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Performances preserve old dances

Dancers trooped in and out of repeating patterns, creating a meditative mood for a packed audience at a Rio Rancho senior center.

Twelve dancers weaved in varying arrangements of circular formations, later marching in single-file lines. Their traditional folk dances symbolize the twists and turns of life.

Los Coloniales, whose members range in age from 40-93, came together to preserve dances that made their way from Spain and other parts of Europe to northern New Mexico in colonial times.

Edward Gonzales, who started dancing with Los Coloniales when he was 60, said the dances the group performs were banned in Mexico in the 18th century when the government fought an infiltration of European culture. The dances made their way to New Mexico.

“My parents did these types of dances way back when I was kid,” Gonzales said.

Ben Baca, 83, began dancing with Los Coloniales 35 years ago.

“The first time I joined the organization, I quit. I felt like I had two left feet,” he said.

Baca re-joined the group after realizing the importance of protecting Southwestern culture.

Eventually Baca became president of Los Coloniales. He quit dancing just last year after being diagnosed with lymphoma and lung disease.

Los Coloniales has been performing at fiestas and feast days in small New Mexico communities for years. They also dance at church functions, assisted living centers and public schools in Santa Fe, Española, Abiquiu, Chimayó, Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.

In May, the group won a Heritage Preservation Award from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division.