Tradition of Dance ‘From the People, for the People’
Born in Mexico City and raised in Tijuana, Ana Gutierrez-Scholl spent her childhood living a half a block from Plaza Garibaldi, the city’s famous mariachi square. As the mariachis, norteño groups and Veracruz groups congregated in the plaza and played their music day and night, the young girl’s grandmother nurtured in her a passion for dancing folklore.
She remembers how they danced the traditional Tierra Caliente songs on top of wooden boxes. “I tried to imitate the way my grandmother would dance in her home or at parties,” she said.
Singing and dancing to traditional Mexican music and listening to music on the streets, at festivals and on the radio, Gutierrez-Scholl began studying folkloric dance at the age of 10. Soon she was soon teaching anyone who wanted to learn. At 12, she studied with America Juarez, a dancer from the Amalia Hernandez Ballet. Later she studied at the National University of Mexico and Mexican Institute of Social Security in Mexico City as part of their cultural programs.
In 1993, after working for the Mexican government in Seattle for several years, Gutierrez-Scholl moved to Anchorage looking for work opportunities. She stayed, got married and had three children. Now she’s a grandmother who inspires others to dance.
She and fellow teacher Ana del Real formed the Anchorage-based dance group Xochiquetzal-Tiqun in 2002 with a goal of sharing their passion for Mexican culture and Mexican folkloric dance. Since 2006, they have worked with the Mexican Ministry of Education and the Mexican consulate in Seattle to bring teachers to Anchorage to enhance the dance instruction of the group. About 70 students ages 5 and older — most of Mexican American heritage — have come through the program.
“The Mexican American experience is a vital part of their lives and this way, they learn to love their country as well as their ancestors’ country,” she said. “The art of folkloric dancing includes the historical and geographical roots and is from the people and for the people.”
The group has performed all over Anchorage, at fairs and markets, inaugurations and deployment ceremonies, Iditarod celebrations and benefits for local schools. They have given approximately 200 presentations and incorporated 130 dances from at least 12 regions of Mexico.
For years, Gutierrez-Scholl has imagined creating a historical preservation project of the dance group, compiling a narrative that chronicles Xochiquetzal-Tiqun’s history, training and achievements. She envisioned a printed companion instruction guide that would feature ten regional dance forms that her students could use to teach others about Mexican folklore.
Supported by a Rasmuson Foundation grant, she has spent a year creating her living project, traveling to Mexico City, Durango, Veracruz and Jalisco to interview former teachers and conduct research. By showcasing the group’s artistic pursuits and achievements, she hopes to not only capture the history and highlights, but to inspire the next generations of instructors and dancers.
“I am witness to a resurgence in folklore in many parts of Mexico and the United States,” she said. “I have met many dance teachers, learned their techniques and witnessed their passion and I have seen the passion and commitment in the students. All this learning has to be transmitted to my students so they can make it a part of their lives and eventually teach others.”
For Gutierrez-Scholl, folklore is the heart and soul of the people, developing from traditions and influences on their lives, bringing history, geography, economics, race and politics into play. She believes that Mexican folklore is compelling because of its international influences.
“Mexican folklore has been impacted by a number of regions and countries around the world and the result of those international interactions has become an intrinsic part of Mexican culture in its folkloric dances and cultural traditions,” she said. “I believe people should know that and that children of Mexican ancestry need to know where their parents came from, their cultures and why Mexico has such a unique mix of experiences.”
As she continues to work on her project, she looks to goals that include growing the dance group, finding a new studio space, spending a few months in Mexico, and further developing her dance and teaching skills. An artist and teacher, Gutierrez-Scholl has spent her life celebrating world and particularly Mexican cultures. With dance, she instills passion for ancestral roots.