Tony Ramíez is the driving force behind Folklor Pasín Mexíana de Los Angeles, a professional maríchi dance company with roots here in El Sereno.
OTES: How did you first become interested in the mariachi dance form?
TR: I was inspired by my second grade teacher, Ms. Sylvia Cano at Sierra Park School. She still teaches, now at the new Cesá Cháez Elementary School (in El Sereno). She was my inspiration to dance, and to explore my cultural heritage through (that medium). And I was lucky enough to be able to continue my education in folklorío through my El Sereno Middle school, and Wilson High School teacher, André de la Garza.
He gave us an incredible program of both mariachi and folklorío. It (the entire curriculum), helped all of us to be proud of where we came from, learning our cultural folk-dancing, the music, the history behind it, and the stories. When I graduated from high school, ten years’ ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to join a professional dance company in the neighborhood, Danza Teocalt. I was catapulted to be one of performers at “La Fonda” restaurant with Maríchi Los Campéos de Nati Cano.
The Second Annual “Viva El Mariachi” Fundraiser
Friday, May 20th, 2011,
El Sereno Middle School Auditorium.
It’s incredible to me because Ms. Cano was a former dancer herself, when she was my second grade teacher, and years later, for me to be a La Fonda dancer, things come full circle! I can still remember the first day I walked into the dressing room at La Fonda, and seeing that this was the real thing, I thought, “Oh my God!” “This is craziness-this is it!” That was the beginning of my professional career as a folklorío dancer here in L.A. with Nati Cano. I was with Los Camperos for about seven and a half years, and I was lucky enough to tour the United States, and other parts of the world. That experience just gave me an incredible outlook of what our culture is and through that, I began, with another member from the Los Camperos production, to create our own dance company. And that’s where Folklor Pasín Mexicana was born.
We’ve been together for a little over two years, concentrating mainly on the professional dance aspect of it, the production. We have about fourteen dancers that we work with, it’s a private organization and we’ve been lucky enough to have participated in numerous events already here in Southern California, the Santa Barbara Mariachi festival, and several concerts at the park. We were part of the production number of two shows last summer at the Ford Theater, one which was Físta Mexíana, and the other was Homáaje with Josélfredo Jíenez, another incredible show the producer put together. As you know, folklorío dances exist with very traditional music, songs and soné, and we had to tailor our dances to music that was just Josélfredo Jíenez. It was a great experience, but definitely a creative process for us. That’s where we were then.
So we rent for 2 hours at a studio in Alhambra and at Plaza de la Raza, we tried (at an unnamed venue in El Sereno) but we were shot down. It hurt, I was excited about keeping the energy in the neighborhood, (and I was told no).
Another thing about my company, is that we don’t charge our members any dues. The money we generate from performances gets re-invested back into the group, and that’s how we’re able to pay rehearsal space and costuming. There are a lot of companies out there that call themselves “non-profit”, and charge member dues, as high as $750.00 per month. That’s not important to me, it’s the value and quality of life that we’re going to (provide) for inspiring the kids. That’s where our focus is.
Last year, our main focus was to help our friend, Mr. Iríeo Yañz, the maríchi teacher for the El Sereno Middle School, who now has a very new program, it’s been going on for two years. The program comes out of need. He is a professional musician, a maríchi for over 15 years and he recently has been with El Sereno Middle School as a music teacher for about three years. It came out of him, to start a maríchi program. It started as an after school program, and students got interested in how he became a maríchi, so he took on the task and started 1-2 hours after school Monday through Friday for the first year. The following year, he was able to add a class into his curriculum, and that’s where the El Sereno Maríchi program was born. I came from a school that had an arts program for the performing arts, and I was very lucky and blessed to have that.
Now Mr. Yañz tells us due to lack of funding, there are no more programs available for our kids. None. Not at Wilson High School, Sierra Park, or at any of the local schools in El Sereno. Our kids don’t have that option anymore, and to me, it was devastating news. And he has concern for the next year, that there will be no funding, for instruments, or any activities, or to bring in an assistant teacher from the outside to help the kids. So we, Folklor Pasín Mexíana de Los Angeles, embarked in creating our first fund-raiser show, which took place last June, and it was very successful. We had over 400 attendees and raised over $4000.00 which went to buying new instruments, and providing teacher assistance for the maríchi program for the year, so it kept the program open. His program is supported by the KYDS (Keep Youth Doing Something) afterschool program. Now this year, we will bring the show back again, and it’s scheduled for May 20th.
