Four nights a week, in East Chicago, Indiana, Galaxy Travel Agency transforms into Xel-Ha Escuela De Danza. Eager students come to learn Ballet Folklórico (traditional Mexican folk dances) from Debra Bolaños who has run the school for over twenty-five years. Born and raised in East Chicago, Debra has been practicing Ballet Folklórico since she was eight years old, encouraged by her mother, a community activist and advocate of Mexican culture. After seeing the Ballet Folklórico de Amalia Hernández in Chicago, Debra was inspired to dance professionally and by the age of eighteen, was dancing with this world-renowned group in Mexico City.
After two years she returned to East Chicago and began to teach Ballet Folklórico herself. “To make a really good dancer you have to feel it in your heart.” Debra explained pointing to her chest, “you can be good but it’s the body that tells you the story… the most important thing is in here and I think that’s true with anything that you do.” Studying with Debra, students learn dances from all over Mexico, like Danza Azteca (indigenous dance), as well as Mexican culture, pride in their community, and discipline. Debra says, “I teach commitment and responsibility… that is what I was taught in Mexico City.”
Not only is she invested in mentoring her students, but she is also active in a number of community organizations, notably Sociedad Cultura Civica y La Reforma, of which she is the founder and president. Community is central to Debra’s work both in the dance studio and out.