Nicole Alvarez

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ADA GARCIA MONTES: BRINGING BACK THE TRADITION THROUGH BEATING DRUMS –

Ada García Montes dons a candy-apple red skirt in her living room-turned studio dance floor and swirls the cloth around her waist to the beat of bongos, guiros and cuatros, chanting “eh!” Her students follow suit, girls in long flowing cotton skirts over their gym clothes and sneakers and boys in shorts and breezy shirts. They twirl, percussive rhythms driving precise footwork, their images doubled by a wall of mirrors. The youths stare at their teacher’s reflection intensely, keeping their eyes on her fast moving feet.

The dancers enjoy an audience, pride reflected in animated, wide-open smiles. It’s clearly an honor to be dancing the Puerto Rican bomba, plena, danza, seis and mazurka. In this, García Montes feels she has accomplished her mission. “I try to make them feel proud when they wear their plena dresses and flowers,” she says. “I think I can successfully make them feel part of their culture. Now it [folkloric dance] is not just something ancient that’s unfashionable. They see it as part of themselves.”

For fifteen years, García Montes has been teaching dance at her home studio, diligently training the folkloric ballet dance troupe Bellos Atardeceres of Rincón for international competitions as well as local events. “When I started this my mother thought it was just a phase kids get, ‘it will pass’ she thought. But it didn’t,” she chuckles. The numerous trophies and newspaper clippings framed over the walls of her home show the hard work and endless hours dedicated to the dance troupe. They also demonstrate that folkloric music is very much appreciated and respected both in and out of Puerto Rico. “People see you dance and they smile and liberate their tensions for a moment, and here well, we go back to my main principle, offering to society what you can.”

García Montes does admit that her passion for dance and dedication to preserving Puerto Rican identity amongst the younger generation has lead her to a life of sacrifices where all those around her have had to adapt to the hectic lifestyle of music and arts. She laughs recounting how her mother was forced to learn how to play the guiro. García Montes also found herself learning new skills, and she ended up becoming a costume designer for the group. She has a rough sketch of her latest creation, a mid calf, black and white flower printed dress with a boat neck accentuated with a red flower. Once her class begins, she displays the prototype to her students who gasp excitedly at the sight.

Garcia's dance Troupe rehearsing for the International France's Festival of Martigues

Even as a child, García Montes knew teaching dance would be her future. She spent her earliest years focused on extracurricular activities, participating in over 50 talent shows. She joined the Centro de Adiestramineto y Bellas Artes (CABA) as a teenager, which allowed her to represent Puerto Rico internationally. Decided that this was her fate, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in dance education and theater. In Jorge Seda Crespo Middle School, in the very room where she took her first dance lesson, she would teach the very same lessons to a new generation of Rincoeños. “I felt the calling to teach since I was young.” she says. “My mother taught me that in life it is better to give than to receive, and I believe that is the essence of a teacher.”

Her middle school students enjoy the opportunity to do something different and view their classes with García Montes as therapeutic. Through dance and acting lesson where she emphasizes discipline, balance and an appreciation for the work and art of others, the students are free to express themselves in original plays, monologues and pantomimes as well as through folkloric dance. She finds it easy to spot how the experiences transform her students. She constantly witnesses evidence of growing self-esteem and self-respect among her students, which translates to better peer relationships.

Working alongside the City of Rincón Sports and Recreation Department, García Montes expanded her vision by offering dance lessons to youths in the Santa Rosa residential neighborhood through a program known as Zone Press, or as she and her students call it “Zona Cultural.” It’s a program aimed to promote healthy living through the positive messages she finds in traditional music. “What we want to communicate through typical music is values; to rescue unity, rescue humility in the kids. The lyrics in the music are about positive things, they refer to family unity, peace – and basically that is what we hope they will learn.”

Her dance troupe, Bellos Atardeceres, began with a goal much like Zone Press, as an alternative for the development of cultural values. What started as a recreational activity became a serious and highly respected project, which has earned both local and international praise. In their dances, the pride and valor of patriotism shines, and García Montes is eager to show the world the discipline, responsibility, humility and hard working nature that defines Puerto Ricans.

Outside Puerto Rico, Bellos Atardeceres is one of the most popular and warmly greeted performances says García Montes. She attributes this to the fact that typical Puerto Rican music like bomba and plena benefit from the pulsing drumbeats that characterize African music, which instantly livens an audience. She also notes that each of her dancers is selected not so much for talent, but attitude. She believes a dancer’s personality and character is reflected in his/her dancing, and the audience can sense the good nature and Puerto Rican qualities radiating from a dancer’s movements.

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Their success has earned the dance troupe a high enough reputation that they are frequently invited to festivals worldwide. Bellos Atardeceres of Rincon has participated in dance festivals and competitions in twenty-two countries worldwide. Varied locations have included an exhausting three-week, fourteen date festival tour in Italy and Hungary in 2006 to compete in the World Folkloriada, known as the Olympic games of folkloric dance. Only nineteen of the best dance troupes in the world are chosen to compete.

García Montes beams as she displays two trophies of particular importance, both first place awards in the 2001 and 2007 World Folkdance Festival in Palma de Mallorca in Spain.  It’s a competition where troupes from different countries compete against each other through eight-minute performances. It was García Montes’s bomba and plena choreography where dancers switched between the two styles as well as changed costumes in the middle of the act, which took both prizes.

Goals for the coming year include preparation for the International Festival of Martigues 2010 in France. The festival is one of the most important and prestigious in all of Europe. Only eleven dance troupes are chosen worldwide, García Montes mentions. “We are going to display our whole show,” she says, “our whole repertoire. I think bomba and plena will be the most popular though.” After France, the troupe plans to travel to Portugal and China.

Though her life is frenzied, Garica Montes does not regret the path she has chosen for a second. “I believe that dancing is a moment in life where one can express what one feels. It’s the way I express my life. Everyone decides how they will express themselves onto life, what their positions regarding social situations will be and what their contribution will be. This has been my contribution, manifesting myself through art and representing my country. Using dance to represent my country has been my mission,” she says.

 

Originally published in El Coquí of Rincón Magazine, Rincón, PR – January 2010

Reprinted with permission of the author

Photographs  – Sonja S. Mongar 

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