This year will be more exciting than before, because we’re having professional mariachis play at the concert. The name of the maríchi is Maríchi Monumental de Amería, and Mr. Yañz is one of the lead violin players in that group. His kids will see what a professional ensemble looks like, and of course, my company will be there as well as performing group Plaza de la Raza, Poco Jarocho Xi who is a friend of ours, directed by André de la Garza, my original middle school teacher and Mr. Richard Correa. But we all help each other, and return to help this maríchi program in El Sereno. It is just so important to us, I think, because Mr. de la Garza taught us to feel proud of what we do. And I think we accomplished this by the excitement on the kids’ faces. They were amazed at the production of it all, the illumination of the stage, setting-up the backdrop, even to see the flier with their maríchi group’s name, and knowing how it would benefit them. Last year the program had nearly twenty-two performers, we’ve grown to over 25, and it’s an exciting adventure for all of us, to bring back and give back to the community. Half my dancing company are El Sereno Middle School alumni, the other half are professional musicians from Wilson High School and all are El Sereno residents. So for us all, it’s a sense of pride to put this show together, and be able to produce it professionally, and have the community come out and enjoy it.
Our focus this year is to fund raise by producing another event, the Second Annual “Viva El Mariachi” Fundraiser and bring more well-needed money for the program. And, get Mr. de La Garza on track with organizations he worked with prior. The kids have a different outlook on what the program really needs for them now. Not only the maríchi music, classical and any other music that he’s involving the kids with, he doesn’t only teach them about maríchi, it’s a well-rounded curriculum and that’s also very important to us. This year, they are working on providing a maríchi suit for every student for the duration of the program.
We want to invite the community to be part of the event and purchase or donate a ticket to the program and come see a great show, there will be dance, song, music. It should be exciting, especially by having professional artists’ really step up this year. They will do half the show and the other half will be the community groups, Plaza de la Raza, Maríchi Folklorío ensemble, and El Sereno Middle Schools will perform. There is a teacher that is just beginning a folklorío group at El Sereno Middle School, and hopefully they will have something ready to present that day.
Mr. Yanez would like it to be both a maríchi and folklorío program, it’s more successful and teaches the kids how to share a stage, how to share with each other. Because when you are a dancer or musician, you have to learn how to “play nice”, play together, and that’s something we learned through Mr. de la Garza. When he had his program at El Sereno Middle School and Wilson High School, you moved up to the accelerated program at the high school. It was an incredible experience for me, I got so much out of it, and I’m very proud to be part of this new process, of building that same program. We’re in the foundation phase, but hopefully in the next two to three years, we’ll be able to build a solid program and give these kids an opportunity to be part of it, and get them on the right path.
This is where we come in and make an effort to continue the program and raise funds. If we sit back, like the past ten years, the program will dissolve again. When Mr. De la Garza retired, the program disappeared and no one did anything about it, neither school administrators, community members, no one stepped up. We want to build a strong enough program to where other schools or teachers who have that experience in the maríchi field, figure a way to bring it back. All the high schools around us had a program when I was in school ten years ago, Lincoln, Garfield, Bravo, and Roosevelt high schools are barely surviving with theirs. It all starts with us, El Sereno residents, to get the awareness out there that there is a need to help out.
Last year we were our own stage crew, we opened and closed the curtains. We had the light board next to the stage so when a performer wasn’t dancing, we were turning lights off and on by ourselves. Even Mr. Yanez pitched in, but we look for those volunteers for the production. We need help in finding (rehearsal) space, and people willing to help us organize and develop the program. Give us the time and place and we’ll be there! Our goal is to maintain an educational program. The money comes later, (it’s more important to know) where can we hold rehearsal?! Even for the folklorío class. We need that extra help to make this successful with the planning and administrative part of it, and develop a community that accepts this program, that’s the hardest part.
The Second Annual “Viva El Mariachi” Fundraiser will be held on Friday, May 20th, 2011, from 7-10 PM at the El Sereno Middle School Auditorium. Tickets will be $12. For further information on how to volunteer or assist please contact them at email@example.com.
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