In the 1950’s my wife Juanita and I were blessed with three children, Laura (1957), Edward (1958) and Anna (1959), that we raised as “American”. Then in 1972 we were blessed with a third daughter, Nicole. That is when I contemplated on my heritage.
I was employed at Western Electric Company when some of us employees formed the Hawthorne Heritage and Culture Club. I was asked to contribute something about my Mexican heritage. I knew nothing about it and since my wife and I were avid ballroom dancers I decided to learn some Mexican Folkloric dances with Nicole.
I searched for an instructor and found Mrs. Francis Casas and Ms. Alicia Chavarria. They thought us the Jarabe Tapatio and La Bamba. We presented them at club functions and in our church events.
At Western Electric Company
Cicero, IL circa 1979
In 1979 My son Edward was attending Illinois Institute of Technology and had joined the LIFE Club (Latinos Involved in Further Education). He asked if I and his sister could dance at a club event. I realized that, knowing only two dances would not be representative of the vast Mexican repertoire so I searched for a dance troupe and found Ms. Ofelia Solano; she had a girl’s group that practiced at the Gads Hill Center, 1919 W. Cullerton Street. I asked her whether her group of girls could dance for my son’s event and she graciously consented to do it. When I saw her girls perform I realized that, in my search, they were the best I had seen. Therefore Nicole joined it. The group was named Nuevo Ideal.
Irene Toscano helped the group and in 1981 she was instrumental in getting it into the first Ethnic Heritage Village Festival, as the Mexican representative, at the Illinois State Fair
Subsequently I discovered that Ofelia danced in an adult group, Alma de Mexico, of Jose Luis Ovalle. It also rehearsed at
Gads Hill. When I saw the professionalism of Jose’s rehearsals I was greatly impressed.
We attended a show on March 1, 1981 at the Marshall Square Theatre, later renamed the Apollos 2000, where each group, separately, performed only a few dances. See program below.
OUTSIDE NUEVO IDEAL BROCHURE INSIDE
this is the brochure, above, that I designed for Nuevo Ideal
I only know Nicole, in front, can anyone name the others?
At a later date the two groups teamed up to present a full concert at the Marshall Square Theatre. By then, our daughter, Nicole was part of the performing dancers and when we saw how professional the show was conducted I saw a potential that they could be a terrific troupe if they would ever combine to form one large company.
We were happy that on February 17, 1982 they did combine to form the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago.
● The founders and first officers were Jose L. Ovalle, Ofelia Solano and Serafin Vargas Guevara.
The 1st company (teen-adults) founding dancers were Jose Luis Ovalle, Serafin Vargas, Ofelia Solano, Jose M. Vega, Matiana Medrano, Olivero , Carmella Baeza, Mayela , Lourdes Valles, Delia Vazquez, Lourdes Ramirez, Ana Rosa , Sylvia Salinas and Noemi Salinas.
The 2nd company (ages 6 to 12) founding dancers were Nicole M. Roa, Diana Valenzuela, Patricia Casas, Hector Casas, David Moreno,
● 1982 was also the year that the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (MFACM) was founded by Carlos Tortolero; it began a close relationship with MFDC that has continued to this date.
Eventually the museum was renamed The National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA).
MFACM donated MFDC's first brochure shown below.
Dancers are Ofelia Solano and Jose M. Vega Dancers are Jose L. Ovalle, Ofelia Solano and Jose M. Vega
OUTSIDE FIRST COMPANY BROCHURE INSIDE
Donated in mid 1980s by The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (now known as the National Museum of Mexican Art)
Click on image to enlarge it
Rogelio Olguin, a photographer, videographer, audio technician and Declamador Mexicano, in 1979, volunteered at the Museum of Science and Industry's Festival of the Arts with Ballet Folklorico Azteca of Federico Rodriguez and in 1982 invited Raizes del Ande of Jaime and Mario Lino, Monja Blanca de Carmen Garcia, Panama en Chicago of Bill Perez, Tierra Colombiana of Edgar Serna, Cuerdas Clasicas of Rodolfo Hernandez and the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago of Jose Luis Ovalle.
Then Rogelio became associated with MFDC as a photographer and videographer.
Because of its professionalism the company was eventually made the official presenter of all the festival entertainment
The festival lasted untill 2001 when it was terminated because of the 911 attack in New York. This resulted in a 50% drop of tourism that affected attendance at most of the tourist attractions in Chicago. Attempts to revitalize the festival have not been successful.
