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Colombian dance troupe one of 66 organizations  funded by Amherst Cultural Council

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  • Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones have been rehearsing in members' homes. A grant from the Amherst Cultural Council will help pay to rent rehearsal space at a local dance studio. Top row: Blanca Osorio-Castillo, left, Adriana Rich. Bottom row: Hilda Parody, left, Zulma Rivera.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS<br/><br/><br/>Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones have been rehearsing at members' homes. A recent grant from the Amherst Cultural Council will help fund the rental of rehearsal space at a local dance studio. Top row, Osorio Castillo, left, Adriana Rich. Bottom row, Hilda Parody, left, Zulma Rivera<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones have been rehearsing in members' homes. A grant from the Amherst Cultural Council will help pay to rent rehearsal space at a local dance studio. Top row: Blanca Osorio-Castillo, left, Adriana Rich. Bottom row: Hilda Parody, left, Zulma Rivera.
    JERREY ROBERTS


    Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones have been rehearsing at members' homes. A recent grant from the Amherst Cultural Council will help fund the rental of rehearsal space at a local dance studio. Top row, Osorio Castillo, left, Adriana Rich. Bottom row, Hilda Parody, left, Zulma Rivera
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Blanca Osorio-Castillo, left, and Zulma Rivera are the cofounders of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Blanca Osorio-Castillo, left, and Zulma Rivera are the cofounders of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones Thursday, Jan. 24 at the home of Blaca Osorio Castillo. From left, are Hilda Parody, Blanca Osorio Castillo, Adriana Rich and Zulma Rivera.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones Thursday, Jan. 24 at the home of Blaca Osorio Castillo. From left, are Hilda Parody, Blanca Osorio Castillo, Adriana Rich and Zulma Rivera.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, Blanca Osorio Castillo, Hilda Parody, Adriana Rich and Zulma Rivera, members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones, at a recent rehearsal <br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    From left, Blanca Osorio Castillo, Hilda Parody, Adriana Rich and Zulma Rivera, members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones, at a recent rehearsal
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones have been rehearsing in members' homes. A grant from the Amherst Cultural Council will help pay to rent rehearsal space at a local dance studio. Top row: Blanca Osorio-Castillo, left, Adriana Rich. Bottom row: Hilda Parody, left, Zulma Rivera.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS<br/><br/><br/>Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones have been rehearsing at members' homes. A recent grant from the Amherst Cultural Council will help fund the rental of rehearsal space at a local dance studio. Top row, Osorio Castillo, left, Adriana Rich. Bottom row, Hilda Parody, left, Zulma Rivera<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Blanca Osorio-Castillo, left, and Zulma Rivera are the cofounders of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones Thursday, Jan. 24 at the home of Blaca Osorio Castillo. From left, are Hilda Parody, Blanca Osorio Castillo, Adriana Rich and Zulma Rivera.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • From left, Blanca Osorio Castillo, Hilda Parody, Adriana Rich and Zulma Rivera, members of Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones, at a recent rehearsal <br/>JERREY ROBERTS

A year ago, five women from Colombia whose children attend Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst got together to form a dance troupe that performed folkloric dances from their home country.

Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones debuted at the school’s annual multicultural fair, and the show was so popular that school staffers requested additional performances.

“We were five mothers doing traditional Colombian dances and people liked the idea so much, they asked us to invite children to perform, so we included our daughters and then some other kids,” said Blanca Osorio-Castillo, one of the founders of the group and an English language learning teacher at Wildwood.

The group performed at the school’s First Day celebration in September and also danced for an event on the Amherst common and at Latino Achievement Night at Wildwood. Demand for additional performances has been high, so Osorio-Castillo and cofounder Zulma Rivera, a local Zumba teacher and Wildwood parent, applied for a grant from the Amherst Cultural Council, which distributes money from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones received a $500 grant. Osorio-Castillo said the money will be used to rent rehearsal space at the Amherst Ballet studio, and also to buy traditional folkloric costumes from Colombia.

“We are planning to involve more kids and maybe some boys, but it’s harder to get them to participate,” Osorio-Castillo said. “We have been practicing in people’s houses, but we are trying to involve more teachers and mothers and we want to have a bigger space. That is our plan for the money.”

Start-up ventures

Honore David, co-chair of the Amherst Cultural Council, said it funded 66 local organizations this year, distributing $22,050 for programs in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences.

The money comes from the state through the MCC, which, David said, has always been “very generous” to Amherst. Still, the local council can only fund about one-third of the requests it receives.

An eight-member committee reviews the grant applications before the money is awarded in January. The council funds long-established groups such as Hampshire Shakespeare Company, the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, PVPA Children’s Theater and the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus, but it is also interested in funding start-up ventures such as Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones.

“We are really interested in some of these new groups,” she said. “We know they are going to need some money and we look at them very carefully. We are very interested in groups that involve children and help build a future audience for cultural events in our community.”

David said Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones was particularly intriguing to the council.

“We were very interested in that it is a group of neighborhood moms who got together and wanted to inform the community about ethnic diversity in the neighborhood,” she said. “They’ve been teaching Latin American dances for a little over a year and wanted to include more performances and expand their membership to more women and children in the future. We thought it was pretty cool.”

David said with the changing population of the region, including a rise in Latino families in the Amherst area, it’s increasingly important to promote artistic endeavors that educate people about other cultures. David was born in Mexico, and has a master’s degree in Latin American art history and a Ph.D. in museum education, with a focus on multicultural education. She worked in museums for many years.

“To understand diversity, we need to understand a culture’s art forms,” she said. “The easiest way for someone to understand someone else’s customs is through the arts. It’s easy access and is often not political. It’s artistic and cultural and usually attracts people’s attention.”

Celebrating diversity

While Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones started out as a troupe of Colombian women, it has grown to include a woman from Puerto Rico and another from the Dominican Republic, as well as a few children from El Salvador.

Osorio-Castillo said the troupe incorporated dances from El Salvador at the recent Latino Achievement Night at the Wildwood School, which thrilled parents from that country in the audience. She hopes to expand the group to include children and adults who are not from Latin American countries.

“It’s another way to celebrate our diversity and helps children who were born here, but whose parents come from another country, to be closer to their culture and traditions,” she said. “It’s also a great way for other children to learn about the different cultures of their peers.”

Osorio-Castillo said there are about seven families from Colombia at the Wildwood School and about 15 to 20 families overall from Spanish-speaking countries. There are even more Latino families at Crocker Farm and Fort River schools, she said.

“We really hope our program will grow and more people will get involved,” Osorio-Castillo said. “It means a lot to us to be able to show people about where we come from and who we are.”

David said the state’s local cultural councils comprise the most extensive public cultural funding in the nation. The Massachusetts Cultural Council provides funding to every Massachusetts city and town through 320 local councils and 2,300 volunteers.

“A lot of these programs provide the kids in our community with an understanding of new populations that we are going to be living with,” she said. “We are very grateful to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for providing us with the funding. It’s difficult to do anything without money.”

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