With chairs and tables stacked and out of the way, the children sat cross-legged in the back of the cafeteria at Buena Vista Alternative Elementary School on Monday and looked toward the front.

A class of second graders filed in, took their places, and waited–fidgeting just a little–for the Mexican folkloric music to begin.

Then, as Jesus Cortes, founder of the Cuicacalli dance school and company, stood stage right giving directions entirely in Spanish, the children whirled back and forth on queue. If some slipped up, it was fine with Cortes—the morning-long succession of classes that made their way to the front were rehearsing for Buena Vista’s Thursday Winter Show—the second one to feature Mexican Folkloric dance.

“Everybody had jazz, hip-hop and ballet. I felt folklorico was missing,” said Cortes who has taught at the school for a year and a half. “I said hey that’s my background and I wanted to bring it to the community for people who want their kids to learn another culture, and for people who want their kids to keep their culture in their blood.”

Jesus Cortes teaches Mission District students the art of dance.

Second-grade teacher Cynthia Vasquez said, “What Jesus does is such a gift. Not many people would be willing to take on what he does here. It’s not easy.”

When the chatter from the audience became too loud on Monday Cortes would stop and clap his hands in a rhythmic code the children understood – two slow, three fast. The children clapped the same rhythm in return and eventually settled down. Monday’s rehearsal was the last one before the performance.

“When Jesus is teaching the kids are paying attention and doing what they are supposed to be doing,” said Judy Diaz, the school secretary and a parent of Buena Vista boys in kindergarten and 4th grade. “His wife Ariane Cortes is the music teacher for the school district. On Friday they were teaching the kids ballet and she was playing the piano.”

Earlier that morning, before the first bell rang, several parents hung out by the front doors enjoying coffee and pan dulce at an informal gathering sponsored by the PTA every third Monday of the month. Buena Vista, they said, has made art and community building a priority, parents said

“It’s an art rich school,” said Betsey Barron whose son is a second grader. “The arts program is culturally rich. The kids are really open minded. My son has a perspective that kids are different. In his classroom they have a Christmas tree with a Menorah on top.”

The government does not fund art so parents of the school’s 461 students stepped in and raised money for the program.

Cortes, who was born in Veracruz Mexico and began training in folkloric dance as a child, has taught Mexican folkloric, hip-hop and modern dance at Buena Vista Bryant and Cesar Chavez elementary schools. He also offers Saturday morning dance classes for youth at Brava Theater on 24th Street.

Most of his weekend students come from his public school dancers and they will be performing December 21st at 2 p.m. at the Brava Theater, he said. Cortes and other professionals will also perform.

But on Monday, the Buena Vista students had Cortes’s full attention. After rehearsal, he said he was looking forward to the show. “Everybody loves it,” he said. “As soon as they see the colorful costumes, big hats, big skirts and joyful music they say wow.”

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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