Above a Chase bank in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on 47th and Wood streets, kids are spinning and tapping their shoes on the floor.
They are part of Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council Ballet Folklorico, a dance company devoted to bringing the culture of dance to the world.
Children of the dance company practiced Friday night, in preparation for their upcoming show on Sunday, Nov. 18, at Harris Theatre.
Parents watched their kids in the younger dance group. Little girls were clad in pink leotards and boys in black tank tops and gray sweatpants as they twirled around the floor to the music of Nayarit.
“It’s my culture, and I enjoy the program. I never danced in such a big environment before,” said Ballet Folkorico member Barenda Catalan, 17.
The late Maria Elena Benitez founded Back of the Yards Ballet Folklorico more than 18 years ago. Launched as an after-school program, the free lessons in traditional Mexican dance are offered to children and older adults.
BYNC Ballet Folklorico performs shows locally and travels the world showcasing the dancers’ talents from Chicago all the way to Mexico. They have won numerous awards for their performances in competitions
Creative instructor Salvador Cisneros, creative assistant Jorge Emilio Corona and dance instructor Teresa Luna oversee the dance company.
“I think it’s a really nice program because the little kids enjoy it and they get to know about their roots. Almost 95 percent of the dancers here, they are Mexican. I think it’s interesting for them to know a little about the Mexican culture,” said Cisneros.
Ballet prides itself on its diverse lineup of dance. The dancers practice throughout the week to perfect their moves. They practice various forms of cultural dance.
The practices are intense with students repeating dance steps and performing routines rigorously. With nine groups of dancers that he oversees, ranging from as small as little children to grandparents, Cisneros said he doesn’t believe he’s too hard on his dancers. He said intense practice makes the dancers who they are.
“I think that every time we practice dance, you have to be very tense in the practice, physically. You want your students to be successful and to do things others can’t. Practice is really tough. The practice brings a lot of discipline,” said Cisneros.
Despite the grueling practices, students stay in the program and say they provide an alternative activity outside of school. With gangs in the area and violence plaguing the neighborhood, students said they find comfort in Ballet Folklorico.
“There’s a lot of kids in gangs, and this group is trying to prevent it. We’re trying to add more kids to the group to show people what we do and what we’re trying to do,” said dancer Shaila Vera, 13.
As Back of the Yards residents look for ways to improve the neighborhood’s image and reduce violence and crime, the dance company plays an important role. Cisneros is part of the neighborhood improvement plan. He teaches GED courses during the day at Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council while instructing ballet in the evening.
Andy Salgudo, 19, who’s been in the group for a year, said he makes sure he finds time for the program
“Now that I started college, when I’m taking my classes, I have to make sure my classes fit my schedule so I can keep dancing,” he said.
Even with the success of the Ballet Folklorico, the company still has to push hard to raise money for the program to keep it alive with proceeds helping out for supplies and tutoring.
“When I heard that they were cutting the funding, I was really sad,” said Salgudo.
The upcoming Harris Theater performance will be a first for Ballet Folklorico. Cisneros said he is hoping for a great show. He acknowledges that his crowd may not be fully Latino, but he thrives on the amusement of those who are outside of the culture.
“I think they show great interest because sometimes it’s really amazing to see a 7-year-old, what they can do. In every place that we visit, they give us really good comments,” said Cisneros.
For Salgudo, it will be his first major performance. He said he isn’t nervous but is eager to see the crowd once the curtains go up.
“I’m excited to see how many people show up. I’ve performed a few times, but it was for our anniversary. I’ve never performed at a big theater,” he said.
Tickets are on sale at Back of the Yards Council offices or The Gate Headquarters. Tickets can also be purchased at the Harris Theatre Website. Proceeds of tickets sale will benefit the program.