Ten students, who range in skill from beginning to advanced, are part of Professor Miguel Diaz’s Chicano/a studies Dance Mex I class.
The class may be small, but students walking into Jerome Richfield Hall can hear the loud steps of the dancers.
Diaz said he previously taught classes filled with up to 70 students, but now, he normally teaches 15 students at most. The lack of interest comes from cuts to dance programs in middle schools and high schools, he said.
“In Mexico, children start to dance in elementary school, middle school and high school,” Diaz said. “Due to the lack of money (in California), each three (to) five years, they cut back on classes. There are hardly any folkloric classes. Ten out of 20 high schools have a folkloric group.”
He said the Chicano/a Studies Department will not allow the course to die out, and that it will continue to stay alive for the interested individuals who want it to exist at CSUN.
“Here, they won’t let the class die,” said Diaz. “What has kept it going is Ballet Folklorico Aztlan de CSUN, because one or two of the members register in the class.”
In order to get students interested in joining a dance group, Diaz said more courses need to be offered at the intermediate and high school levels.
“Elementary, middle schools and high schools need to motivate,” Diaz said.
Diaz also said students need to care about their cultural backgrounds.
“We need to return to our culture, our customs,” he said.
Diaz has his own dance group in Los Angeles, called Danza Teocalt. He said he chose the name because it derives from the dialect Nahuatl, and means “temple close to the river.”
Diaz has been teaching Mexican folkloric dance since 1977. He spent 10 years teaching in various high schools and middle schools, including Garfield High School, Lincoln High School, and Griffith Junior High. In 2000, he started teaching courses at CSUN.
One of his trademarks as a teacher is to show his own style. Diaz has a background in jazz, flamenco, and modern dance. He said his knowledge of all those styles makes it easier to teach Mexican folkloric dance.
“In flamenco, the steps are stiffer and (include) a horse step, (which is) pointing (of) the legs,” he said. “It comes from ballet.”
These are methods he uses to combine the various dances into Ballet Folklorico.
Whether someone is a beginner or advanced dancer, Diaz said he teaches the correct way to move to make it easier for non-dancers to look like professionals.
Diaz said for a person to get the basics, it would take two semesters. His class is designed to teach beginning dancers.
Mari Carmen Arenas is one student currently enrolled in the class. She said she loves the course and recommends it to anyone.
“Professor Diaz has so much experience in dancing that he can detect who is out of step without even looking at you,” Arenas said.
One of the things she said that makes the class so unique is the professor’s style and his willingness to break down the steps so that everyone can understand and follow him.
“His steps are so defined that he can teach men and women,” Arenas said. “He is going to teach you the style that he has been teaching for the past 20 years.”
Arenas belongs to a dance group in Mexico, and said she feels fortunate to have the opportunity of dancing again.
“It’s a unique opportunity you are not going to find in any other professor in California,” she said.