Middle school folklórico troupe brings traditional folk dance to generations of students

Burbank Middle School is nearly a century old, but has never been the kind of institution to stay stuck in the past. Expanding alongside the growing city of Houston, Burbank evolved from a small school in an undeveloped, rural farming area into an inner-city school with a growing student body to match. With all that growth and change, current students at Burbank Middle School probably wouldn’t expect that they’d have much in common with previous generations of Burbank scholars. They certainly wouldn’t guess that they participate in the very same after school dance troupe, under the tutelage of the very same teacher, as Burbank students did nearly 40 years ago.

Dr. Linda Velasquez, Dual Language teacher and ESL Coordinator at Burbank Middle School, is a Houston native in her 47th year teaching with HISD. When she started at Burbank Middle School, she noticed that there weren’t many extracurricular activities for students outside of athletics, and that her students lacked a safe space to spend their afternoons. To fill this need, Velasquez founded Las Aguilas de Oro, a dance troupe that specializes in baile folklórico, traditional folk dances with ballet characteristics from Mexico and Central America.

Velasquez had always been a fan of dance, and discovered traditional baile folklórico while searching for dances for her newfound club to perform for Cinco de Mayo. She began with old classics: La Raspa, Las Chiapanecas, the Mexican Hat Dance, and even La Bamba, a folk song re-popularized in the 80s by a movie of the same name.

From these humble beginnings, much like Burbank itself, Las Aguilas de Oro has seen continuous growth, and now numbers 50-60 dancers, with some students branching out to sing and play music in support of the troupe. Velasquez familiarizes her dancers with 21 different dances with the help of two assistant teachers, both of whom are Burbank and Las Aguilas de Oro alums, themselves.

“I have ninth graders, tenth graders, eleventh graders, who come back and help teach the dances, too,” said Velasquez. “It’s because they make such good connections. They make good friends, they feel safe, and they feel like they can express themselves without feeling embarrassed.”

The club meets twice a week, though nearer to performances, many dancers practice more afternoons than they don’t. In addition to the main troupe, an exhibition team performs at community events, quinceañeras and events for other schools to raise money for their costumes and dance shoes. A club as large as Las Aguilas de Oro is expensive to run, and relies entirely on fundraising through Burbank’s devoted PTO and generous donations from the community.

October is Hispanic Heritage Month, and while folklórico is a tradition of Mexico and Central America and not representative of all Hispanic heritage, Velasquez is confident that participating in Las Aguilas de Oro fills all of her students with pride.

“It’s a connection from the heart, to tell you the truth,” Velasquez said. “They feel something about it, even those who are not from Mexico, who are Hispanic, but might be from El Salvador, or Honduras, or Puerto Rico or Nicaragua. It’s the music and the idea of that particular kind of culture that they really connect to, and you can see how proud they are to be part of it.”

To donate to Las Aguilas de Oro for their upcoming performances, contact the Burbank Middle School PTO at (713) 696-2720. For updates on Las Aguilas de Oro, visit their Facebook page.