Antonia Sevilla with Grupo La Rosa. Photo courtesy of by Carlos Villalobos.

Antonia Sevilla and the Mexican folkloric ballet Grupo La Rosa performed for more 400 fans in Santa Monica on June 17 in part to celebrate their 25 years in the music and dance industries. 

Although Sevilla founded and named Grupo La Rosa in 1997 after the passing of her mother, whose name was Rosa Sevilla, she has been practicing Mexican folkloric ballet in Los Angeles for five decades. 

With the purpose of celebrating Mexican heritage through regional music and traditional dances, Sevilla created Grupo La Rosa because she wanted to promote cultural awareness through the Latino community and encourage younger Mexican-American generations to celebrate their cultural roots.

Grupo La Rosa

Sevilla and Grupo La Rosa practice every week at the Marine Park in Santa Monica. They have appeared in parades like Venice Cinco de Mayo and have also performed at different churches, nursing homes and different cities around Los Angeles County.

Antonia Sevilla in one of her performances with Ballet Folklorico Mexicano in 1980. Photo courtesy Villalobos.

Sevilla was born in Juchitlan, Jalisco, Mexico in 1954, and as part of her culture, she learned about Mexican traditional dances at school when she was a little girl. Ever since then, she has developed a love and passion for Mexican folklore, and during the years she lived there, she always performed at different cultural events.

Moved to the U.S.

When she was only eight, she and her mother moved to the U.S., but because she missed her motherland, they returned to Mexico and came back when she was 13 years old.

Once Sevilla was established in Venice, California, in 1973, full of nostalgia for her traditions, she started attending San Clemente Church in Santa Monica. There she found inspiration in God and in her community to continue with her passion for dancing, making the decision to teach the children who lived around her the traditional Mexican dance. 

Even in a new country, she did not let go of her passion for folklore dancing. “I always liked to help people, but I also liked dancing,” Sevilla said.

With a small folkloric dance group known as El Grupo de Tona, Sevilla always looked for opportunities to perform. It was in small places and at family events where they presented their traditional routines until one day she had the opportunity to perform at a bigger event for a phone company. That’s where more people started to know her and the group.

Ballet Folklorico Mexicano

In search of learning new dance techniques and growing her Mexican folklore knowledge, Sevilla joined the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano of Graciela Tapia, an alumnus of the famous Mexican choreographer and dancer Amalia Hernandez, in 1980. There, Sevilla had the opportunity to perform professionally.

Antonia Sevilla with kids and young adults from Grupo La Rosa.

“It was something out of the ordinary,” Sevilla said. “To dance professionally, and to dance in big places with such an amazing group was beautiful.” 

In 1983, Sevilla married Carlos Villalobos Mercado, a musician from Grupo Los Pumas, with whom she has shared for 50 years the passion for their Mexican culture and with who she raised her three children, Carlos Antonio, Cynthia Marie, and Cristina Elizabeth. On their wedding day, Sevilla could not leave her love for folkloric dance behind and performed Mexican dances for the guests. 

Keeping it in the family

When Sevilla’s children were young, she thought that it was going to be hard to combine motherhood with her passion for Mexican folkloric dance. Instead, supported by her husband, she decided to teach her three children about the different regional Mexican music styles and how to dance them.

“I only stopped dancing to Mexican folkloric music during the time I was pregnant,” Sevilla said. “I have to say that my three children are excellent dancers; it is their genes.”

In 1990, Sevilla resumed the group with her three children, with the help of dancers like Jesus Lopez and Sergio Garcia from the Grupo Folklórico Mexicano. Garcia has been supporting Sevilla for more than 40 years.

Sevillas’ oldest son, Carlos Villalobos, inherited the love and passion for Mexican folklore from both parents. He is a musician and plays the guitarron in Mariachi Alta California. Villalobos joined the mariachi band at a young age because his father motivated him to play this music while Sevilla, his mother, taught him how to dance Mexican folkloric.

“I love that my mother is involved in this type of tradition,” Villalobos said. 

Antonia Sevilla and her son, Carlos Villalobos. Photo courtesy of Villalobos.

Villalobos feels proud of his mother and how she has put in the effort to teach the younger Mexican-American generation the beauty of their Mexican culture. He always supports Sevilla at every event, playing with the mariachi and also dancing with her in a special mother-son bailable for the audience. 

“I’m proud of her, and I’m glad she has continued with this,” Villalobos said. “It’s beautiful to see how, now that we are grown-ups, she keeps the tradition of teaching my little nieces and more children.”

