Flint, MI—For over two decades, El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil, a program designed to educate youth on Mexican dance and music, has helped keep the love for Mexican heritage and folklore alive in Flint. 

Based out of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, El Ballet serves as a musical academy where students receive lessons in Mariachi-style music and Baile Folklorico, which translates to Mexican Folk Dance. Students are able to take lessons, both in group and private, for instruments like piano, trumpet, violin, and guitar as well as voice and dance. 

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic, El Ballet peaked in size, working with nearly 200 students. When the pandemic came, those numbers dropped but the organization moved forward with online classes and virtual performances. During that time, El Ballet revamped its curriculum with future growth in mind.

Mike Abbasspour, El Ballet’s youth music director explained during a presentation at the Latinx Technology and Community Center that a new system is being put in place for classes. 

“Before, we just took in as many students as we could and threw them all into an ensemble and tried to make that work. It worked to a degree but it was too nonuniform, so we devised a two-semester program to get students learning and playing at the same level so they can really shine together,” Abbasspour said. 

El Ballet Folklorico Estudiantil performs for an audience of interested parents and potential students inside the Latinx Technology and Community Center on Monday, Sept. 30. (KT Kanzawich | Flint Beat)

Each 3-month-long semester costs $60. For that price students will be able to pick between one or more disciplines for classes like Beginning Folklorico Dance, Beginning Mariachi, Advanced Mariachi as well as private lessons. Instruments are not provided but guitars can be rented from El Ballet for $10 per month. Classes begin on Monday, Sept. 20.  For more information regarding classes and registration, you can visit El Ballet’s website here. 

Though no solid plans have been announced, El Ballet is looking to expand its classes into surrounding cities.

“We’d really like to be in a new location to have more room but right now we’re making connections and trying to start programs in different areas like Lansing and Bay City. We’re trying to branch out more but in general, what we’re trying to do is create a hub for learning folkloric dance and music,” Abbasspour said. 

With its renewed focus on quality of education and growth, El Ballet has begun the process of putting together a scholarship for student performers. Gean Almendras, an instructor at El Ballet has been spearheading the project.

“This (scholarship) has been in the works for a while. We want to create a collegiate scholarship program for the students in our performing arts ensembles. Most of these performers will most likely be in high school or preparing for college so the scholarship will be geared toward assisting them financially,” Almendras said. 

Susana Quintanilla, the founder and director of El Ballet joins her performers for a rehearsal at Our Lady of Guadalupe on Wednesday, Sept. 1. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

El Ballet’s instructors will be traveling to Las Cruces, New Mexico in November to take classes with members of Mariachi Cobre, a group that has been playing at Epcot Center in Disney World for 40 years.

“We always try to look for professional development opportunities for our instructors so they can learn from the masters and keep it authentic in the classroom,” said Susana Quintanilla, the founder and director of El Ballet. 

El Ballet’s next live performance will be on Sunday, September 12 at Our Lady of Guadalupe during its Fiesta Mexicana celebration. For more details visit the event Facebook site here. 

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...

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