40-year tradition carries on through Los Alegres Bailadores

Mexican folkloric dance group performing at Ramsey County Fair

Becky Moran Cusick has practiced traditional Mexican dance all her life, starting out as a student and now teaching others. 

She established the Mexican folkloric dance group Los Alegres Bailadores — “the happy dancers” — in 1977, and today it remains a foundational part of St. Paul’s West Side community. 

The group is performing at the Ramsey County Fair on its last day, Sunday, July 14.

The fair is July 10-14 in Maplewood.

Cusick, along with four other maestras — teachers — work with students as young as 3, all the way through adults. She teaches out of the West Side’s Our Lady Guadalupe Church, the same place her aunt taught classes when she was a kid. 

Cusick learned Mexican folkloric dances from her mother and that aunt, who were born in Mexico. As a teen, Cusick knew she wanted to study more of it, and at 17 her parents supported her to travel to Mexico for a summer. There, she studied at el Palacio de Bellas Arts with Amalia Hernandez, in Mexico City. 

She learned from several teachers that summer, but one in particular stood out: maestro Tizoc Fuentes Yaco. Cusick enjoyed his teaching style and at the end of her first summer planned to return to Mexico City in a few years’ time to study with him again. 

However, when she returned and went to sign up for classes, she learned he no longer taught there. She was “crushed,” she says. 

Cusick eventually learned from a janitor at el Palacio that Yaco had started his own dance studio a few blocks away. She found it and spent the rest of her career studying and working with him. 

When Cusick started her own school in St. Paul, she and Yaco worked together to create workshops where her students could study with him in Mexico, and he could come to Minnesota to teach. Yaco’s wife also studied Mexican folkloric dance, bringing an academic aspect to the dance classes. 

For some 30 years, Cusick and Yaco worked together doing workshops and creating opportunities for her students to travel to Mexico.

Yaco passed away a year ago, but one of his children, Zodoc, has continued his father and mother’s work of teaching and researching Mexican folkloric dance. He continues to work with Cusick as well, just recently wrapping up a group of workshops. 

Cusick says it’s fun working with Zodoc, since she’s known him his whole life and watched him grow up.

“It’s a blessing he took up his parents’ work.”

‘Show what Mexico 

has to offer’

Los Alegres Bailadores reaches across generations in more ways than one — Cusick often teaches children of former students and has adult students who continue to learn for decades. Today, Cusick has anywhere from 80 to 100 students enrolled in the group.

“It’s really touching to have students come back and bring their children,” she says. 

Cusick says her students are what make the group a success — from the parents who support their children and volunteer at events, to the adults who come back year after year to learn more, “without them it wouldn’t have been what it is.”

While St. Paulites can be familiar with Los Alegres, Cusick says the group has been traveling more widely to share its traditional  Mexican dances. This will be its third or fourth time performing at the Ramsey County Fair.

“I really believe people are now interested in diversity,” Cusick says, noting that in the past, it wasn’t as easy to book shows and that viewers were much more reserved. 

Nowadays, the group’s schedule is packed with performances at events like St. Paul Saints baseball games, Timberwolves games and soccer matches. Cusick says viewers ask all kinds of questions and that Los Alegres Bailadores’ shows “just put a smile on people’s faces.”

Dancers wear colorful outfits that correspond to their dance and the Mexican state from which it comes, something Cusick says is always viewers’ favorite part.

“In Mexico, folkloric dances tell stories,” she says, pointing out it’s especially true for children’s dances, with the movements imitating birds and other animals. 

For older dancers, the performances may not tell a story — they’re more a representation of tradition. 

Mexico has 31 states, meaning Cusick and her fellow maestras teach a variety of dances. She says many Americans are most familiar with the mariachi dance and music tradition, which comes from the west coast state of Jalisco. Mariachi most often features guitars and trumpets, but may include other instruments as well.

“The importance is we show our audiences what Mexico has to offer,” Cusick says.

Los Alegres Bailadores will be performing at the Ramsey County Fair on Sunday, July 14, at 12:30 p.m. For more information about the group and its classes, visit www.losalegresbailadores.com.

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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