Amalia Hernandez, the founder of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, who brought Mexican folkloric culture to the rest of the world, is the subject of the September 19, 2017 Google Doodle on what would be her 100th birthday.
Hernandez turned her early passion for performing and dance into a desire to be an ambassador for Mexican culture throughout the globe. As Google noted in the Google Doodle announcement, Hernandez is “remembered as an ambassador of Mexican culture whose legacy lives on through the Ballet Folklorico.”
Google notes that the Ballet Folklorico has performed for more than 22 million people. According to The Music Center, “Ballet Folklórico de México captures the heart and spirit of the Mexican people and their traditions through the pageantry and ritual of the indignous cultures before the arrival of the Spaniards. The company also depicts the influence of the Spanish and European cultures in creating a ‘Mestizo’ style.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hernandez Knew From the Age of 8 That She Would Focus Her Life on Dance
Hernandez, who was born in 1917, developed her love of dance early on, but she didn’t start with folk dancing. According to The Los Angeles Times, she was “born into a wealthy Mexican family,” and “began her career as a classically trained ballet dancer.”
She knew since she was the age of 8 that she wanted to be a dancer, The Los Angeles Times reported, “despite the objections of her father, a prominent senator and rancher. Resigned to her choice, he brought great dancers to train her, including a principal from the legendary ballet star Anna Pavlova’s company and Nelsy Dambre of the Paris Opera.”
A biography of Hernandez recounts how other dances didn’t move her, but traditional folkloric dancing did.
“She tried Spanish flamenco and modern dance. She learned the basic steps, the formality, and the techniques, but not one type of dance was emotionally fulfilling despite her reputable teachers. She felt no connection to the foreign dances and music,” recounted The Adelante Movement. The site excerpted THE BOOK OF LATINA WOMEN: 150 VIDAS OF PASSION, STRENGTH, AND SUCCESS By Sylvia Mendoza. You can find it here.
She found that emotional connection through her own traditional music, the site notes: “Hernández traveled throughout Mexico, to the mountainsides, the valleys, the little towns, the rural country, the coastline. She talked to people and explored each community’s culture. She heard her own native music and saw her own native dance in every corner she visited. And she felt a connection.”
2. Hernandez Started the Ballet Folklorico With Only Eight Dancers
As with many visionaries, Hernandez started small and built a powerhouse.
First, Amalia Hernandez “became a choreographer at the Fine Arts National Institute, where she taught modern dance. She then turned her focus to traditional Mexican folk dances,” Google noted. “She combined these dances with more choreographed movements from her formal training, helping to create an entirely new style of dance known as baile folklorico.”
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In 1952, Hernandez “founded the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. Beginning with just eight dancers, the troupe grew to over three hundred in the years to follow,” according to Google. “The company performed on television for the first time in 1954, after which they were featured in a weekly broadcast. This success allowed Amalia’s group to tour North America and even represent Mexico in the Pan American Games in 1959.”
3. The Ballet Folklorico Still Performs Its Dances Even Though Hernandez Died in 2000
Amalia Hernandez’ legacy has lived beyond her death. According to The Los Angeles Times, late in her life, she had “turned over daily management of the Ballet Folklorico to daughter Norma Lopez, its artistic director. But with her renowned energy, the founder remained involved in designing the dance programs.”
“The Ballet Folklorico de Mexico still performs to this day. Since its inception, the group has danced for more than 22 million people. Hernandez remained involved with the company until her death in 2000, working alongside her daughters and grandson,” Google reported.
According to Time Magazine, “Hernandez remained deeply involved in the dance company all her life, until her death in 2000 at age 83.”
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4. Amalia Hernandez Is Recognized for Bringing Mexico Culture to the Rest of the World
According to The Independent, Hernandez is considered an ambassador of her culture.
“Hernandez, who would be 100 years old, is remembered as an ambassador for Mexican culture, and for having played an integral role helping to share her country’s culture with the world,” the news site reported.
Brittanica reports that Hernandez led the Ballet Folklorico de Mexio to become “the largest and most widely respected Mexican dance company in the world. She choreographed more than 40 ballets that incorporated local dance traditions from some 60 regions of Mexico.”
According to the Adelante Movement, quoting the author Sylvia Mendoza, “Headquartered at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City, the ballet toured worldwide. Ballet Folklórico was selected as an official representative of the Mexican government at the Paris Festival of Nations in 1961. Her troupe earned what would be its first award of more than 200.”
5. Hernandez Once Called Herself a ‘Perfectionist’ Who Tried to Keep the Dances Authentic
Throughout her life, Hernandez faced some criticism for altering traditional Mexican folklore with her stylized dances. “I am a perfectionist. I have worked harder than you can imagine to keep the authentic style, the essence, in everything,” she explained, according to The Los Angeles Times.
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The newspaper explained the controversy surrounding Hernandez in a 2000 article, writing, “Gema Sandoval, founder-director of Danza Floricanto/USA, Southern California’s oldest such company, told Times dance critic Lewis Segal in 1997 that some believe Hernandez ‘is the first Mexican who has reached a world audience through the performing arts. Then there are those who feel she has misrepresented the culture, that she does not put folk dance on stage in its original form.’”
However, the legacy of Amalia Hernandez lives on through the dancers and the people they’ve reached.
Wrote one admirer, Aimee Sosa, in a blog post: “I am a huge admirer of Amalia Hernández. She is a true example of someone who demonstrated her talent and dedication. Due to her influence, folklórico is now a part of many young peoples lives, including my own.”
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