On March 28, 1983, I incorporated the company. Carmela Baeza and Matilde Martinez were the co-incorporators and the second set of officers were Jose L. Ovalle, president, Ofelia Solano, president elect, Serafin Vargas, vice president and I, as executive director. My wife, Juanita, became the book keeper.
Jose Luis Ovalle Ofelia Solano Serafin Varga Guevara Henry A. Roa Juanita Roa
● The incorporation allowed the company to apply for grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Office of Fine
Arts; the annual grants have continued to this day. NBC WMAQ CH-5 TV also awarded MFDC a cash grant.
● 1984 Irene Flores negotiates the move to a larger facility at Malcom X College, 1900 W. Van Buren Street.
Since 1984 the late Arturo Velasquez, his late wife Shirley and their family have supported MFDC
Arturo was Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago when Irene Flores acquired MFDC's residency at Malcolm X College. At one point MFDC was asked to leave because the college needed the space for other projects but Arturo made sure that MFDC would stay for as long as ........"he was the boss of the whole . . . . . . . . "
His family also helped MFDC through his Automatic Music Company run by Edward and Maria Elena, Azteca Foods owned by Arthur R. and Carmen, founder of Alivio Medical Center.
The West Side Technical Institute, 2800 S. Western Ave. is named in his, Shirley's and their family's honor. This is his obituary and brief history
50th wedding anniversary in Acapulco
Arthur R. and Joanne Velasquez have contributed regularly from Azteca Foods
and briefly through the Chicago Community Trust Foundation
In 1989 Carmen Velazquez and Dr. Ann Garcelon, a colleague of Ms. Velásquez who was affiliated with Mercy Medical Center, founded Alivio Medical Center to provide free medical service to the underserved Latino population.
The professionalism of the presentations grew with the addition of live musical accompaniment provided by Mariachi Guadalajara of Tony Partida (later named Real Guadalajara of Nicolas Diaz), estudiantina Cuerdas Clasicas of Rodolfo Hernandez, Trio los Duques of Jorge Jasso and Banda Los Horoscopos. Other mariachi bands used were Tequila, Los Palmeros, Perla de Mexico, Ameca and Angeles de Puebla.
Cuerdas Clasicas, Inc. www.cuerdasclasicaschicago.org was founded in 1976 by Rodolfo Hernandez. Its estudiantina style provides the classical music required for some of the repertoire performed by the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago such as the suite "Cincuenta Años de Historia".
The suite exposes the Czechoslovakian polka, The Polish mazurka and redowa, the Scottish Schottische, the Austrian Waltzen, and English Square Dancing.
L to R : Rodolfo Hernandez,
Also in 1985 the company produced its own show at Center East in Skokie, IL and made a modest profit. Estudiantina Cuerdas Clasicas, Trio los Duques and a mariachi provided live musical accompaniment.
The company became a very close family such that Ofelia and Serafin married and later Jose married Matiana Medrano, a dancer in his group. This started a trend where nine couples met in the company and married. Some returned with their children to continue with the company.
Salvador Hernandez Sr., after his daughter Patricia joined the company, became a second company photographer.
1986 Above is a 1986 six foot poster that was on the rear of every CTA bus in Chicago.
WOJO had covered a performance at Olive Harvey College and took this picture for promotional use.
L-R Patricia Hernandez, Jennifer Vargas, Myrium del Angel, Nicole Roa, Estela Villarreal,
Susana Arciga, Patricia Casas and ? . . .i forgot her name . . . help
● In 1987 it performed at the Pan Am Games for vice president Bush.
● for Governor James Thompson,
● Mayor Harold Washington,
● at The Chicago Theater as an opening for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme where the MC was Irv Kupcinet.
The same year Ofelia and Serafin left the company to attend to other commitments.
The third generation of officers then became Jose L. Ovalle, president, Matiana M. Ovalle, vice president,
my wife Juanita Roa, Secretary / Treasurer and I, executive director.
Jose Luis Ovalle Matiana M. Ovalle Juanita Roa Henry A. Roa
● By then the company had become the premier Mexican troupe in the area, receiving many awards, grants and recognitions. A full list is in the Awards, Grants and Recognitions page herein.
