Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with Dance
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a 30-day observance that extends from September 15 to October 15 and is marked by celebrating histories, cultures, and impacts made by Americans whose ancestors originated in Spain, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
According to the National Hispanic Heritage Month website, the holiday began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under Lyndon Johnson and was extended to a month by Ronald Reagan 20 years later.
The holiday was enacted into law in 1998. The observance began on September 15 to mark the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The following days mark the independence of many other Latin American countries.
This year, United Way of King County honors National Hispanic Heritage Month by spotlighting Bailadores de Bronce, a Burien-based Mexican folkloric dance group that performs throughout the Seattle area. A Governor’s Arts & Heritage Award recipient, Bailadores de Bronce performed at United Way’s Annual Community BBQ last month.
This month, we caught up with Bailadores de Bronce director Adrian Olivas to learn more about the group and its efforts to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with dance.
United Way of King County: What are the origins of Bailadores de Bronce?
Adrian Olivas: Bailadores de Bronce traces its origins back to the University of Washington in 1972. At that time, a group of passionate students recognized the need for Latine representation on their campus. They believed that the arts, specifically traditional Mexican dance, could serve as a powerful vehicle to address this void and showcase the rich heritage of Mexican American culture.
This not only fulfilled the desire for greater representation but also provided a platform to educate, entertain, and promote cross-cultural understanding.
United Way of King County: How has Bailadores de Bronce incorporated the Civil Rights and Chicano Movements into its performances?
Adrian Olivas: Bailadores de Bronce frequently engages in educational outreach efforts, organizing workshops, and demonstrations. In doing so, we not only teach traditional Mexican dance but also provide historical and cultural context, shedding light on the interconnectedness of these movements with their art form. One example of this is our zoot suit choreography, which depicts the dances and Chicano culture in the 1940s around the time of the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. The group prioritizes inclusivity in its membership, embracing dancers from various backgrounds. This diversity allows for a broader representation of Latin experiences.
Bailadores de Bronce also has collaborated with other cultural and activist groups. These collaborations often result in interdisciplinary performances that incorporate music, spoken word, and visual arts, further emphasizing the connections between art, culture, and social justice. During the pandemic, we worked with other Latin organizations around the Black Lives Matter movement to bring awareness to our community.
United Way of King County: What is your background and how did you become involved with Bailadores de Bronce?
Adrian Olivas: I was born in Durango, Mexico, and came with my parents in 1992—all thanks to the amnesty of the 1980s. I worked through high school and college in the family business and received my degree in urban forestry and horticulture from the University of Washington.
I joined Bailadores de Bronce in 1996, thanks to my cousin who had been in Bronce since 1977. This was when I began to learn about the Chicano Movement and what it means to be Mexican American. After being in the group for 14 years I became Executive Director in 2012.
United Way of King County: What are some of the themes that you incorporate in your shows, and what messages are you trying to convey to your audiences?
Adrian Olivas: Our style of dance is commonly known as Folklorico and it depicts celebrations, traditions, customs, clothing, and music of the diverse regions throughout Mexico. The themes that we represent are around the Mexican culture, including social and ritualistic expressions, love and courtship, historical events, and religious and spiritual themes.
United Way of King County: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you and to your organization? What are any performances, events, or programs that you have to honor or celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
Adrian Olivas: For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to demonstrate that Mexican people have a strong sense of pride and we are here to contribute. For Bailadores de Bronce is an opportunity to showcase the diversity within Mexico as part of the larger Latine community, including countries from Central and South America.
For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to demonstrate that Mexican people have a strong sense of pride and we are here to contribute.Adrian Olivas, director, Bailadores de Bronce
For Bailadores de Bronce most of the performances are around the Mexican independence from Spain on September 15th and 16th. There are events in Seattle Center and we also collaborate with Orquesta Northwest for the “El Grito” concert at Town Hall and many other events through September and October.
This year we will also celebrate our 50th anniversary, which was delayed one year because of the pandemic. But thanks to the support of organizations such as Sea Mar and Seattle Theater Group, we are now on track to celebrate on October 25 at the Moore Theater.