Showcasing Their Heritage

Grupo Folklórico Izcalli dancers (left to right) Fernanda Fregozo-Torres, Stacey Valdez, May Valdez and Annel Alvarez in performance (GoFundMe Heroes: Meet Grupo Izcalli)

Kansas City’s Grupo Folklórico Izcalli celebrates the culture of Mexico

What better way to convey pride in one’s culture than through dance? In Kansas City, Grupo Folklórico Izcalli incorporates tap and ballet, folk culture and challenging choreography to tell stories — stories that throw light on Mexican culture and history.

The newest of the many Latinx dance groups in the area, Grupo Folklórico Izcalli arrived on the scene in March 2021. Just months later they gained major exposure performing at the Chiefs’ halftime show at Arrowhead in September 2021. “This was a long shot,” explained Annel Alvarez, the group’s founder.

For weeks, the members of the all-woman troupe campaigned relentlessly on social media to be selected to present at the stadium during Latinx Heritage Month. Deanna Muñoz, an advocate for the local Latino community, proposed the idea to Alvarez after the group performed at a pop-up event. Chiefs’ management finally responded to Alvarez’s message on its “fan experience” page. On the 90-second performance, the first of its kind on the football field, “I think we all cried,” Alvarez remembers. One Chiefs fan responded, “Thank you for representing my country.”

That triumph has propelled them forward.

Grupo Folklórico Izcalli started out practicing in a garage and a backyard. At the time of their Arrowhead appearance, they were limited to a small rented space, with the young women maneuvering on hard concrete floors in inadequate shoes. They needed a wooden dance floor, better equipment and to recruit new members. They dreamed of creating their own studio and academy. Alvarez knew they needed additional funds to fulfill their potential.

She started a GoFundMe, and response was enthusiastic. In fact, her dedication to promoting Mexican culture through movement and traditional dress was deemed so worthy that she was named a GoFundMe Hero for Hispanic Heritage Month in September.

The name of the group signifies “the beautiful house among the trees” and was chosen to exude a sense of family and connection. Alvarez was inspired to form the group when a friend, DJ Luigi, called with a request for a wedding gig. At that time, suffering from post-partum depression and feeling a loss of identity, she thought returning to her roots might offer the healing she needed. Alvarez turned to two longtime friends, sisters Stacey and May Valdez, who, like her, were alumni of Shawnee Mission East, to join her in creating a dance group.

Grupo Folklórico Izcalli has helped its members, all second-generation immigrants, to more fully integrate their heritage into their lives and connect more closely with their families as well as educate the community about the culture that gives them such pride. The members designed their own gear, choosing the traditional all-black dresses adorned with colorful ribbons, which helps them stand out from other dance groups. Their dances currently represent the states of Jalisco, Sinaloa and Veracruz, and they want to add more.

Grupo Folklórico Izcalli planned to take a breather from November through January so members could spend time with their families and “refresh.” They expect to return in February with possibly an expanded group and an expanded repertoire. They may even invite a few men to join the group.

And they likely will perform at a greater variety of venues. Their first showing was at the Latin coffee shop Ollama, in the Crossroads. From there to Arrowhead Stadium is a clear indication of how quickly they are catching on.

“We share love and pride in showcasing our heritage,” says dancer Alejandra Tagle-Olivares.

At this writing, the group had reached about one-third of its $2,000 goal. To learn more, visit www.gofundme.com/f/grupo-folklrico-izcallis-one-year-anniversary.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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