One prospective grant, in 1988, was from a Sister Cities program that was to provide funds to tour Mexico. MFDC made the arrangements only to discover that the grant could not be made. So my wife, Juanita, provided the funds to save the tour. Jose also helped by delaying collecting a remuneration due him from MFDC. MFDC went on the tour : Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, Aguascalients, Queretaro and Acapulco and received rave reviews from the Mexican media including a TV interview.
1988 In the airplane to Monterey, Mexico.
Front row : Luis Alberto Ovalle
and Mrs. Roa.
Next row Eric Baeza, Nicole Roa-Bernal and
Rosie de la Torre
Next row Victor Vargas and David Moreno
Next row Yuvanka Juarez ??,
Jennefer Vargas and Liz Juarez ??
Next row Jose L. Ovalle, Eliazar Landeros ?
Last row ? ? ?, Mr. Pardiñias, Mrs Pardiñas
and Juan Carlos Martinez.
It was a memorable tour.
● That same year it performed for the Tribute to Katherine Dunham at The New Regal Theater.
● In 1992 MFDC received 501(c)(3) status which opened the door for new funding such as the Chicago Community Foundation, the Chicago Tribune Foundation, Fel -Pro Foundation and the WPWR-TV Foundation.
The 501(c)(3) status also led to the Museum of Science and Industry choosing MFDC as the official presenter of all the entertainment for the annual festival.
That same year the company celebrated its tenth anniversary with a banquet and show at the South Shore Cultural Center.
See the Program / AD book in the Dancers & Gallery section.
In the years that followed
● MFDC has to leave Malcom X College (Arturo Velasquez was no longer chancellor) but at the same time a new community center in Pilsen, Instituto Cultural Guadalupano, is planned by The Resurrection Project and MFDC is solicited to be the resident dance company.
● Sones de Mexico Ensemble is formed and MFDC begins to utilize Sones because it plays almost all of the music from the different regions of Mexico, including the indigenous rituals. This elevates the presentations to a higher level of professionalism.
Sones de Mexico Ensemble was founded in 1994 by Juan Dies and Victor Pichardo.
Juan is in front. In the rear from L-R is Victor Pichardo, Gonzalo Cordova and Rene Cardoza.
Shortly after the founding, Sones teamed up with the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago to create performances of higher quality with authentic regional music to accompany the dancers.
Now together with Cuerdas Clasicas, Inc www.cuerdasclasicaschicago.org, Mariachi Guadalajara of Tony Partida (later Real Guadalajara of Nicolas Diaz) and other bands it raised the professionalism of performances to a much higher level.
Sones grew to six members and in 2007 and 2008 it was nominated for a GRAMMY® and a Latin GRAMMY®.for its song " Esta Tierra es Tuya". Conceived as an immigrant manifesto, its centerpiece is a rollicking norteño version of the Woody Guthrie 1940 song "This land is your land". Woody wrote the song because he was disturbed by California's rejection of the dust bowl victims that moved there seeking work. Californians did not welcome the "Okies" taking jobs away from them. It was a situation where states rejected states. Sones wrote this parody to highlight a similar situation when countries reject other countries;the immigration dilemma.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKOqMROXKZc Freddie Freak's version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aPLbPipdqU Sones' version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1R4xFrQQNE Sones' version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmiUloNblaY Woody Guthrie's original version
At the GRAMMY® awards: From L-R Juan Dies, Victor Pichardo, Javier Saume, Lorena Iniguez, Juan Rivera and Zacbe Pichardo.
Performs before President Bill Clinton at The World Cup in Soldier Field before 45,000 people including many world leaders.
Auditions were held to pick the groups to represent the competing teams' countries in the opening ceremonies.
MFDC did not have to audition; its reputation was enough to be selected to represent Mexico.
1995 MFDC returns to its birth community of Pilsen in the Instituto Cultural Guadalupano.
1996 Expands to the Brighton Park community, that is now predominantly Mexican, with residency at Our Lady of Fatima Church, 2751 W. 38th Pl.
Because of its Illinois not-for-profit status, that allowed obtaining funds from the Illinois Arts Council, the company having previously been made the official presenter of all entertainment for the annual Museum of Science and Industry's Hispanic Festival of the Arts (renamed Latino Horizons), was made an official grant writer to apply for funds to pay the festival artists.
This is recorded in the 1996 book
”INCENTIVE GENIUS THE HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY” by JAY PRIDMORE,
● In 1997 it celebrates its fifteenth aniversary with a dinner and show at the South Shore Cultural Center. See the Program / AD Book in the Dancers & Gallery section.
