When Cinco de Mayo rolls around, many in San Diego County celebrate the folkloric dances and mariachi music of Mexico.
But Sebastian Flores and his Escondido-based Ballet Folklorico Mextli don't need a special occasion to revel in expressions of their cultural heritage. They perform the folk dances of Mexico year-round.
The dancers of Ballet Folklorico Mextli are all bilingual schoolchildren, under 15 years of age, and they hail from every corner of North County.
Ever since Flores founded the group in 1988, members have been gathering twice a week to learn the folkloric dances of Jalisco, Veracruz, Zacatecas and Nuevo Leon--and to keep the culture of their ancestors alive and well in North County.
"We have 19 kids now, and there are a lot of people waiting to get in, but we don't have the room for a bigger class," Flores said.
This weekend, the group will perform during San Diego Old Town's Cinco de Mayo festivities. The Ballet Folklorico Mextli will be featured--along with other Mexican dancers, singers, musicians and trick ropers--at the two-day fiesta commemorating the historic battle of Puebla, which took place May 5, 1862.
The youthful ensemble draws on traditions that date to 1875.
"We do the Mexican hat dance and a traditional couples dance from Veracruz," Flores said. "You know it as 'La Bamba.' That's really a very old-style song. 'La Bamba' is a ribbon dance, and it's very intricate."
Some of the dances are scaled down to accommodate the younger members of the troupe, but "everything is true to the traditions," he said.
"I have about 12 kids that started with me from the beginning," he said, "and they are very good. But even the little kids get the same base."
Mexican dance is a melting pot of styles from France and Spain, and the Ballet Folklorico Mextli encompasses them all.
"The mariachi music is part of the French influence, and we have a special dance that celebrates the battle against France," Flores said. "There's a lot of influence from Spain. The steps (particularly the lightning-quick heel click and upturned arm motions) are almost the same as flamenco."
Brightly colored costumes are a hallmark of any Mexican folklorico performance, and this one is no exception.
"The costumes for the dances from Veracruz are very much like the Spanish costumes," Flores said. "We have a lot of lace, and the girls wear combs in their hair and carry fans."
Flores, a former folklorico dancer from Tijuana (he performed with the Ballet Folklorico Xochiquatcalli) is proud of his young dancers, and hopes to expand their ranks as soon as he can find room to grow.
"I'd like to have a big group," he said. "I have a special desire to teach people from all religious and ethnic groups. They're all the same, and they're all welcome to learn."
If you're interested in learning more about Flores and his folklorico group, call 591-3607. The young dancers will perform at Old Town's XEWT Plaza Main Stage at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and again at 3 p.m. at the Bazaar del Mundo Stage.