Elaina Hernández

Elaina Hernández is a Toledo-based, Mexican folkloric dancer, choreographer and artistic director, founder of the company “El Corazon de Mexico” (The Heart of Mexico) in 1996. She is also a Certified Ballroom Instructor. The company has about 30 dancers ages 6 to 30, divided among a junior division (children) and a senior division (adolescents & young adults).

Hernández has more than 20 years of dancing experience and views folkloric dance, not only as an artistic discipline, but also as a vehicle to educate people about the deep history and culture of Mexico. Participating in the company also gives her dancers an opportunity to connect with their heritage, to feel proud, travel occasionally and showcase their culture, and to hopefully live richer and more fulfilling adult lives.

Elaina Hernandez (neé Soto) was born in Toledo of Mexican heritage. Dancing was part of her environment form the beginning. Her paternal grandmother, Pauline Soto, was as Mexican folk dancer. Her husband migrated to Toledo from Michoacán, Mexico, to work on the railroad. And although Pauline passed away before Elaina was born, dancing remained in the family by way of a daughter, Elaina’s aunt. Eventually, both Elaina and her younger sister, Ann Marie, would become dancers too. Elaina married a fellow dancer, Ivis Hernández; with whom she has three children: a daughter now who dances in the company and two boys who are still too young to dance.

When Elaina was 6 years old and her sister was 4, her mother, Christine, signed them up in a Mexican folkloric dance group at the St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Toledo. Initially, Elaina was not quick to learn. Today, in retrospect, she recognizes that this experience gave her the understanding necessary to work with dancers who feel challenged by learning the dances. By age 13, Hernández had discovered a talent for choreography and directing dance. At 15, with some directing experience under her belt, Elaina, joined by her sister and another dancer named Victoria Garza, decided to form their own dance company. Elaina’s mother, Christine, became the seamstress for the costumes, her father, Raymond Soto, became the manager, and “El Corazón de México” was born.

While still finishing High School, Elaina was part of the dance team and the flag core. After graduation, she found a job at Alfredo’s Studio of Dance in Toledo where she studied and taught ballroom dancing. She also sought further training in Mexican folk dance at workshops offered in Holland, Michigan, and privately form two Chicago-based directors Samuel Cortez and René Cardoza. “These teachings”—she says—”are passed on from Director to Director.” She brought this knowledge back to her company.

The group rehearses at St. Peter and Paul’s Church and Toledo Heights Library in Toledo’s Old South End, home of a large Mexican community. The group provides dancers with costumes and training at no cost to them or their families. Most members of the company are kids of Mexican heritage born in the U.S. Classes are taught in English providing, at the same time, an opportunity for them to connect with their heritage in a safe environment where they find acceptance whether or not they speak Spanish or look Mexican.

Some of the highlights in the company’s history include a performance in Disney World, for which the group had to raise funds to cover the cost of the trip, and a performance at a Barack Obama presidential campaign fundraiser in Toledo that helped raise awareness among some of the dancers who had just become of voting age about the democratic process. In this company, dancers learn, not only choreography, technique, Mexican history and culture, they also learn to live in America with pride.

Future plans for the company, provided they can raise the necessary funds, include: a trip to Washington, DC and North Carolina; a showcase presentation in a real theater where the company can present all their material at once; and musical training for the dancers so they may provide their own live music for their presentations.

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