Will we ever dance again?
WHEATLAND – Before the world turned upside down with quarantines and social distancing, a group of teenagers were meeting at Lewis Park after school. Not for nefarious purposes – but to dance. They were all friends of Esperanza Garcia, a Wheatland girl about to celebrate her quinceañera. They were meeting to learn the dances that will be performed at her celebration.
A quinceañera is held when a Latino girl turns 15. The tradition is thought to have started with the Aztecs and then merged with the Spanish culture. Celebrations are held in Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean and Latino communities in the U.S. It used to be a symbol of a girl being old enough for marriage and suitors would be invited and introduced, now it’s more a time to start dating. It is a rite of passage for young Latino girls, one they plan and dream about their whole childhood.
“Americans have sweet sixteen, this is the Mexican tradition. You’re becoming a woman,” explained participant Lorenzo Rojo. “You invite your friends and family to be part of your moment, your life.”
Boys can have them too nowadays, but Rojo is planning Mexican Rodeo rather than a fancy party when it is his turn next year.
The day will start at a Mass held at St. Patrick’s in Wheatland. Then the group moves to a different location for the reception. Garcia will wear a gown of her choosing, and she also picks the dresses that her attendants will wear. The celebration begins with the Vals. The dance they were practicing in the park. Family and friends of the honoree are asked to participate and are paired up, usually by height. The girls line up on one side, and the boys on the other. One couple is featured at a time doing a special duet with the last couple being Garcia and her “Dancer of Honor,” a relative or close family friend. Garcia has asked her older brother Antonio to be her partner. The dance is very formal and to offset that, Garcia then gets to do a “Surprise Dance” with her friends. Something more relaxed and fun, whatever she wishes from music to dance moves.
The reception will have everything a wedding reception would have – cake, refreshments, flowers and decorations. It will be as big, or as small, as the honoree’s family wishes. But there are some challenges to having a quinceañera in a small town in Wyoming.
“It’s such a small town that there aren’t that many Mexican families,” said dancer Mia Garcia. “It’s hard to find people with experience who can teach the dance.”
When they meet at the park, they bring snacks and drinks, joking and talking with one another in a seamless mix of English and Spanish. It was sometimes difficult to get everyone to listen at once and focus on learning the steps, but it was obvious that they all care for Garcia and want her day to be as special as her. Hopefully the restrictions will be lifted by the time of the party, originally planned for May.