Award-Winning Dance Troupe Spreads the Challenges of Down Syndrome

Mihtotiani earns its place on Juarez’s cultural scene as physiotherapy becomes an iconic folk dance group

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — The music changes, but the focused gaze on the faces of students dressed in black remains a constant. They attack dance routines ranging from reggaeton to K-pop with energy and joy all the same.

“They’re good at all different genres, but our core is the folk“, explains Judith Montes de Oca, teacher and mentor of the dancers. “They know Tarahumara Indian dances, regional Mexican and traditional music from Jalisco, Chiapas, Yucatan and Veracruz.”

Montes de Oca is proud of its Mihtotiani dance troupe. She highlights her students’ first and second place finishes at dance competitions in Tijuana and Chihuahua and rejoices in the invitations they have received to perform at regional fairs and official events. She mentions the Special Olympics honors only in passing.

“Inclusion is very important – working with them and knowing that they can do a lot. (The dances) help their development, their self-confidence, their physical balance,” Montes de Oca said. without parents for the events. Most of them are self-sufficient. They go to school, some have a job. They play sports like cycling and weightlifting in addition to being in the dance group.

The 25 members of Mihtotiani were all born with Down syndrome or other “different abilities” in the words of their teacher. She refuses to call their medical challenges disabilities in a positive learning environment where the goal is to make students proud of their accomplishments.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information of Mexico, the country had 7.2 million people in 2020 with one or more physical or mental disabilities. More than 700,000 had Down syndrome or other mental health issues.

Mihtotiani came together 16 years ago at the request of parents of children born with Down syndrome. The current group of students range in age from 8 to 46.

Members of the Mihtotiani dance group hold hands during dance practice. (photo from border report)

Montes de Oca said dance therapy not only helps students’ self-esteem and provides physical exercise, but also helps them develop their social skills.

“Once we get to know each other, once they feel included, we see how they show us their real abilities. Our job is to make them feel like they’re part of something special and let them (thrive),” she said.

The group’s name loosely translates to “dancers who bring joy” in the native Nahuatl language. The word has evolved over the centuries in Mexican culture into mitote, or a rasping sound. It doesn’t matter, says the professor, as long as the dancers feel the joy of a job well done and the audience recognizes their achievement.

To learn more about the group, visit their Facebook page.

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