Adrian Olivas is a small, soft-spoken man who makes his living as a horticulturalist, nurturing plant life of all kinds.
But three evenings a week, Olivas swaps his garden tools for a pair of dancing shoes. That's how he nurtures his soul.
Adrian Olivas directs Bailadores de Bronce, a Mexican folklorico troupe. Folklorico refers to the wide range of folk dance, music and cultural traditions in Mexico.
“I’m from Durango, considered to be northern Mexico,” says Olivas. “We mostly dance polkas, with accordion music. We go to Leavenworth and we almost feel we can dance there.”
Bailadores de Bronce members have roots in all areas of Mexico, and they come from all walks of life. “Doctors, chemists, students, you name it,” Olivas laughs. Their common denominator is a pride in their Mexican heritage and a desire to share that heritage with audiences around the region.
Bronce, as members call it, began at the University of Washington in 1972.
“It started right after the Civil Rights movement,” Olivas says. “There were a few students who decided there was no representation of Chicanos (at UW), very few Mexicans. So they started it, trying to promote their culture and to establish their identity.”
The original dance troupe consisted of 10 UW students. But Bailadores de Bronce quickly grew. Now it has three times as many dancers, and it's morphed from a campus organization to a community-wide, all-volunteer group.
Seattle family physician Julien Perez co-directed Bronce from 2010 to 2012. Perez has been dancing folklorico for more than two decades. He says Bronce has helped to ground him in his identity as a Mexican-American.
“In this group, we celebrate the Mexican culture. The music, the dance, the wardrobe,” Perez says. “We are all here celebrating being Mexican as we understand it, and showing the community that.”
Perez, Olivas and many other Bronce members have a long association with Bronce, but you don't need any experience to join the troupe. You don't even need familiarity with Mexican culture.
Seventeen-year-old high school student Anthony Hernandez has spent most of his short life fairly removed from his heritage. Nobody in his family speaks Spanish, and until recently, Hernandez was involved in typical American teenage activities. Then a friend brought him to his first Bronce rehearsal.
“It was something completely different,” Hernandez says. “I kept coming back.”
As King County’s Latino population has grown (nearly doubling between 2000 and 2014), Bailadores de Bronce’s core mission has shifted from public education and outreach for non-Latinos, to serving as a cultural touchstone for the Seattle area's Latino immigrants.
Director Adrian Olivas says that shift is reflected in Bronce’s audience demographics.
“The audience used to be mostly Anglos, people from Seattle, and we were at festivals like Folklife,” Olivas says. “But now it’s changed, we’re at a lot of Mexican festivities, Hispanic festivals.”
Olivas says folklorico performances are a way for new immigrants to connect to the country they left behind. Dancer and former director Julien Perez agrees. But he says Bailadores de Bronce will never abandon its original mission, to bring the rich diversity of Mexican culture to Pacific Northwest audiences.
“Art is very powerful,” Perez says. “Anyone who comes to our shows leaves blown away. And if we can reach more people, we can bring this message through art to so many more homes.”
Bailadores de Bronce celebrates its 45th anniversary Saturday, June 24 at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus.