Local Hero

Local Hero

Keeping them dancing — Nino Carillo of Oxnard

By Karen Castillo Farfán 08/16/2012

The stomping of 24 dancing shoes on concrete floor invites curious neighbors to the front driveway of an Oxnard home. There, they find girls in colorful dresses and boys wearing straw hats dancing to upbeat, Mexican folkloric music.

The driveway is about 20 by 40 feet, hardly enough room to fit 12 dancing children. But this doesn’t stop them or their instructor, Nino Carrillo, from wanting to dance. 

Carrillo is internationally recognized as a master in Mexican folkloric dance and is known for his authentic designs of Mexican folkloric costumes. Forty years ago, he founded Ballet Foklórico Alma de México of Oxnard. But his greatest joy comes from volunteering his time and skills to the children of Oxnard.

Sometimes he utilizes the auditorium at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Oxnard. But when the school isn’t available, he uses his front driveway as a dance studio.

This is a nightly family tradition that begins at 6 p.m. and ends at 8 pm.  For Carrillo’s students, this is an opportunity to get out of the house, see their friends, get some exercise and spend time with their parents.

Carrillo always welcomes the parents to participate with their children. As a result, Monday through Friday, fathers and mothers bring their dancing shoes to class in addition to their sons and daughters.

Jeremia Guzman of the Consulate of Mexico in Oxnard says there is more being learned than cultural history and the disciplines of dance; it also helps kids stay out of gangs, it brings families together and teaches the children where they come from, which enables them to understand where they are going. Guzman, who is also a student with Carrillo’s dance group says, “I invite everyone to participate if not in this group, in any other group.”

Carrillo says he understands the positive impact he is making in their lives.  Many of the children come from low-income families, and if they were not dancing with him, they would be at home playing video games or taking to the streets and exposing themselves to negative influences.

Most of the children are younger than 14 years of age and live in high-risk neighborhoods, but with Carrillo’s dance group, they get to perform live in festivals. They have done guest appearances on TV commercials and televised programs, giving them exposure they never thought possible.

“I feel very proud to be doing what I’m doing,” said Carrillo. “Not only am I teaching our Mexican people of our traditions, it is open to everyone.” He welcomes anybody, Mexican or not, to come and dance. He says some of his best dancers aren’t even Mexicans.

In addition to being a dance instructor, he also makes all the costumes for the children and their parents. “I take the authentic design of the costumes and recreate them,” says Carrillo of his creations. “Every ribbon, embroidery, shawl or poncho represents a piece of Mexican history and as a Mexican ballet folkloric instructor, I must respect that history.”

The more authentic the costumes, the more they cost and since Carrillo wants only original designs, making them himself is the best way to save money. The group spends about $10,000 a year to create new costumes. The money comes from and fundraising events, donations and what the parents can afford to give.

Carrillo explains that each state of Mexico has a different costume with its own history or meaning. “In the state of Merida, the women wear white long dresses because it keeps them cool from the tropical weather.  But during the Mexican Revolution in the mid 1840s, women wore long dresses with ruffles, ankle-length boots and artillery belts. The costumes of this period must represent a time when women joined their husbands in battle,” says Carrillo.

On his driveway, Carrillo stands in front of his dancing pupils watching their every move like a hawk. When he notices 6-year-old Jesse turn right instead of left, he stops the music and says, “It’s left one, two, three not….”

Jesse begins to cry and Carrillo approaches him, “Why are you crying?”

“Because I thought it was the other way,” Jesse says.

Carrillo places a comforting arm around the boy and tells him that it’s OK if he makes a mistake, that’s why they practice.

“He’s like my uncle,” Jesse says about Carrillo after dance class. “He cares about me and teaches me all he knows.”

Local Hero is an ongoing project, featuring local residents who have made exceptional contributions for their communities. If you know of someone you feel should be featured as a Local Hero, e-mail at editorial@vcreporter.com.

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