Anna Cruz has dedicated her life to the Vancouver Ballet Folklorico for more than 10 years and won the 2021 Lifetime Giving Award from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. But her journey wasn’t an easy one.
Cruz was born in California. When she was just 2 years old she and her family moved to Guerrero, Mexico, for a work opportunity. There her father worked as a university professor. She lived in Mexico until her 20s and studied dance and choreography at the University of Guadalajara for a year and a half. When her parents filed for divorce, it affected Cruz’s ability to complete her studies, as the university was expensive. After talking to her family, she made the difficult decision to move back to the U.S. in hopes of saving enough money to finish her studies in Mexico.
“It’s not easy, moving to the U.S. with little money, no work experience, no car, no family, and knowing little English,” said Cruz.
Cruz stayed in the U.S. for longer than she had wanted. She noted that at first, it wasn’t easy fitting into American culture, but slowly she started adjusting to her life in the U.S. Her English got better, she started studying at Clark College, made friends, and married. Circumstances in Mexico prevented her from moving back, so she decided to stay in the U.S. permanently.
Still, she missed dancing, her hometown and the culture she grew up in. “Someone once told me when something is missing, think of what you can bring to the table, so then the idea came to form a small dance group,” said Cruz.
Cruz said she had always known her passion was to dance ballet folklorico as they do in Mexico. That idea gave birth to what’s now Vancouver Ballet Folklorico.
Vancouver Ballet Folklorico has been in place for 10 years. It started with a small group of her friends, family and students from Fort Vancouver High School. Cruz took charge of coordinating the dates, locations, and music while one student taught the dances.
The group grew from just a couple of people to now more than 20 participants. They created a vision statement, and registered as a nonprofit organization. Over the years participants have grown up and left the troupe but Cruz says there are always others who are eager to learn about Mexican culture and ballet folklorico.
The dancers range from 6 to 15 years old with help from more experienced dancers like Cruz, her sister and other companions.
The ballet group performs at various community events, including some occurring in the next couple of weeks, such as the Woodburn (Ore.) Mexican Fiesta, the Ridgefield Multicultural Event, League of United Latin American Citizens anniversary celebration, and an annual celebration of Dia De Los Muertas (Day of the Dead) in November. They also perform at weddings and quinceaneras. Public events are on the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/vancouverballetfolkorico.cruz.
In addition to performances, Cruz also organizes cultural events for the community. One, called “Space for Art,” was started to bring together the community and create spaces for children to explore with art. The event is in collaboration with Fourth Plain Forward and Artstra. The event is held every first and third Saturday at Vancouver’s Evergreen Park.
“I feel blessed and supported by parents of children in my group and art and social organizations that see the value of preserving the roots and traditions of Mexico. It provides an opportunity to enrich not just our community but our lives,” said Cruz.