Although most of us like to think we know and understand our own culture, many of us don't realize the extent to which it is influenced by others. Irma Aguilar likes to bridge that gap in understanding through music and dance.

For her it's more than just learning a dance. It's learning about a culture, and where the music and dance fit into it.

Aguilar, who says she has been teaching dance for 20 years, looks like she couldn't be much older than 30. At the center she offers classes in salsa, break dancing, ballet, Polynesian, Filipino, and Ballet Folklorico. She smiles when she says that Walid Jomaa, a Lebanese man, teaches salsa lessons at eight o' clock on Tuesdays. She says he is very good.

She is proudest of a young man who began dance lessons when he was a freshman in high school, Pablo Gomez.
Gomez, 20, who will be going into the military shortly, turned professional recently when he joined the Los Angeles Group, Grandesa Mexicana. His enthusiasm for dance is evident. Even though, he is passionate about dance and its ability to bring people from different cultures to a better understanding of one another, he says at this point it is not putting food on the table. So, he sees the military as a way to serve his country and earn his way in life. That doesn't dampen his passion for dance, though.

"It's about experiencing culture and sharing with everybody else. There is nothing I don't like about it," said Gomez.

"I am very proud of my tradition. From a dancer's point of view, you feel you are representing what you are dancing," said Gomez. He has learned and performed Polynesian, Azteca, and Ballet Folklorico, and he has taught ballet and Ballet Folklorico for Aguilar for three years.

Each region in Mexico has its own dance traditions, and Aguilar makes a point of giving the students the history of the region while the students learn the dances.
Gomez observes that there is trouble on high school campuses between the African American and the Latino students.

"There is a third group: Latinos of African descent. Latin dances have been influenced by African slaves brought to Latin America, just as culture, here, has been influenced by African slaves. Vera Cruz ( a state in Mexico) has been heavily influenced by African culture," said Gomez.

Aguilar says, "The hardest part is finding students who are committed." She has worked with Ava Forsang, who has been teaching Polynesian dance for five years at the center, for many years, but Forsang is the exception.

We are different in that we furnish the costumes for the performances." Aguilar and Gomez design and sew the costumes with her mother's help, and she likes to include the students in the preparation whenever possible.

She is proud of her studio; she has a wall of mirrors where the students can watch themselves as they move to the music. She is most proud of the floating floor. Dancers can dance on a wooden surface that gives a little. Cement floors are hard and uncompromising, and can cause damage to the dancers over time.

Aguilar, also, teaches the waltz for quinceaneras, and presentation balls for the National Council of Negro Women.

"We offer to take the kids to workshops at the Danzantes Unidos Festival that takes place sometimes in Hayward, and other times in Whittier, or San Jose. At the Fontana Regional Competition for the last two years we have taken first place in the category of ten and younger in Ballet Folklorico," said Aguilar.

"We are looking for talented dancers for the Dia de Los Muertos performances in the fall. We will be performing at the California Theater in San Bernardino, and at Victor Valley College."

Aguilar is, also, helping Maria Regalado of Hesperia High School coordinate the fourth annual Miss Cinco de Mayo dance which is being sponsored by Hesperia High's Spanish club. Regalado has four children - ages 3 to 14 - who study dance at the center.

"Seeing them perform is nerve racking until they get started. After that; after I know everyone has showed up, I can relax," said Aguilar.

The Multicultural Dance Center is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can contact the center at 948-5110. The center, also, offers Mariachi lessons by Mariachi Aguila Real.