How many Kennett locals have noticed brightly costumed dancers at recent parades and events? The group I am referring to is the Tenochtli or Danza Tenochtli dance troupe from Casa Guanajuato, Kennett Square.
They have been rejuvenated since their beginnings in 1993 with Sister Jane Houtman who has made it her personal mission to bring an expression of Mexican culture to South Chester County. She single-handedly taught the traditional Mexican dance that is commonly taught in Mexican elementary schools and purchased the authentic costumes to bring full expression to the performance. For many years they performed at various community events.
Performances have had their glory days and tougher days. Seasoned dancers would leave for college and the group size would shrink. At one point, former dancers, college graduates and professionals in the community, led the dance group. It took so much to keep it going.
In August 2021, Mayra Castillo, Vice President of Casa Guanajuato, helped bring the dance troupe under the umbrella of Casa Guanajuato, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and preserve culture and customs. Mexican culture and to foster personal and community development. These were COVID precautionary days, so dancers wore masks and began practicing at St. Rocco’s Parish Life Center in Avondale.
After consulting with Sister Jane Houtman, Mayra Castillo took it upon herself to teach the dancers and manage the troupe. It started with eight dancers and is now at twenty. The elegant dance costumes are kept in Saint Rocco. They were previously purchased by Sister Jane of Toluca; Jalisco; and Nuevo Leon, Mexico and are representative of all of Mexico.
Lucy Benites is one of the original dancers, who is making a comeback. I recently interviewed her and she shares her story. “I had had a severe concussion in early 2021 and was just going back to work part-time. This whole situation caused depression. When I heard about the dance troupe revival, I knew it would bring new energy to my recovery. It has been wonderful therapy for me. I came to this country from Toluca, Mexico when I was eleven, so I had learned some of these dances in school. Participating in these dances is a feeling of ‘home’ that I cannot describe and I truly enjoy sharing my heritage with the wider community.
Lucy, a college graduate, now has a full-time job in finance, is also a mother of two, and is pursuing a career in broadcasting. Because of her love of cultural dance, she says, “I find time for what’s most important in my life and the Mexican dance group is a top priority. »
Young people are also invited to get involved in the cultural dance. Lucy goes on to talk about her 10-year-old daughter who comes with her to performances and now hopes to become a dancer. She points out that the young people who are part of the group generally act shy at first and after encouragement from adult dancers to “have fun” and recognize that they are not professional dancers, they become confident and develop self-esteem. of self that they carry back into their lives.
There are six youngsters involved, who race from eight to ten years old. Mayra Castillo’s 13-year-old son also participates. Lucy adds: “It’s exciting to have the participation and interest of young people, because it’s the promise that dance performances will continue in the future.
When starting the group, Lucy talked about how easy it was to use Facebook, (Que Pasa?) and social media to invite members and showcase some of their performances. It’s a different world today. She is amazed at how quickly the message spread and invites the community to check out the Casa Guanajuato Facebook page to see photos of some of the performances at: https://www.facebook.com/CasaGuanajuatoKS/
Tenochtli Dance Group has back-to-back engagements in August on weekends. They will be in Phoenixville at the end of July; Brandywine River Museum on August 7; St. Rocco’s on August 14 and Manatial Ice Cream on Rt 41 on August 20, to celebrate their first anniversary.
Looking to the future, Lucy said the troupe’s vision is that it will inspire other cultures to celebrate their ethnic dances and showcase them in the community.
Lucy adds that members of the Tenochtli dance troupe don’t have to be of Mexican descent. Anyone can show up on a Monday or Thursday night at St. Rocco’s Parish Life Center at 7 p.m. to participate in learning the dances and be part of the performances. The important elements are to have fun, to come from the heart with a passion to share with the wider community.
“The Kennett Story – Shaping the Future One Child at a Time” Joan Holliday and Bob George’s book on Kennett can be purchased on Amazon and at the Mushroom Cap or Resale Book Shoppe in Kennett. You can contact Joan Holliday at: [email protected]