The leather sole of a shoe taps the ground in a rhythmic pattern, vibrating through the floor and filling the air. Vivid colors saturate the room and reflect off the mirrors. Hair is slicked back. Movements are precise. The music joyful but foreign to the English speaker’s ear.
At Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Fort Worth, students gather for their weekly folklorico dance class. Folklorico is a dance form that can be traced to the dances of the indigenous people of Mexico.
For 46 years the studio’s members have been sharing Mexican culture with Fort Worth through dance.
After months of being online amid the coronavirus pandemic, students began to practice in a parking lot in South Fort Worth to prepare for private event performances like quinceañeras. In March, students gathered in the studio again — masked up and at half capacity. In August, the studio plans to open at 100% capacity, welcoming 120 students into its halls in La Gran Plaza.
Behind the scenes, one individual works hard to make sure the traditions and spirit of folklorico are passed on.
Carol Alvarado has balanced two jobs and raised four children while running the studio.
“There were times where I used my lunch hour to go clean up or go do whatever I needed to do for dance,” Carol said.
Now, her days are filled with shuttling her grandkids to and from school, organizing costumes and hairpieces, communicating with parents and students, and scheduling performances.
But Carol said none of it feels like a job.
“My position as director does take up my time, but with my family’s support and help, dance families and volunteers, I am able to do what we need done,” Carol said. “With our village, my position, it doesn’t feel like it is a job as it is something I do to keep our dance family united.”
Family is the cornerstone of Ballet Folklorico Azteca.
“Growing up in the group, we’ve made lifetime friends,” said Carol’s daughter, Katy Alvarado, a performer and instructor at the studio. “We’re like brothers and sisters.”
Student Daniela Baeza said the people at the studio made her feel like family, and the studio has given her performance opportunities that she would have never dreamed of.
“It’s just so cool to experience it with people that make you feel like you’re needed and welcome,” Baeza said.
The family atmosphere has provided Carol with much needed support over the years.
“A lot of different people have come through our doors helping out,” Carol said. Some who help out do not even have children in the group. They just do it out of kindness, friendship and support, she said.
Sharing Mexican culture with Fort Worth
Ballet Folklorico Azteca is the original folklorico group in Fort Worth. Teaching tradition is paramount.
Each state in Mexico has its own style of folklorico dance. The dress, music, instruments and melodies and hand and feet movements change depending on the state. Many of the dances have a meaning behind them as well.
“And it all goes into this one beautiful dance,” Carol said.
Carol was 12 when her mother opened Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Fort Worth in 1975. By 1997, Carol became the studio’s director “to make sure that the group stayed together,” she said.
Ever since, she’s been passing down her passion for folklorico to her daughters, grandchildren and students, helping to share Mexican culture with Fort Worth.
“There’s history. There’s tradition. There’s more than just big dresses and mariachi. There’s a story behind almost everything, even the foot work,” said Hilary Alvarado, Carol’s daughter, who performs and instructs at the studio.
Baeza said she enjoys sharing her culture with the Fort Worth community. The group has done shows at Six Flags and the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, giving the dancers the chance to share folklorico with big audiences.
“It’s pure joy because I’m showing them what I love to do and their reactions; it’s what makes me want to go and dance and perform every single time,” said Ballet Folklorico Azteca student Isabella Maschino.
Decade old beginnings
Three generations walk the halls of Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Fort Worth.
“Dance has always been a constant in our lives,” Hilary said.
The studio started in the church hall of what is now San Mateo Catholic Church. Carol’s mother was running a community center in the T&P neighborhood in West Fort Worth and wanted to introduce new activities to the kids. By coincidence, she and a coworker met a male folklorico dancer looking for work.
The three decided to start Ballet Folklorico Azteca. Alvarado and her sister were among the first students to join.
“My fondest memories are of when I was young and dancing along with my sister,” Carol said.
Now, 46 years later, the studio has served about 4,500 students.
“Becoming an instructor and your helping these kids develop is wonderful,” Carol said. Carol hopes her daughters will keep the studio going like she did.
“They’re capable of moving it forward,” Carol said.
Moving the studio forward means Mexican culture will continue to be shared with the Fort Worth community through the art of folklorico.
“To keep the spirit,” Carol said.