With only a few days to go before this weekend’s show, the Loco Bloco dancers were hard at work on Wednesday night rehearsing moves and trying on outfits. This Friday and throughout the weekend, they’ll be on stage for their annual International Women’s Day Celebration at the Women’s Building.
The performance—it’ll include dance, music, spoken word, and a visual arts gallery—is a collaboration with Mission Girls, Amnesty International, the Women’s Building and Loco Bloco.

A few days before opening night, the hosts practiced their routine dressed in black suits with bowties and hats.

Standing in the spotlight, Vanessa Lima, a small-framed 20-year-old who will host with Kaelani Faituala, 4 years old, warmed up her voice.

“Welcome, “ she said. Then “welcome” making her voice go deeper. And “welcome” deeper yet.

After a few minutes of pacing the floor repeating lines, Lima’s voice was clear and powerful. “Welcome to the land of make belief, where we are what we believe,” she boomed.

A nonprofit performance arts organization created in 1994, Loco Bloco offers 18 classes every week to children and teenagers. Each year, the performance group takes part in celebrations including Carnaval which happens this year on May 24.

At the head of the organization is Aleks Zavaleta, who grew up around the corner from the Women’s Building.

“I got involved [with Loco Bloco] when I was 16,” she said. “I was not in a good place. I thought either I’m going to make it by doing something positive or end up pregnant, dead or in jail.”

In class, she watched the teenage dancers and cheered them on. “It reminds me of when I was on stage,” she said smiling.

Loco Bloco, she explained, pinpoints what children are good at and encourages them. Once she was part of the organization, she said, there was no time to do anything else other than school, homework and practice. That’s exactly what she needed.

Playing the drums in dance class that evening was Alfie Macias, co-musical director. He encouraged the children to keep trying. “If we don’t get it Friday, we’ll get it Saturday,” he said laughing.

“Tracata-tata-tata,” Artistic Director Heather Watkins said, walking in rhythm and showing the group how to make the moves look better. “Put some juice in it.”

Ben Dickstein, a junior at Sacred Heart, was the tallest in class. As he walked into the auditorium, he proudly showed Zavaleta his new football ring he got from winning a school championship.

“Loco Bloco is like my second family,” he said.

After class, children ran to the table where Zavaleta put out burritos and chips. It was time to do homework and let others rehearse. Evan Reepen, 11, Martin Herrera, 13, and Sachiel Rosen, 12, sat in a corner and opened their geometry books.

“You can’t simplify this problem,” Rosen said.

Watkins ran up and down the stairs to try lights and give outfits to the girls.

Mayela Carrasco, 13, choreographed three dances that will be included in this weekend’s show. The daughter of the founders of Loco Bloco, she feels like she was practically born into this organization.

“People in the Mission, it’s not like we don’t do anything,” she said. “We’re not all gang members, smokers and drunks.”

“I want to inspire kids in the Mission to do beautiful things and not just sit around,” she said.

When asked if she was nervous, Carrasco said smiling, “No, I’m kind of used to the show biz. It’s more like I don’t want to trip. I want to be graceful.”

14th Annual International Women’s Day Celebration
Fri., March 6, 8pm; Sat., March 7, 8pm; and Sun., March 8, 2pm. $5-$10. Women’s Building, 3543 18th St. 415.864.5626. www.locobloco.org

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor at Berkeley’s J-school since 1990. My earlier career was at The New York Times working for the business, foreign and city desks. As an old...

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