With dance, Peoria woman hopes to inspire youth during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond
As Peoria’s Spanish-speaking immigrant population grows, a local business owner wants to preserve Hispanic and Latino culture by teaching children traditional dance.
Maria Miranda is the director of Peoria Folklore Ballet. She’s also the owner of Miranda’s Bello Boutique in East Bluff.
During National Hispanic Heritage Month, Miranda hopes to share her love of Mexican culture with greater Peoria – as well as the children of Spanish-speaking families.
"Our culture, not to brag about it, is beautiful," she said. "You should be in love of where you’re coming from, your roots and your traditions.”
Maria Miranda moved to Peoria with her husband 19 years ago. Originally from Mexico, the couple lived on the South Side of Chicago before moving to Peoria.
From dancing to food to clothing, Miranda loves everything about Mexican culture. She danced her first folklore dance in Mexico as a young girl.
She appreciated how often Mexican pride was on display in Chicago. For religious holidays and cultural events, the city’s the streets were often filled with song and dance.
“For Independence Day they have this huge big festival, parades, caravans,” she said. “It’s so, so beautiful. And I get to Peoria, and there’s nothing.”
Miranda asked around to see if there was anything happening for the Hispanic community in Peoria.
She found a small group of dancers, but a scheduling conflict prevented her from participating.
Already upset about feeling isolated in Peoria, Miranda's world was rocked nine years ago when her grandfather died.
Her grandfather was the glue holding the family together in Peoria, Miranda said. He hosted weekly dinners at his Peoria home and helped everyone stay connected.
After his death Miranda fell into depression. She knew she needed dance.
Miranda asked her niece, then 7, if they should make their own folklore dance group.
“I’m like, ‘Get all your little friends from school and ask them if they wanna join. … I don’t know much about this, but we can YouTube, Google or whatever,’” Miranda said. “And she said, ‘Yeah, OK, let’s do this.”
Miranda wasn't alone in feeling a need to reconnect with her roots.
After posting about the dance group on Facebook, 18 girls showed up to the first practice.
Later that year, Peoria Folklore Ballet debuted at the Cathedral during Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The annual Catholic feast celebrates the belief that a man encountered the Virgin Mary – Mexico's patron saint – in Mexico City.
The girls' entrance music was enough to turn heads at church, Miranda said.
“There’s never been in Peoria, something like this,” she said. “So when the people at church heard the music, everybody got up. … With their mouth open, people with their phones ready to take pictures and videos. It was just so amazing. So amazing.”
From there, Peoria Folklore Ballet grew. At least 20 families have been involved over nine years. Dancers range in age from three to 17.
Dancers perform at birthday parties, church functions, community events - and most recently, at Peoria Public Schools.
All of Miranda’s work with the dancers is volunteer-based. The group practices out of her store in East Bluff.
Over the years Miranda says she has seen an influx of families of Mexican and Latino origin moving to Peoria and opening small businesses.
Earlier this year, Ambassador Reyna Torres Mendivil — the Consul General of Mexico in Chicago — told WCBU Mexican-Americans are indeed flocking to central Illinois.
Many families are moving to East Bluff, where Miranda lives with her husband and their two sons.
Miranda said she hopes parents push their children to embrace their culture and not be ashamed of their roots, even as they build new lives in America.
She's happy to see her own two sons are eager to participate in dance.
“That’s the reason of me doing it because I want my kids to know what our traditions are,” she said.
Miranda helps out with the English as a Second Language classes at Peoria Public Schools.
She recalls a time when she met a young girl in a bilingual class who didn’t know where her parents were originally from.
“That just really hurt me. Where are her parents? They should be telling her, ‘You’re from Mexico. You’re from Honduras. You’re from El Salvador.’ Or wherever you’re from,” she said. “Be proud of where you’re from."
Anna Rose is the director for bilingual and multicultural programs at Peoria Public Schools. Last week Rose planned a Hispanic Heritage Month event at Harrison Community Learning Center, a bilingual program on Peoria’s South Side.
Two members of Folklore Ballet performed.
Rose, who happens to be from the same town in Mexico as Miranda, says dance is a great way to help recent immigrants feel like they have a home in Peoria.
"It brought back memories for me because I was in a dance troupe like that and I learned all those traditional dances," she said. "They feel more like, this is part of their home now, you know? Because they're not isolated, and they're not forced to forget. But to embrace."
Miranda says that while Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time for Latinos to reconnect with their roots, it’s also an opportunity for Peorians to learn about Hispanic heritage and patronize minority-owned businesses.
“If everybody could just go and buy something from the small, local Hispanic shops. … Or the restaurants,” she said. “Any shops that are owned [by] a Hispanic family. That would be amazing. That would be a lot of support.”
Follow Peoria Folklore Ballet on Facebook.
Miranda's Bella Boutique is located at 1331 N. Prospect Rd. in Peoria. Learn more online.
Learn more about the Greater Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce online.