Ballet Folklórico de Austin to bring ‘Guelaguetza’ to Zilker this Saturday

Mimi Calzada, Senior Life&Arts Reporter

Performers in flowing black skirts and high heels twirl around the rehearsal room, running through the dance they have worked to perfect since January. Smiles beam from their faces as founder and dance director Edgar Yepez looks on with intensity. 

On Saturday, Ballet Folklórico de Austin will perform its annual “Guelaguetza Austin” event at Zilker Hillside Theater. Guelaguetza is an annual event held in the State of Oaxaca consisting of dance, music performances and the distribution of gifts to the community. This year’s event will consist of a dance performance by Ballet Folklórico de Austin, which will be musically accompanied by Maqueos Music, a philharmonic band based out of Los Angeles. 

Even if you see us a little tired in rehearsal, once (we) go on stage, something just lights up.

— Edgar Yepez

Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec word meaning “offering” and, according to the Ballet Folklórico de Austin press release, reflects on the culture of exchanging goods during the pre-Hispanic era in Mexico. Oaxaca native Yepez said he wanted to bring Guelaguetza to Austin to cure the loneliness he felt when he first moved to the states. 

“I really miss (Oaxaca). I was a dancer in Mexico for eight years in college and high school,” Yepez said. “When I came to the U.S., I felt like any other immigrant. You feel the loneliness. So (it) was a dream at that time to have Guelaguetza in Austin, just to share my heritage (and) my love for my hometown.”

Yepez — who established Ballet Folklórico de Austin in 2015 — said what started out as just three people rehearsing in a garage now stands as a group of 70 dancers. 

Jazmin Rocha said she has danced with Ballet Folklórico de Austin since she moved to Texas in 2020. In the months spent with her fellow dancers, Rocha said what she loves most is the undeniable passion shared by the group when they perform. 

“Everyone here cares a lot about what (we) do,” Rocha said. “Even if you see us a little tired in rehearsal, once (we) go on stage, something just lights up.”

Graciela Ocampo said she also feels a unique sense of pride when performing with the group.

“Every time I dance, I feel free,” Ocampo said. “The fact that you can perform and (become) another person — it feels good.”

In an effort to make the Guelaguetza as authentic as possible, Yepez said he looks to artisan friends in Oaxaca, from whom the group sources all their dresses. Yepez said Ballet Folklórico de Austin has worked with one specific artisan named Claudia Martinez since the group started performing six years ago. Yepez said he recently requested for Martinez to make a custom burnt-orange dress in honor of UT. 

The most important aspect of Ballet Folklórico de Austin, Yepez said, is embodying the true meaning of Guelaguetza by bringing Austin together as a community. 

“People who are part of the dance company are not professional dancers; they are people from the community,” Yepez said. “When they perform, they really show off what they feel (and) how proud they are about what they’re doing on stage. (Anyone) can be part of the dance company if they have the courage to do it.”