● In the new millennium a fire at the Guadalupano Center causes MFDC to seek alternate space at Notre Dame Church, 1336 W. Flournoy, St. Ann School, 2211 W. 18th Place, St. Pius Church, Ashland and 19th Street and the Harrison Park Field House, 1824 S. Wood Street.
● The late Mr. Raul Muñoz Loza of Taquerias Atotonilco, Lavanderias Atotonilco and Asociacion de Charros Cuatro Caminos begins to donate an annual grant to MFDC until his untimely death in 2012.
Raul Muñoz Loza Asociacion de Charros Cuatro Caminos
2001 The company is mentioned in the book
"Mexican Chicago" by Carlos Tortolero and Rita Arias Jirasek.
The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum embraced the project of taking the first steps in creating a body of work that begins to document and preserve the history of the Mexican experience in the Midwest.
I contributed some material and I am listed in the acknowledgements page.
Receives a Four Star review from
The Green Bay Press Gazette
for performances in Green Bay WI.
"Wow did the Mexican Folkloric Dance
Company of Chicago put on a show
Thursday night at the Weidner Center.
It was one of the most spectacular
displays of costuming to visit the hall"
"Dazzles" "Bursts of flame"
"Dancers whirled, stomped and glided"
read the review.. .
2001 FEATURED on IILLINOIS ARTS COUNCIL WTTW TV
SHOW "CENTER STAGE ARTS ACROSS ILLINOIS".
Program featured Illinois artists that are part of IAC's
Artist Directory and receive partial funding from IAC.
Sones de Mexico Ensemble was one of the artists and
provided the music for this Huapango dance; they are
off screen left on an adjoining stage.
The link sometimes continues to other videos at South Suburban College, and the Harris Theatre where Jose and Mati dance then the company takes over. There are also segments with the children and former dancers that came back to perform with the present members in a special show at the Harris Theater, Chicago, IL .
2001 The company is chosen to perform, in Harrison Park, for Mexican president Fox’s visit to Chicago.
2002 The company decided to celebrate its twentieth anniversary with a larger show. Instead of a dinner show it was
decided to do a performance on the Skyline Stage at Navy pier with a seating capacity of 1,492. It was a sellout success.
See the Program / AD Book in the Dancers & Gallery section.
2003 Granted residency in the new Zacatecano Cultural Center, 4145 S. Kedzie Ave. in Brighton Park. The center is run by
the Federacion de Clubes Unidos Zacatecanos en Illinois.
2004 The company dancers and staff were chosen to be part of the
images to be shown on the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.
About 2014 Juan Dies of Sones de Mexico Ensemble happened
to be at the fountain at the precise moment, with camera in hand,
and took photos of my image when it appeared on the screen.
In 2016 the fountain was repaired and reopened on April 23, 2017.
The original images will remain as part of the history of Chicago's diverse population. An article states : "What won't change are the faces themselves "The faces that were part of the piece 13 years ago wil be the faces always. It makes it more timeless," said Mark Kelly, commissioner of DCASE, which helped organize the rehab project as part of its 2017 Year of Public Art intiatitve. "I've also been asked several times, 'What if we had some of Chicago's icons (on the screens)?' Again, it's just Chicagoans. It captures the demographics and diversity of the city. It's everyone and not 'someone.'"
So I will be there for as long as the fountain is there.
I wonder has anyone else been there and saw a familir face ?
2005 Featured on WTTW CH-11 PBS Chicago Tonight program
"ARTS ACROSS ILLINOIS" sponsored by Illinois Arts Council Oct. 10.
“CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED” stated Bob Sirott
It is a WTTW TV documentary on the immigration dilemma and
how one town, Beardstown, IL benefited from immigration.
● 2006 Participates in Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. as representative
for Chicago Mexican Music and Dance exhibit archived in Smithsonian Library for posterity. A tent was set up where Jose and Mati exhibited costmes and performed dances. At the entrance to the tent there was a description of the exhibit and a short profile of my association with the company. It can be viewed in the "About Us" section herein.
● 2007 PERFORMS with PEPE AGUILAR at
THE PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARDS in MIAMI, FL.
Top row: Pepe Aguilar and Salvador Hernandez.
Middle row: Jessica Zapata, Michaela Hernandez,
Mati Ovalle, Marisol Bucio, Samantha Figueroa
Bot Row: Daniel Garcia, David Moreno, Jose L. Ovalle,
● 2007 Celebrates its 25th anniversary with a sellout show at the Harris Theatre in Millennium Park. See Program / AD Book in Danccers & Gallery section.
