The following section summarizes interviews with Hispanic folk artists who live throughout East Tennessee. They come from various Latin American countries, and their arts include traditional foodways, folk music and dance, painting, handmade crafts such as piñata-making and Mexican cartonería, and verbal arts such story-telling and oral recitation. They are loosely arranged by topic, as many represent various folk arts.
Ramón Armenta and his wife Socorro Jerónimo have lived in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for about 12 years. Their dancing troupe started when the Armenta daughters were in school. Socorro organized a group to participate at an International Fair at Pigeon Forge High School. That is how Santa Cruz Group was born, about eight years ago. And it still goes strong. "It is a good way to keep the kids from maybe being out there misbehaving,” said Ramón.
Socorro explains that she has loved dancing since she was a child in her native Michoacán. She was the only one of eight sisters who learned folk dancing. “I have danced since I started Catholic school at age five. Every festival, for Mother’s Day, end-of-school celebration... I participated in a minimum of three dances.” She learned the basics from the nuns, "they also have art," she said. Bailables (Jalisco's folk dances) are common in Mexico.16 Socorro and her daughter choreograph regional folk dances from Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Chihuahua.
Her husband Ramón once preferred playing sports. But once in the United States, Socorro started teaching his girls and he learned a few dances too. They got many requests to show others their traditional dances. The troupe grew to add friends to family and now it includes 10 children and 4 adults. They have danced in Knoxville, at Alianza del Pueblo’s Cinco de Mayo festival, in Gatlinburg’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, several times for the Catholic Dioceses, such as for the Mexican bicentennial. “The farthest we have traveled is Kingsport,” said Socorro. Ramón pointed out that three of his newest students joined the troupe after watching their performance at last year's HoLa Festival.
Ramón and Socorro are determined to continue working with young people, trying to rescue them from watching so much TV, soap operas, or playing videogames. They meet at a recreational center and practice about twice a week, especially when performances are close in time. Sometimes it is difficult for them to perform due to conflicts with work. The younger girls’ parents sometimes are not available to drive them to practice or to festivals, because they have to work. “Some girls really want to dance but their parents do not have the availability. Others are very committed and they drive to Knoxville, if we have to. Or they drive to Kingsport,” Socorro explained.
The costumes are beautiful. Some are sewn by Socorro. Materials like the preferred kinds of ribbon and lace can't be found here,17 so they ask friends and relatives to bring them from Mexico. The young dancers took turns introducing themselves. Alan Armenta has danced for 8 years. Rosa first learned 6 years ago, at the Pigeon Forge School. María, Jessica and Marisol are also members of the Santa Cruz Troupe.
Socorro explained teaching is very fulfilling to her. Her daughters, the reason they started the dancing troupe, are now married and expecting. Now that they are older, they really value their tradition, and they have plans to continue dancing and teaching their own children too.
The three younger girls are dressed in an embroidered shirt and a long skirt. Rosa and Socorro don colorful dresses with ribbons and lace. Alan wears the typical charro sombrero and decorated pants. They get in position and the music starts playing. They quickly tap to the lively music. Girls skillfully wave their skirts, their colorful ribbons tracing figures and shapes, to the uplifting beat of a Mexican song.
Watch Video 58: Mexican folk dances by Santa Cruz Troupe, in Pigeon Forge, 2012. Video by RC, edited by Edy Recendez.
Photo 55: Mexican folk dance Santa Cruz Troupe, in Pigeon Forge, 2012. Photo by Rafael Casco.
Photo 56: Rosa and Alan (left) and Socorro and Ramón (right) perform at Cinco de Mayo Festival, 2012. Photo by Rafael Casco.
Photo 57: Socorro watches over while young dancers perform at Cinco de Mayo Festival. Photo by Rafael Casco.