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Park City’s Latino Arts Festival celebrates Latin American cultures

Dancers from Viva Mexico Folkloric Ballet perform during the 2024 Latino Arts Festival in Park City.
Kristine Weller
Dancers from Viva Mexico Folkloric Ballet perform during the 2024 Latino Arts Festival in Park City.

The Latino Arts Festival in Park City is a celebration of Latino and Hispanic cultures. The festival showcases traditional dancing, art and food.

The Arts Council for Park City and Summit County hosted the Latino Arts Festival, which KPCW sponsors, this weekend at Canyons Village. The Canyons Village stage was the focal point throughout the festival as it featured traditional dances and music from all over Latin America.

Areli Garcia is the executive director of Viva Mexico Folkloric Ballet and Viva Mexico Ballet, respectively an adult and children's dance group showcasing steps from different Latin American countries.

“We try to represent our brothers and sisters from different cultures, and share the joy and just bring excitement to other people,” Garcia said. “Ballet Folklórico de las Américas is actually a legacy group.”

That means the group was one of the first of its kind formed in the Salt Lake Valley. It’s been around for almost 40 years.

Garcia said her group has students from all over Latin America as well as non-Latino students. She said traditional folkloric dancing promotes a connection between the dancers and the audience.

At the end of her group’s performance Saturday, young dancers helped other kids in the audience learn a traditional dance called “La Raspa.” Parents and other audience members clapped along as the boys folded their arms behind their backs, the girls held imaginary skirts and all stepped along with the music.

Once the kids were finished dancing, Aztec Indian dancers followed. Nazario Segura led the group called Tlecoatl Aztec Dancers. He said Tlecoatl means fire serpent.

Each Aztec dancer was adorned in elaborate regalia with vibrant colors, beads and feathers. Segura’s regalia represented the white eagle and was modeled after an Aztec emperor’s.

“My regalia is a replica of something that one of my ancestors would be wearing back in the old days,” Segura said. “Back in the old days, we all wore precious stones and metals, silver, gold, you know, Jade and all these other precious stones.”

Segura’s headdress was the largest in the group, extending out and around him nearly to the ground. White rooster feathers hung from the center of the headdress and medium and long pheasant feathers fanned out to the sides.

All the Aztec dancers wore seeds on their ankles that shook in time with each step. Segura said the seed’s oil is a medicine for rheumatism and arthritis, so the dancers have them on their ankles to soothe any swollen joints.

The Aztec dancers performed on stage and on the grass. Segura said some dances can’t be performed on a stage because they need to have a connection with the earth.

“So it's the Mother Earth and the Sun that has to have that connection with everything in between. It's everything in between that we need to take care of as well,” he said.

A group called Esencia de México performed cultural Mexican dances next. Artistic director Karla Shawhan said the nonprofit’s mission is to showcase the beauty of Mexican culture through traditional dance and music.

“I grew up here in the States, so I didn't really have much knowledge of what my culture was until I was a teen and I joined a folklórico group, and I feel even now, we should be showcasing and keeping our traditions alive,” she said.

Shawhan said folkloric dancing goes back to Aztec times. The heart of folkloric dancing is having your feet mimic the same sound as the beat of the music, which is why her group wears shoes with special nails to tap along.

The Latino Arts Festival also showcased art from 30 Latino artists. Allison Martínez-Arocho, a Puerto Rican-American artist and youth program coordinator for the festival, showcased her art and led a free workshop for kids. She taught kids how to make Puerto Rican vejigante masks.

“Vejigantes are a folkloric character, and they are symbols of joyful resistance in Puerto Rico, and they wear these masks that are traditionally made out of coconut husks or paper mache,” Martínez-Arocho said. “But here with the kids, I use paper, I use cardboard, whatever we have in our environment.”

Martínez-Arocho said Latino is a general term, so the festival is a great way for visitors of all backgrounds to learn more about various Latino and Hispanic cultures. And since Park City has a robust Latino community, the festival is an opportunity to learn about each other.