Article & Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media, (unless otherwise noted, see photo gallery below)
Wow, speak about following your passion and making your dreams come true. At 25 years old, Denver native Jose Alonso Rosales, better known as “Chepe” has accomplished just that. He is one of the first U.S. males to reach the title of “El Venado” in the prestigious dance company “Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández ” in it’s more than 100 year history.
Chepe comes from a large family. Eight members in all. Five boys and three girls. Four of the boys all have the same first name of Jose, a cultural thing he says, so his father gave him the name Chepe, not just to distinguish him from the other Joses but also in memory of his father’s best friend who had passed away.
Chepe was in Denver over the weekend to not only receive his Masters Degree from the University of Denver but also to give back to community he came from. He shared his dance skills, talents and wisdom with more than 50 aspiring Mexcian folklorico dancers at a workshop held at the Newman Center at the D.U. campus.
Chepe shared his story with Latin Life Denver emphasizing his desire not only to motivate others but to pass along the importance of cultural awareness and understanding among those in the U.S. and their connection to their Mexican heritage. “You are all ambassadors for our Hispanic heritage he told the participants. “This is just not dance it is an art that is part of a heritage that you need to share with your communities to expand awareness and understanding of who we are as a people.”
“When I graduated from CU Boulder and speaking very little Spanish I bought a one way ticket to Mexico City. I didn’t even tell my parents about it at the time. I later told my dad and let him know that I would not be coming back. That I would be auditioning for the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico and would not return until I made the company.
“Dancing is something I knew I wanted to do since I was ten years old.” Chepe told Latin Life Denver during his visit. “I saw photos of my mother doing this type of dancing and heard the music. I started dancing with the same group my mom danced with, Fiesta Colorado Dance Company under the artistic direction of Jeanette Trujillo Lucero. It was then that I fell it love with folklorico dance,” he said. Chepe continued saying, “As I progressed through middle and high school and then college I was always dancing, expanding my skills as I went along. My mom required me to get good grades or she would not allow me to participate in dance. As a result my education was always a priority.” Chepe maintained a near 4.0 throughout his educational career.
“My breakout moment came in Cuba,” he said. “I was there as part of a group from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I was at a point where I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do with my life. I thought maybe ethnic studies, law, social work and other opportunities that were available to me. I actually put dance aside as I tried to find myself.”
Chepe struggled with the direction he wanted to go seeing dance as not a realistic career. “I told myself, you can’t make through life as a dancer, you can’t make money as a dancer.” While in Cuba Chepe realized he didn’t know how to speak Spanish. “I didn’t know the language. That’s part of my culture, it should be part of the legacy one leaves to their children, nieces and nephews and those to follow.”
While in Cuba I also saw how important dance, music and culture was to their society. Dancers musicans and artists are seen on same level as doctors and lawyers. It’s a very prestigious level they all share.”
After returning from Cuba Chepe immersed himself in Spanish language classes as well as dance. He enrolled in the the dance program at CU Boulder taking classes in ballet, hip hop, jazz finding himself in dance classes five days a week.
“I received my Bachelors in Ethnic Studies from CU in three years and with the inspiration of my dance mentor, Jeanette Trujillo, jumped on that plane to Mexico City. She prepped me by telling me what I needed to do before auditioning. I watched videos and learned dance after dance. There are more than 200 dances one needs to know to be part of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández .
With the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico there are three companies. The First Company is the travelling troupe, the second is the in-resident company and the third is the “Experimental” part of the company.
“Janelle Ayon a formar soloist of the ballet company and another mentor of mine, went with me to Mexico City. She knew all the right people there and after a few introductions I was allowed to try out for the “Experimental” part of the company. That’s where they filter you out, determining if you have what it takes and what dances you are best suited for. I got there on a Sunday, my first audition was that Monday.
After three weeks I just wanted to come home. It was hard being away, I was so anxious not knowing what was going on and not really knowing the language,” he said. Fortunately for Chepe that’s when the First Company was going on tour and six dancers would be needed to replace them during their absence in the resident company.
“I auditioned for the artistic director and I was one of the six selected. Despite being one of shortest dancers in the company at 5’9” I was determined I would not let that thwart my passion to succeed. I was determined to show them that I belonged. Chepe now dances for both the First Company and the Resident Company at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City performing for more than 3,000 people three times a week throughout the year.
He dances in the world renown Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Castillo de Chapultepec in Mexico City performing for the President of Mexico and many national and foreign dignitaries. He also travels the world as part of the First Dance company performing most recently in London. He is one of the featured soloist dancers for the famous “Danza Del Venado”, one of the most important dances the ballet company.
Beyond dancing with the ballet Chepe has a strong will to share and expand Hispanic culture with all who will listen. “I want to come back to Colorado as often as possible to provide that cultural connection between our two countries. With all the devisive politics happening today it is more important than ever that we stay connected and this is a way for us to bridge borders between Mexico and the United States for my community. I am part of that bridge.” he said.
“When I dance I am not just dancing doing a 5,6,7,8 or just jumping, I am connecting to my ancestors. That’s my way of connecting to my family and my community. My father was an immigrant from Mexico and yet I could not connect with that part of my family. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t really know who I was, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Mexican American, but when I got to Mexico I finally felt that connection. It took a while. They would tell me you have passion but you are not rooted. You are not dancing like a Mexican with the passion of a Mexican. It was then I realized I needed to express my pride in my cultural heritage. We shout gritos, (cheers) of Viva Mexico! we smile, laugh, kiss and let that connection come through to the audience. That’s part of the art. It’s part of the Mexican culture,” he stated.
” I want to be an inspiration for others. When people look at me I want people to say, that’s Chepe, he’s from Colorado. He made his dreams come true and so can I”
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media, Photos taken at the Newman Center, University of Denver