Twenty years after its inception, Sweetwater Union High School District’s Grupo Folklórico San Ysidro is still impacting students through the art of dance.
The group performed at CSBA’s 2021 Annual Education Conference and Trade Show before the event’s first keynote address and was well received by a captivated audience of local educational agency leaders from across the state.
Based at San Ysidro High School in San Diego County, Grupo Folklórico San Ysidro was founded in July 2002 by the program’s director Lalo M. Hirsch. It launched at the same time the campus was opening its doors in the city of Chula Vista.
From one class of 25 students, Hirsch has dedicated the past two decades to the program and grown it to six classes serving approximately 200 students per year. According to Hirsch, it is one of the largest programs of its kind in California.
Dancers span grades 9-12 and students receive regular visual and performing arts credits and college elective credits for participating.
“Baile Folklórico is the traditional folk dance from the Republic of México. Each state and region have their own culture and traditions that are expressed through the art of dance. My students study and learn a well-rounded curriculum, consisting of dance routines from the north, central and southern regions of México,” Hirsch said.
Historical and cultural influences that helped to shape the style are also explored, according to San Ysidro High’s website.
Through Mexican folk dance, the mission of the group is to allow students to learn personal responsibility, group dynamics and leadership skills; grow and develop critical-thinking abilities and creative expression as well as physical and mental stamina; and share in cultural understanding and appreciation for the richness of the art form.
“I enjoy the personal awakening that students experience in my class,” Hirsch shared. “The majority of my pupils have never danced Folklórico and to see them connect the music with steps says it all. Once they engage in the moment, they are hooked.”
The students share their passion and skills within the school community and the community at large.
Grupo Folklórico San Ysidro holds three major theater concerts a year, performs at four campus festivals and has theme park presentations at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. They take part in additional events on a first-come, first-served basis.
Performing helps support the program.
“Through ticket sales and honorariums, we are able to expand our learning objectives and reach our costume and accessory goals,” Hirsch said.
On- and off-campus experiences that the program offers are beneficial to students.
“Students enjoy meeting new people, collaborating through dance projects and connecting their culture with real-life experiences,” Hirsch said.
In his class, everyone is friends in dance and students are always learning from each other.
“I tell my students there will always be somebody better than you, so just accept that. But that isn’t the point,” Hirsch said in a mini documentary about the program. “The point is, are you better yourself than you were yesterday? If you are, then you are living the folklore. Improving what you have and your skillset and then sharing it with the community.”
Hirsch added how he sees students come together. “I’ve seen my students that I invest in their communication skills and having to work with dynamics and then on the spot fixing things and coming together,” he said. “I see my students growing in these things and they’re lightyears ahead of kids who are just in their seat in class.”
Hirsch began dancing with Chula Vista Group Baile Folklórico Escanes before joining the advanced group at Hilltop High School. He graduated from the Sweetwater Union HSD’s San Ysidro High School in 1992 and went on to study Folklórico in Jalisco, Mexico, under a renowned dance instructor.
Sweetwater Union HSD has a total of five Folklórico programs providing academic credit and artistic opportunities for students at other schools.
When reflecting on National Hispanic Heritage Month, taking place Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Hirsch noted the importance of teaching traditional art forms and dance styles to the younger generation.
“The power of storytelling binds communities together,” Hirsch said. “Folklórico preserves our history and traditions through the creative medium of dance.”