Sevilla’s daughter, Cynthia Villalobos Abo, started dancing Mexican folkloric with her mother when she was only three years old. Today, Abo’s two daughters are the youngest members of Grupo La Rosa and dance with their grandmother just like Abo danced when she was a little girl.

“My two beautiful granddaughters sang Cielito Lindo in our last presentation,” Villalobos said. “It was beautiful.”

Heritage is important

Abo believes that teaching children about their Mexican heritage is very important, and she wants her two daughters to be proud to be Mexican, too.

“It has meant the world to me to see them grow up this way,” Abo said. “ It simply warms my heart.”

Mexican folklore has been part of Abo’s life ever since she was born. She feels proud of her Mexican roots and knows that this makes her mother feel happy.

“Now as an adult and as a mother, when I see my mom dance at her shows, I have to hold back tears,” Abo said. “They’re happy tears because it’s amazing to see everything she’s done come to fruition.”

“I remember when I was dancing with my university and I had a solo at our annual show, I didn’t tell my mom,” Abo said. “When she saw me performing, I heard her shout, ‘¡Esa es mi hija!”

Abo not only supports Sevilla in every performance, but she also feels proud to see her mother working hard to offer the audience an authentic and nice show.

Antonia Sevilla wearing the traditional Jalisco dress for one of the presentations of her Grupo La Rosa. Photo courtesy of Villalobos.

Abo’s two daughters are bilingual, Sevilla has been speaking Spanish to them since they were babies and today they only speak Spanish with their family. 

Influences from all over Mexico

In her dance practices, Sevilla mostly speaks in Spanish to everyone, from young children to adults. She also explains to them that each of the songs they will dance to comes from the different states of Mexico, like Veracruz, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Colima and Chiapas, and that each of the dances is unique. 

Children that attend Sevilla’s classes have learned not only to love their Mexican roots, but they have also developed knowledge about Mexico’s culture through the songs and dances.

Lissette Covarrubias’ three daughters have been part of Sevilla’s Grupo La Rosa since 2014. She has noticed how her daughters enjoy dancing to this music and how they are more aware of their family’s culture.

“They like how this type of folklore makes their grandparents happy,” Covarrubias said. “Mexican folklore dance makes my girls feel empowered.”

Covarrubias selected Sevilla as her daughter’s folklore dance teacher, among others, not only because she is from the same town as her parents, but also because Sevilla has created a community with her alumni and their families. 

“It makes a difference that my girls learn from her. Antonia helps my girls understand their Mexican side because she’s proud of where she comes from,” Covarrubias said. “We try to raise our girls with the intention of teaching them community sense and to learn and love where they come from.”

Lissette Covarrubias’ three daughters, Sofia, Natalia, and Victoria, before their presentation this past Saturday, June 17. Photo courtesy of Covarrubias.

When Covarrubias was younger, she always wanted to perform Mexican folkloric dances, just like her three daughters are doing today with Sevilla at Grupo La Rosa. She also feels happy to see her children dancing and embracing their Mexican side. 

“Now they have an identity with both countries,” Covarrubias said.

Over the years, ex-alums of Sevilla have come from different places to thank her for teaching them Mexican folklore, and she feels very proud of each of them.

Helping to combat discrimination

Sevilla claimed that dancing to Mexican folkloric music has attracted people from other cultures that live in this country to like Mexican folklore and join Grupo La Rosa. She also mentioned that during the years that she has lived in the U.S., she has never felt any type of discrimination, and she believes that this is because she can transmit her love and passion for her country.

“When people from a different culture than mine congratulate me, I feel many emotions, like gratitude and pride,” Sevilla said.

Sevilla does not have any intentions of retiring yet, although she’s 69 years old. Her family and passion for dance keep her going.

“I’ll keep dancing until my body [does not] allow me to,” Sevilla said.

Sevilla feels thankful to God, her three children and her husband every time after a successful show for supporting her in doing what she likes to do in life.

“Life is a show; you have to put in the effort for every performance,” Sevilla said.

Sevilla has the dream of going back to the place where she was born, Juchitlan, to perform with Grupo La Rosa, just like she used to when she was younger. 

“Right now that life is giving me the opportunity, I want to go back there, first to thank God and also to thank my pueblo for everything it has given me,” Sevilla said.

Annais Garcia is a Mexican-American journalist. At CALÓ NEWS Garcia covers social justice, health, care, and education. She graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills. Garcia was also...