Dancing in Mexico – California Ballet Soloist Oscar Burciaga

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California Ballet Company dancers are several weeks into rehearsals for the first production of the company’s 47th season, Giselle. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone in San Diego was enjoying a sunny summer that can only be found on the California coast.  Summers provide a break between seasons here at California Ballet. We took a moment to catch up with California Ballet Company Soloist, Oscar Burciaga, to find out how he spends his summer down time.


Summertime means different things to professional ballet dancers. For some it is a time for much needed “R&R” and a break and from a grueling schedule of rehearsals, 6 day-a-week company class and cross-training injury prevention. However for other dancers it is a time where the crack of the whip goes unchecked and, for the extreme some, is increased to sadistic like frequency! For those overachievers it is a time to hone their craft and to get ahead in the all too brief career of a dancer.


Soloist Oscar Burciaga, knows all too well what comes with intensive summer dance studies, but this time in a teaching capacity. Since 2008 Mr. Burciaga has been shuffling to Mexico every summer to hammer out a two week ballet class at the Universidad de Colima to students whose main path isn’t exactly the yellow brick road to prima ballerina. 

 

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“Ballet Folklorico is the traditions and customs of Mexico through dance. I teach ballet down there where ballet isn’t the main focus. There really isn’t a professional ballet company or ballet school down there.” Mr. Burciaga is part of a wide range of dance professionals who journey yearly down to Mexico to lend dance expertise in their specific field to students whose main form of dance expression, Ballet Folklorico, is a demonstration of national and cultural identity. 

 

Mr. Burciaga muses on his own past with eyes that sparkle wildly, brimming with intensity. It is with this intensity that Mr. Burciaga, at the age of 18, forwent an education at the University of Texas, El Paso in favor of following his passion for Ballet Folklorico. This life-choice brought him to the megalopolis of Mexico City. After a series of dead ends in his new city he found himself placing a call to one of the Ballet Folklorico teachers he had met in his formative training. The teacher asked him to come dance at the University of Colima . It was the there where he started his relationship with the university ultimately completing a BFA in Mexican Folklore and Modern Dance.

 

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When asked about his teaching methods in the summer workshop he sits forward intently and a smile flashes across his face.

“Ballet isn’t like anything else in the classes. Classes are fast. I can’t take too much time in explanations and demonstrations because I lose the kids’ attention. My approach is disciplinarian. I don’t give the same exercises every day. But I want them to leave with a sense of “I did it!” Mr. Burciaga also has a keen sense of humor which he emphasizes while teaching, “ I love to give them stuff to see their reactions, like quick dégagés in first position. They’re having so much fun! They’re just so into it. I’m so into it, it’s funny. Their evolution is my own evolution and I look forward to going back there every year.” 

 

Students range far and wide in this summer workshop: over 300 plus disciples of dance, preschool to adolescent, professionals and masters. Faculty members are as just as diverse, some of Mr. Burciaga’s colleagues hailing from such prestigious stateside institutions as Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. The summer workshop allows students exposure to numerous dance forms such as modern dance, hip hop, musical theatre etc. all culminating in a final complete workshop production that showcases the progress of two weeks of their hard and sometimes very difficult work.

 

“It is challenging teaching ballet to students whose foundation is not ballet. But it’s what keeps me coming back. What I have in Colima is so different to what I have here at California Ballet. Students in Colima are not used to ballet. From discipline, to what to wear, from class, to how to listen to music and how to capture an exercise on the fly . . . ballet is meticulous.”  Mr. Burciaga frequently comes across 16 and 17 year old girls whose dreams are to become professional ballerinas, despite their lack of formal training and physical development from years of training in adolescence.

 

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Universidad de Colima, Summer 2014

The Colima event has garnered more and more interest, which has led to this past year being an inaugural year for community sponsorships. More and more Ballet Folklorico students from the United States are flocking to Colima as its reputation as a bastion for Mexican traditions through art continues to steadily grow. 


When not in Mexico teaching, or working for California Ballet Company as a Soloist dancer and Production Manager, Mr. Burciaga finds time to spend with his wife and family, and enjoy some relaxation with football or fishing. He ruminates methodically and honestly on the future of his dance dichotomy: 


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“I get calls from Mexico to come teach ballet and I also get calls in the US to teach Ballet Folklorico. I feel like I’m always getting caught in the middle. But it is the fact that I don’t have much time left to be able to dance at a certain level that keeps me going. All I’ve ever wanted to do is dance. To know that you’re not going to be able to do it, as you feel of you once did, is scary. I can still do what I can still do. Time is eventually gonna run out, but you can’t stop. There’s so much to still learn, evolve and grow. I don’t know where it’ll end up. Five years ago I didn’t really think about it. We’ll see where it goes.”


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