WENATCHEE — Hands on their hips, dancers twirled and stamped their feet to the beat of mariachi music. Horns sounded in the next room as other students learned songs on their instruments.
About 450 students from around the state participated in the 21st annual Mariachi Northwest Festival Friday at the Town Toyota Center. The event started with student workshops and culminated in an evening concert.
Christina Olivas, artistic director for Seattle-based Bailadores de Bronce, said she’s been dancing for 34 years — since she was 5. She said her group first attended the festival to watch but has been participating for 20 years, most of those teaching classes.
She said the workshops are a cultural experience.
“We are the farthest away from Mexico, being in Washington, but the population here of Hispanics and Mexicans is growing,” she said. “To have that piece of home grow with them, I think, is great. It gives them a goal; it gives them something to work at. And it’s just fun sharing your culture and learning about it. Every state in Mexico has a different costume, a different style of dancing. If they can say, ‘My parents are from Jalisco, so I want to learn that kind of dancing,’ it’s great.”
The festival is chaired by Wenatchee High School Mariachi Director Ramon Rivera. Along with participating in mariachi and folklórico workshops, students have a chance at scholarships.
Friday night’s concert featured Latina superstar Ana Bárbara and Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, the first all-female mariachi group in the United States. Bailadores de Bronce and Wenatchee High’s Mariachi Huenachi also performed.
“We get all these students who are excited to learn,” Olivas said. “Whatever we’re performing on stage that night we try to teach them during the day, so when they see us on stage later, they can say, ‘Hey, I know that song.’”
Gaby Rolon, a para-educator at Pioneer Middle School, volunteers with the school’s folklórico team and also Mariachi Huenachi. She’s been dancing since the sixth grade and has been involved with the Mariachi Northwest Festival workshops for about eight years.
Rolon said students benefit from learning from professional dancers.
“They take it back to school and they help other students who were not able to come in,” she said.
She said dancing is hard work, but also fun for the students.
Katherine Ortiz and Yuvia Carrion, both 14, are eighth graders at Pioneer Middle. Katherine’s been involved in mariachi for two years, and Yuvia’s been participating for a year.
Yuvia plays the vihuela and also dances.
“I saw family doing it, and it’s part of my culture,” she said.
Katherine also plays the vihuela.
“I just wanted to play an instrument and be part of mariachi,” she said. “It’s just fun. I would go (to the festival) again.”