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May 27, 2009 > Fiesta at the Ruggieri Center

Fiesta at the Ruggieri Center

By Simon Wong

The Miles J. Price Hall at Union City's Ruggieri Senior Center was decked out in green, white and red for a Fiesta luncheon on May 22. Sombreros, Mexican flags and pinatas completed the setting.

About 100 diners gathered to celebrate a belated Cinco de Mayo. They enjoyed a chicken lunch supplied by Spectrum Community Services in Hayward. A raffle, which included "Mexican" prizes, was held.

Lunch was followed by live dance performed by Ballet Folklorico de James Logan before a very appreciative audience.

When Jaime Huertas joined James Logan as a counselor 19 years ago, news broke that he is a dancer. Some students asked him to teach a couple of dances for a Cinco de Mayo assembly and the dance company was born. He has danced for 33 years and, currently, dances with El Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno.

Huertas instructs about 30 students who participate in this after-school program. They are divided into beginners, intermediate and performance groups. Between them, there are four practice sessions each week.

The award-winning group performs regularly at events and conferences between Sacramento and San Diego and in the Central Valley and is often hired to perform at school and private functions, too.

"The students must have good grades to be eligible to join the company. The priority is academic achievement and continued education. It doesn't matter how good a dancer a student might be. If grades aren't satisfactory, then he or she can't participate," explained Huertas to applause. Many students go to university and continue to dance with community-based groups.

Most members are Latinos but some from other cultural backgrounds also participate because they are interested. The group is open to all.

"It's rewarding to see kids, who are born here and 'American-ized,' learn something about their cultural heritage. Doing something positive also bolsters their college applications," said Huertas. "The kids get to learn, have fun on stage and are off the streets. It's also an incentive to maintain their grades otherwise they won't be able to participate."

For more information about events at Union City's Ruggieri Senior Center, visit http://tinyurl.com/pq2lxe or call 510 675 5495. For more information about Ballet Folklorico de James Logan, visit http://tinyurl.com/o69k2r, call 510 471 2520 ext. 5497 or email jhuertas@nhusd.k12.ca.us.

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