Arturo Magaña attended a ProLatino meeting in 1992 where he first experienced, at 18 years old, a folclórico performance. He witnessed men dancing together to express stories, and he joined immediately. For two years, the group was invited to Washington to dance for the Peace March as well as San Jose Pride and San Francisco Pride. Around 1995, ProLatino dissolved, and Arturo looked elsewhere to continue to dance.
Arturo joined the Los Lupenos de San Jose dance company around this time as a lead dancer. It was important to him to have the LGBTQ aspect of dancing represented, so he requested approval from the Dean of Dance at Stanford, the co-founder of Los Lupenos, to bring men together to represent the LGBTQ community. He was denied time and time again to create this type of group in the company.
Around 2013, Colectivo ALA invited Arturo and Los Lupenos to put on a folclórico performance at their anniversary event. Arturo remembers fighting to get permission for this performance, “I said, ‘you can’t repress me. This is who I am. I need to represent myself,’ and Dr. Susan Cashion, a co-founder of the Los Lupenos Dance Company, said, ‘absolutely we have your back. Anything that you need, costumes, music, choreography, you do it. This is you.’ She gave me the opportunity to represent myself and bring that to Colectivo ALA anniversaries and that sort of seeded the idea for Rodrigo and myself to bring a program to the LGBTQ community.”
Arturo started the LGBTQ dance group at Colectivo ALA and left Los Lupenos. The group was named Ensamble Folclórico Colibri, and they were part of the Colectivo ALA group. At a certain point, Folclórico grew beyond the Colectivo ALA group and became independent. In 2016, the group marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade and received honorable mention from the City and County of San Francisco as well as receiving an award for the most vibrant and colorful group. Every year since 2016, they have participated in Silicon Valley Pride.
In 2017, the Ensamble was adopted by the School of Arts and Culture as a cultural partner at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. In 2018, the Ensamble was able to put together a full stage production where they invited an ensamble from Mexico, Grupo Folclórico Teocalli. That was the first time that they had over forty dancers, some men in Mexican Folclórico skirts, on the main stage of the Mexican Heritage Plaza stage.
In Seattle, a group called Somos Seattle, a queer organization focused on representation of the Latino community, brought Ensamble Folclórico Colibri to headline their Latino Pride. This was a great honor for Arturo and the ensamble.
In 2018, the organization experienced push back by an organization in Mexico who threatened to sanction them and contact the Mexican government to stop them from continuing. The worst part of this experience was that it was coming from the Folclórico community, a director. Arturo stood his ground, “We put our foot down and we said, ‘we’re not going anywhere. You can do whatever you want. We have a freedom of expression.’ That brought us to be more recognized, to the point where our Facebook page had like less than a thousand likes and within a month we ended up with about 9,000 likes. So the world and the community started seeing Folclórico Colibri more seriously.”
Ensamble Folclórico Colibri is an LGBTQ+ group, including folks that are in the LGBTQ community as well as others who are not. Arturo and the group believes that it is important to not repress those that are repressing you, so by accepting the straight members into their group they are showing solidarity with their allies who will stand with them.
The group still faces backlash today by those in California and other communities. The Folclórico community is still close minded, but there is progress being made. Arturo said, “I want to say that maybe 60% of the men who dance folclórico are part of our LGBTQ community. I feel that it’s more of this fear and repression that they have and they translate this into us not being traditional or being offensive to our culture. When we put on our show, I added a tagline that said, ‘we’re not here to change tradition. We’re here to add our stories because they matter.’ I know for a fact that in the fifties, when Folclórico became a bigger thing, there were queer people dancing. It’s just they’re not permitted to put it on stage.”
It’s important to Arturo that the group features their stories on the stage and add to the folklore of folclórico. “For example, in 2018, in one of the very traditional pieces, we call it Quadro, we put together a lesbian wedding, and it was on stage and was received well. Another piece I choreographed was a coming out story, two men falling in love. People saw us in a different light. They saw that it wasn’t just about movement. It wasn’t just about dancing men to men or women to women. It was for us to convey our day to day story because that’s what folclórico does. When you see a performance of folclórico, you see a representation of either a town, a festivity, or a main event in a family. I wanted to do the same thing, but with our queer identity, that’s one of our main components now.”
“I’ve seen the faces of young people and their parents when we are performing and they see themselves and they see the representation and the pride of our heritage as queer men or as a lesbian or as a nonbinary person. We have had a whole family unit, after our performance, come to us and thank us for giving them the platform to endorse their identity through culture, because they didn’t have that. Not only have they been removed from their place of origin, but also affcted by the cultural shock that they receive from living here. So to see a representation, through folclórico and costumes on stage, it’s been a major impact for them,” said Arturo on the group’s impact on the community.
To learn more about Ensamble Folclórico Colibri, visit their website: Ensamble Folclórico Colibri
“We had an event with the California School for the Deaf, which was a challenge because we’re going to dance and do videos and they couldn’t hear our footwork, but that’s when we met our first trans dancer. There was a student who was seven years old and she was already transitioning. When we performed, even though she couldn’t express with her voice, she came up on stage and she started crying. I’m gonna start crying myself. She started crying and just hugging us and feeling so comfortable. She asked us to take one of our skirts so she could wear it. That to me was probably the best acknowledgement that we have received. Her mom also came up and said, ‘Oh my God, you guys have completely changed my daughter’s life because she feels like she’s important. She matters.’ That was beautiful. That was really beautiful,” Arturo Magaña.