Arts Council Menifee named Lorena Hancock as November’s Artist of the Month for her dedication to her craft and her passion for Ballet Folklórico and Mexican tradition has enriched the hearts of many and has added to the cultural diversity of the cities in which she teaches.
Hancock was born and raised in Mexico and went to school to become an educator. Part of the curriculum to become a teacher in her native land was to be well-versed in Mexican folklore, or folklórico. Classes taught traditional songs, cultural stories and dance to pass on Mexican culture from one generation to another.
After finishing her education, Hancock took a job as a kindergarten teacher. She told stories, explained cultural practices and celebrated their vibrant culture through dance. She taught in Mexico for five years before moving to the United States in 1991. She met her husband around this time, and the couple raised two children together.
It wasn’t long after she came to America that she went back into education. She took a job as a preschool teacher in Lake Elsinore, but said she couldn’t help but remember how good it felt to pass on Mexican culture at her old job. When her own children grew to school age, she realized what her and her children’s lives had been missing.
“Kids need folklórico! I looked for classes, and the closest I could find was in Riverside, way too far to drive for classes,” Hancock said.
She approached the city of Lake Elsinore and asked if they knew of any classes locally, after describing what she was looking for the city offered her the opportunity to start her own folklórico class. It started in 1999 with a group of six children and two were her own. Just a month later, her group was invited to perform at a local elementary school for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Since the group was so new, Hancock said they didn’t have any costumes, but the school had some on hand that they lent to her class.
“The kids were so new, and we didn’t have much time to practice the dances, but they enjoyed being dressed up and performing. Everyone had fun and the kids really did do a great job,” Lorena said.
Word of the Ballet Folklórico program spread quickly, and it wasn’t long before she had to begin additional classes to accommodate the growing number of students. The program began accepting students from Temecula, Menifee and Hemet.
Hancock said she remembered her own frustrations in trying to find folklórico classes for her own children and took it upon herself to approach other cities to start their own programs. She opened a program in Temecula in 2004 and another in Menifee in 2016.
Her groups have performed in several cultural events across Southern California including Los Angeles and San Diego’s Balboa Park in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Hancock and the Ballet Folklórico group performed at several local events in celebration of Dia De Los Meurtos recently.
Hancock explained the tradition.
“People sometimes associate Dia De Los Muertos with Halloween because of the time of year,” she said. “In Mexican culture, it is when God gives permission to loved ones who have passed to visit us on Earth. We celebrate them with dance, food and happiness.”
Hancock and Ballet Folklórico have performed at several functions in Menifee, including many sponsored by Arts Council Menifee.
Arts Council Menifee trustee Colleen Ackerman said, “Lorena brings joy to everyone she teaches and to all who are fortunate enough to watch the performances she directs. Always willing to get involved, Lorena has brought cultural diversity to many city and Arts Council Menifee events with her wonderful and talented students. I am extremely grateful for the smiles she has put on so many faces, including mine.”