The Arts

October 19, 2013

Gloria G. Canales and Her Mexican Folklore School of Dance

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Written by: Nydia O
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Folklore is defined as encompassing the traditional customs, tales, food, dances, or art forms preserved among a people, and when related to neighboring Mexico; folklore is vast, for each individual state holds unique music and dance traditions. Gloria G. Canales has dedicated her entire life to the research and promotion of folkloric dances from Mexico. Canales and students of her Mexican Folklore School of Dance located in Harlingen, Texas, are currently preparing for the 38th annual Extravaganza Folklorica dance recital.

The world of folkloric dance mesmerized Canales from an early age when kindergarten groups were referred to as sonajas (baby rattles) in her native city of Linares in the Mexican northern state of Nuevo Leon. “My grandmother would ask my dance teachers to include me in every dance possible because she knew I loved to dance,” said Canales also reminiscing about Fridays at her elementary school when local musicians would play for the dance team. “It was part of government school curriculums of the time,” stated Canales.

Unforeseen circumstances brought her family to Reynosa, Mexico, where Canales continued her dance education in High School. “They asked me then to choose between sewing and dance lessons; I didn’t know anything about sewing!” exclaimed Canales.

When the family relocated to Harlingen, Canales’ father feared his daughter’s passion for Mexican folklore would not be appreciated in their new American community. “He used to tell me people wouldn’t like me because I was always ‘waving the Mexican flag,’ but I felt a drive to promote our rich culture which in my opinion deserves to be expressed,” she stated.  At her father’s insistence, Canales enrolled in English classes where she met her teacher and future husband: Ramiro Canales.

Marriage and a family did not deter Canales’ drive to continue practicing and studying dance.   With her young daughters, Canales enrolled in dance lessons and served on the Board of Directors of the Asociacion Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos. Through this organization, Canales advanced her knowledge of the art for she met the best in the field and studied under Juan Jose Burgos of Brownsville and Jaime Garza of Matamoros, Mexico. “I had the opportunity to learn dance theory and the influences from different Mexican states,” commented Canales, a perfectionist who diligently thrives to stay true to original choreographies and costumes.

Canales was ready to teach. The first opportunity came while serving on the PTA board of Zavala Elementary School in Harlingen. Canales volunteered her time and taught students the traditional dances of Mexico. Soon afterwards, she became part of Harlingen Parks and Recreation’s summer program. Finally in 1975, she opened her own private school of dance. “It has been a challenge because my school’s only focus is folkloric dances. Other private dance schools offer ballet, jazz and flamenco making it easier to recruit students and stay profitable,” said Canales who never spares any expense to provide her students with authentic costumes. “It makes me proud to see them perform with original costumes,” she concluded. Furthermore, Canales hosts renowned teachers from all over Mexico to teach and share new trends with the goal of presenting the best dance recitals in the valley. Her student numbers fluctuate from 40 to 55 each year with some as young as 5 years old.

The Mexican Government bestowed Canales in 2006 with the prestigious OHTLI Award: a recognition given to a person who has demonstrated and modeled a positive cultural awareness to the community. “It’s very special to me because the Nahuatl word Ohtli means to pave the road as you walk;  because one has to continue doing what one believes in,” stated Canales who  encourages her students to attend college through her annual scholarships. Canales was appointed this year as a member of President Obama’s Kitchen Cabinet, a group of unofficial advisors and an honor which goes back to President Andrew Jackson’s administration.

Through Canales’ efforts, and the support of local philanthropists, her students have represented Harlingen and the RGV at the Hispanic Caucus in Washington D.C., The State Capital in Austin, Mardi Gras in Nice, France, The International Folklore Festival Zeeland in the Netherlands, and The Music and Dance Festival in Jaen, Spain. Canales has actively participated in city wide events and cherishes the time her school performed for President Ronald Reagan and Texas Governor Ann Richards.

Canales relocated her dance school to her home, and has no plans for retirement, for she says that if not dancing, she hopes to continue directing her students. “Some may think I’m crazy, but I plan to do this until God allows me to,” said a reflective Canales. “Our culture is so rich that I cannot imagine not sharing it.”

This story was published by the Valley Business Report’s October, 2013 issue.

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and my spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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