DANCES at the FESTIVAL OF WORLD CULTURES
in DUN LAOGHAIRE, IRELAND
(selected over groups from Mexico)
Back row L to R:
Ricardo Lemus, Jessica Aguilar, David Miranda, Daniel Garcia, Arturo Bucio and Elizabeth Tapia.
Front row Jose Luis Ovalle and Henry A. Roa being interviewed by Ireland TV RTE
● 2008 CANAL ONCE from MEXICO CITY comes to Chicago to film a story on MFDC.
PERFORMS a second time with PEPE AGUILAR at THE PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARDS in MIAMI, FL.
Slide to the 2:15 minute mark
DANCES a second time at
the FESTIVAL OF WORLD CULTURES
in DUN LAOGHAIRE, IRELAND
(selected over groups from Mexico)
Bot row: Jose L. Ovalle, , Marisol Bucio, , Ibarra, Mati Ovalle
2nd row: Carlos Ovalle, Landeros, ,
3rd row: , David Ovalle, Luis Ovalle, Aguilera, Arturo Bucio, , Arney Ruiz, Henry A. Roa.
Top row: David Fuentes, ,
● 2009 Performs with JUAN GABRIEL
in Las Vegas for Latin GRAMMYS®
MFDC comes in at 1:30, a minute later Juan says "a toda la familia de Chicago" referring to MFDC (easier than remembering "La Compañia de Danza Folklorica Mexicana de Chicago"). At 5:15 he sings "Mi Mexico es muy lindo , mi Mexico es encantador, y luego por sus artistas, su mariachi, su folklore" again recognizing MFDC and pointing to dancers.
At 5:55 He dances with Jessica Aguilar and David Moreno.
Link shows dancers exiting; Juan acknowledges them again
● 2010 Becomes an Arts Partner with the City of Chicago
with residencies at Gage Park and Piotrowski Park.
These become MFDC's permanent homes.
● 2013 30 year anniversary sell out performances at the Harris Theater, Chicago and the Olympic Theater, Cicero
● 2014 Performs for 20th anniversary of Sones de Mexico Ensemble at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Millennium Park; 15,000 attended.
● 2015 Annual appearane on WGN TV CH 9 http://wgntv.com/2014/08/01/midday-fix-the-living-loop-performing-arts-festival/
● 2015 Shown in part of a WTTW CH-11 TV
Documentary "Chicago's South Side
Neighborhoods" in the Gage Park segment
where MFDC is in residency.
Watch the full show here
MFDC appears at the beginning intro, at the
2:10 mark; at the 42 minute mark where MFDC is
featured at Gage Park and briefly at the end at
the I hour and 35 minute mark; right after the
Rainbow Cone segment.
This picture is in the slide show at this site :
Phil Ponce interviews Geoffrey Baer as the slide show runs below them. There is a link "Chicago's South Side" web site that takes you to the first video link above.
● 2016 MFDC paticipates in the Stomping Grounds Festival produced by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which concluded with a gala at the legendary Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.
Other paticipants were Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, Trinity Academy of Irish Dance, Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago and BAM Ensemble of CHRP.
● 2016 Featured on WLS TV CH 7 Hispanic Heritage Month http://abc7chicago.com/entertainment/mexican-folkloric-dance-company-lights-up-stage-at-south-suburban-college/1553878/http%3A%2F%2Fabc7chicago.com%2F1553878%2F
● 2016 Above: At the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, Illinois with Lila Downs and Mariachi Los
Camperos de Nati Cano.
● 2017 Collaboration with Chicago Human Rhythm Project annual
Stomping Grounds dance series.
Collaborating companies were : Entertainment
BAM Chicago Human Rhythems tap dancers Section
Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater Monday
Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago June 5
Muntu African Dance Theater of Chicago Issue
Trinity Academy of Irish Dance
Karen Valdez and Christian Washington
● 9-17-2017 Above: Performs again with Los Tigres del Norte and Natalia Jimenez at Fiesta Ravinia
at Ravinia Park, Highland Park, IL
March 31, 2018 Above: Performs with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Graciela Beltran at the
Copernicus Center, Chicago. It is the third time that the company has performed with
The above events are only some of the more prominent. A full list can be viewed in the
Brief Chronological History and Prestigious Events section and the Awards-Grants-Recognitions section herein.