Hispanic Heritage Spotlight: Breaking stereotypes and helping students find their voice

When Daniel Negrete was a student at Woodrow Wilson High School, one of his friends asked him to join the ballet folklorico ensemble. He eventually joined, and his performance of “El Jarabe Tapatio” in front of the whole student body during a pep rally changed his life. 

Performing in front of a live audience sparked something in Negrete, making him think “Wouldn’t it be great if I could do this forever?” 

In a full circle for him, Negrete returned to Woodrow as a teacher and is now the head director for the iconic Sweethearts drill team, assists Marissa Marez with the Woodrow dance company, co-directs Montes Ballet Folklorico with Marez, and both teach dance arts. He previously taught dance at Emmett J. Conrad High School. Returning to the school where his passion for dance was ignited feels surreal to Negrete, a six-year veteran of the profession.

“I’m teaching my high school dance director’s daughter, talk about full circle, and I’m teaching the community that gave me the tools that helped me find my pathway in life,” said the East Dallas native. 

A few years ago, Negrete was contacted by a colleague about writing the curriculum for Mexican American Folkloric Dance Studies, which did not exist as a dance course. Negrete and Quan Powers, along with a team of dance educators, created the Dance Appreciation: African American and Mexican Folkloric Studies course, which was approved by the Texas Education Agency. It was first implemented during the 2020-2021 school year as a statewide course.

Negrete wrote the Mexican Folklorico Dance course, while Quan Powers took the lead in the African American Dance Studies course. 

Negrete and his team had the challenge of creating a curriculum that represented what he calls “the face of Mexico.” They looked at important rituals, celebrations, and events that formulate Mexican folklore. One of the challenges they faced was that some traditions are passed down through storytelling.

Negrete has observed that students in his course are surprised about how diverse Mexico is.

“People don’t know about Afro-Mexican cultures and how much it has influenced Mexican dance,” said Negrete. 

Through his work, Negrete hopes he is breaking stereotypes, inspiring his students to embrace who they are, and finding an appreciation for their community like he did as a student. 

While cultural dance is celebrated in his family, he felt that it was initially seen more like a hobby, rather than a livelihood. Negrete admits to having received some pushback from his family in the beginning, but he was able to shift their mindset once he began studying dance at Texas Woman’s University and became a dance educator. He is a first-generation college graduate, and it was his mother who taught him the phrase “echale ganas y ponte las pilas,” which encouraged him to “give it his all.”

“I was brought up thinking that men usually work outside or have labor intensive jobs,” Negrete said. “Dance is also very laborious, but in a different way.” 

Finding the connection with his Mexican roots was a bit of a journey for Negrete, who was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, before his family moved to the United States. He credits dance and his teachers for helping him reconnect with his heritage and find an appreciation for other cultures.

“As a teen, I didn’t like being Mexican, and I was very reluctant to accept my culture for a while,” said Negrete. “Through dance, I learned to embrace my culture and explore who I really was.” 

Negrete credits his dance teachers during his formative years for instilling a passion for advocacy for Latino and African American students. 

As an advocate for cultural dance, he co-founded the North Texas Ballet Folklorico Competition, along with fellow dance educators Leah Longoria-Huggins and Karla Hardaway. The dance competition, which attracts ballet folklorico teams from Dallas ISD and the state, is entering its third year. For more information about the North Texas Ballet Folklorico Competition, click here 

Negrete is also the first male Latino on the executive board of the Texas Dance Education Association, and is only the second male in the history of the board. He has facilitated presentations and discussions on inclusion and diversity in the dance classroom and has shared his knowledge of ballet folklorico through movement classes with other dance educators in the state of Texas. 

As a male dancer and dance educator, he knows he is opening doors for other male dancers, especially Latinos and men of color. 

“Visibility is important for the students and community, sometimes we’re so unaware that the arts can take you to a plethora of careers,” he said. “You can change lives with the arts.”

In addition to teaching, Negrete also dances with two companies—Flamenco Black, which focuses on the exploration of Afro-Andalusian flamenco dance, and Ballet Folklorico Mayahuel, which focuses on Mexican traditional dances.

Negrete credits his cultural strength and his resilience with being able to realize his vision and dreams. 

“It’s in my DNA and in my ancestry,” said Negrete. “Being a brown man in dance, and as challenging as it could be, the most rewarding thing is instilling culture, values and history in our youth.” 

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