Some Culture for a Grade

By Joshua González Pastrana

The day is just beginning and every section of the folkloric dance class is ready to make their debut to the public. The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) coliseum is half full with friends and family anxious to see a familiar face dancing. Every student nervously waits their turn to earn themselves a final grade to conclude a semester of hard work.

For some years now, it is known to the UPRM community that the Folkloric Dance class’ final exam is a public dance performed in the Mangual Coliseum of the campus. This semester, thanks to Prof. Margarita Fernandez, was not the exception as all six sections made their appearances at the basketball court center with a room full of known spectators.

The main idea is to promote Puerto Rican folk music like plena and bomba using this class, which is part of the Physical Education department. Although, during the whole semester at no moment it is taught to students about these dance types until the end of the year where just a “Especial del Banco Popular” (Musical Special by Popular Bank), “Raíces” (Roots), is exposed to the class so that they start brainstorming. Every group is responsible of their own choreography.

It is exactly 10:30 in the morning and all sections gathered in the middle to warm up and lose the stress by doing a routine taught in class, the Troika, a Russian folk dance. Every girl is wearing a “traje típico” (Puerto Rican traditional dress), some of them with an “amapola”(poppy) flower in their hair and boys white button shirts with khaki or black pants and a straw hat.

Followed by an unnoticeable gap, the first group started their dance with a spontaneous song intro from Bruno Mars’ The Lazy Song which quickly cut – off to start a medley of very well known plena songs like, “Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres”, (When women want men).

Every group following up performed plena and bomba medleys, except for one in particular who incorporated salsa to the beginning of the routine. Some even introduced some classical Puerto Rican poetry in between dances. One group brought two musicians to play the “tumbadoras” (Puerto Rican folk drum) while they danced. Originality was not absent.

All went according to the schedule thanks to some great organization by Prof. Fernandez.

“I loved it! They must have been practicing for months, I bet”, said Ybet Marín, best friend of one of the first section students. The preparation seemed as if the classes had practiced non-stop. “I even want to enroll myself in this class next semester.”

Ironically, Marilu Kercadó expressed, “we only had four weeks with two 50-minute classes per week to coordinate the dance routine. So, we had to practice off hours and that’s not easy with the finals coming up. Evidently, it paid off.”

This event is an excellent example of  “not everything is what it seems”. Marilu exposed some of the troubles that each section went through to get their presentations done. “There were a lot of fights. Too many people giving orders but none were willing to take them”, angrily said the third year student. “We even changed and added parts of the routine the day before the presentation!”

A fact is, that it is not common for a one-credit class, which is an elective, like folkloric dance, to finalize which so much elaboration. A public presentation where a student is graded means hard work, off hour meetings and a lot of patience.

Still, “if anyone appreciates any kind of art exposure, they will enjoy making this happen. It is something where you can express yourself, not only in the final dance but also throughout the whole semester”, said Marilu with a relaxed smile. “I loved this class for the simple fact of coming to lose all stress of the week. I wish I could take it again.”

Puerto Rico’s heritage is very wide in terms of its roots. Like every Puerto Rican kid is taught since the first grade of the “mixture”: Spaniard, African and Taíno. Marilu, prideful, said “we can’t let this greatness fade away. We are far to important to the world.”

In conclusion, it is great activities like this that promote culture to stay alive in Puerto Rico and be passed on to every generation. It cannot be obviated that it also shows some Puerto Rican roots to many international students in the campus. Folk dancing is a heritage that must be preserved no matter what and giving a grade to do it will make it possible for it not to disappear.

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