandmother. As a little girl, my abuelita used to do Folklórico. Folklórico is a Mexican dancing style where you use heels with nails in them to make a specific sound. You also wear big dramatic dresses or you could wear little dresses. It really depends on the type of region of dance you are doing. This was one of the many things she told me about.

Fast forward to me as a kindergartener and my mom finding out that there was a dance program at my school that taught Folklórico, she absolutely freaked out with excitement! She just begged me to join and told me that her mom, her abuela, and her older sister (my tía Johanna) had all danced Folklórico. I didn’t really want to do it because I was scared. I didn’t want to do the performances and the hard work that we needed to put in. I mean I was only five years old. Do you really expect a five-year-old to want to do work? Obviously, I had to say yes. I know what you're thinking: “Why would you do something you don’t want to do?” Well, because you should’ve seen the look in my mom’s eyes. They looked like little puppy eyes when they are super sad or when a baby looks at you when it's about to cry.  It was a look that just seemed super important. When my abuela found out that I was going to start a Folklórico class, she was so excited she made me two, TWO practice skirts I tell you. They are so beautiful with their elegant traditional touches and the softness of the flowy fabric. The first skirt is a bright red with beaming green, white, and yellow sequins making the eagle on the Mexican flag. The second skirt is a deep sapphire blue with different color stripes at the bottom ruffle. Unfortunately, I grew out of these skirts so I no longer use them, but my youngest sister was five years old when she started using them for Folklórico, and she is eight years old and in third grade and still uses these practice skirts today.

Adults in folklorico costumes // photo by Lloyd Blunk

Anyway, I went to sleep that night so excited to use my practice skirt, meet my teacher and the rest of the students. My heart was racing and my mind was swirling: I couldn’t stop thinking about using my practice skirts, the first time I would meet my teachers and the rest of the students. I thought, “What if nobody liked me? What if I was horrible at every step of the way? What if I didn’t know anything?” Then my mom came into my room and told me that I needed to go to sleep or else I would be in big trouble. I climbed into my bed, but how could she expect me to sleep? I was so eager to be like my tía and my grandma especially because I admired them so much. Okay, okay, I got a little out of hand there, but anyways I laid there for what seemed like an eternity until my eyes slowly closed, my heart gradually slowing down, and my muscles relaxing as I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning my mom woke me up with a soft shake and said with a low voice, “Wake up, it's an exciting day today.” I woke up realizing it was today! TODAY was my first day of Folklórico. I leaped out of my bed jumping out with complete joy, a rare occurrence for me at the time. I always hated being woken up in the morning, my mom said since I was a baby I always woke up with an angry face. I went to school and my heart felt like it was shaking and I had the biggest smile on my face. In school, I could barely concentrate. I was so antsy. I couldn’t stop tapping my feet and biting my nails. I watched the school clock like how an eagle watches its prey, but finally the bell rang and it was time for me to go to the cafeteria--because that is where we would all get together and meet everybody.  

My little self came into the cafeteria with so many kids, so many much older than me. I looked around the cafeteria and everyone was huge. Barely any kids as small as me, and I didn’t recognize anybody. I was quiet, my eyes looking down as my heart was trembling in fear. I took my snack and sat down by myself not saying a word, trying to eat over my anxious tummy. After we were done my teacher took us to a big echoey room, if you whispered you sounded like you were in the Grand Canyon. This was my first time dancing Folklórico, my heart racing, my mind telling me, “You’re going to get every step wrong." My teacher came out with loud thunderous claps coming from her hands as she told everyone to get in a line. Scatter Boom Scatter those were the sounds the shoes were making in the room as she taught us our first steps. After that day my feet were sore and I was out of breath from dancing all day. I got in the car, but instead of not liking Folklórico because of how absolutely hard it was, I actually realized I loved it. “I want to keep doing this! Please, please can I keep doing this,” I exclaimed, I could barely breathe both from excitement and from the excursion. My mom said, “Yes,” with a calm voice and a slight smile on her face. I told everyone how cool it was that day. I called everybody, told all of my cousins, told my dad, told my sisters, I mean I even told my stuffed animals, that's how excited I was. I practiced for what seemed like all night until my mom told me to eat dinner and to do my homework, but it felt like a really long time. Then I woke up! Yup, you heard me right, I WOKE UP. I was so confused! I looked around my room with a face that looked like it just saw a ghost. I mean I was scared, one minute I was in a huge room the next I was in my bed?!  How does someone dream a WHOLE DAY? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? Okay sorry, sorry there I go again getting a little carried away, but really do you have an answer? Okay for real moving on with the story. “I have to do the day all over again?” I yelled as my alarm clock rang in my ear to wake me up for my first day of Folklórico. “I can’t believe it was just a dream! I have to deal with everything again! AGAIN!!” My mom ran into the room, “WHAT'S WRONG?!”, “Nothing” I sighed, answering my mom with the most eye-rolling face. “Ok, now stop yelling you’re gonna wake everyone else up!” “Right, sorry.” My mom left the room rolling her eyes a little frustrated. I lay back in my bed, put my pillow over my face, and let out a big sigh: “I guess it's time to start the day over...”

Anyways that is my crazy story. I mean I didn’t actually dream a whole day, but everything that you read about Folklórico was true, what I experienced and everything. I am glad that my mom told me what Folklórico was because it helps me with anxiety and taught me how to be in front of a big crowd or even people. Even now I can do presentations and teach a group without getting super agitated and freezing up. I ended up doing Folklórico for five years. Now I am thinking of teaching it and starting an after school club of my own because I miss dancing so much. Hopefully, that works out in the near post-Covid future.

Preslee Rodriguez is a student at the Paolo Freire Freedom School.

Voices from Paolo Freire features essays from middle school students at the Paolo Freire Freedom School in Tucson, AZ. These essays were written during a series of workshops with classroom teacher Adrian Provenzano and Writing the Community teaching artist Raquel Gutiérrez.