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Semillas de la Tierra celebrates 40 years of dance

Modified: Saturday, Dec 1st, 2012

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — For 40 years the Valley’s Semillas de la Tierra has kept folklórico tradition growing, and it is cause for celebration.

On December 7 and 8, the Valley’s dance group will host its 2012 December Fiesta in Adams State University’s Richardson Auditorium at 7 p.m.

In honor of Semillas de la Tierra’s 40th anniversary, the show will include a mix of dances from all over Mexico.

“We want to focus on dancing and presenting our dancers,” said Semillas de la Tierra co-director Erica Abeyta during a rehearsal last week. “The show is going to present a variety of things that we enjoy doing. Every year we try to do something different. This year we are going to be doing a variety of different regions.”

Over four decades, the group has performed new dances and old reflecting the Hispanic culture, and it all began with Alamosa’s own Herman and Patsy Martinez’ vision.

In 1970, the young couple was living in Pueblo when they founded a youth Mexican folkdance group called the Guadalupe Dancers. Two years later, they moved to Alamosa and started a class at the former Adams State College called Mexican Dance. Twelve students learned the first dances, sewed the first costumes and purchased the group’s first sombreros from Ciudad Juárez, México for the first of what would someday become over a hundred performances in the outdoor bandshell behind the school’s’ music building.

“The one thing we really concentrated on was keeping the original art form,” said Patsy while looking over 40 years worth of photographs and posters. “We learned dances from different states in Mexico, we brought in costuming, all traditional, and the music as often as we could. We wanted musicians to play for us.”

Soon after that first recital, the class became popular and became an offering through the school’s music program, and later through the physical education program. From that point, it became an integral part of historic preservation both in the Valley and across borders. The Martinezes joined forces with other dance groups and costume designers that eventually lent to the growth of the Associación Nacional De Grupos Folklóricos and the birth of El Conjunto de Nuevo Aztlán, an ASC touring group, that would share the rich traditional dance and music with people throughout the U.S. and Mexico thanks to guidance from a plethora of seasoned instructors.

“We experienced their traditions,” Herman said about working with teachers from Mexico and southern California. “Along with that, we were also being nurtured by the musicians of the region. For years we played with bands and families who kept many of the regional traditions alive and well. We always try to create that blend between what was going on internationally and nationally, bringing what was happening on campus onstage.”

He added the blend has a fine line that shouldn’t be crossed.

“You have to be careful with folklórico,” Herman said. “What you are doing is transforming the art in the community onstage. We were in an unique position where we were because we had the premier instructors from Mexico.”

Since its inception, Semillas de la Tierra has performed so many dances Patsy, who kept on instructing for 19 years after Herman left the group in the early 1980s, has trouble recalling her favorite amongst the Norteño, Jalisco, Zacatecas, Puebla, Nayarit and Costa choreography.

“What the bottom line was we enjoyed teaching,” Herman explained about his favorite Semillas de la Tierra performances. “The more we taught, the more we realized what we didn’t know. We were so involved and we so wanted to see it succeed. That was the best dance.”

Today, the dancing continues because of teachers throughout the years like Pablo and Roberta Sandoval, Chris Benavides, Audrey Liu, Joey Montoya and the Martinez’ son, Andres, but there has been a decline in Adams State University student participation. Although the students aren’t coming out, the Valley’s children have decided to fill the space on the stage. Semillas de la Tierra director Domingo Estrada and Abeyta started working with youth ages 5 and up a few years ago.

“It’s awesome,” Abeyta said. “We love working with them and seeing their beautiful smiles. It is a good learning experience culturally it is exercise and it is enjoyable.”

Both Herman and Patsy agreed that bringing the children into the performance is giving Semillas de la Tierra at least another 40 years of life to keep on growing and sharing tradition.

“An important element would be missing in the history, and the bilingual, bicultural approach to teaching, instructing and learning if this went away,” Herman said. “It would take away an important dimension that has existed through the years. We felt comfortable that when we left we helped establish that network. We paved a way.”

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