Hilda Lucía Estrella lends unique flavor, Mexican flair to Atlanta dance

Photo Credit: Eric Voss
Three women stand atop wooden platforms on a stage that is lit in soft pinks and blues. They hold their skirts out to the side with both arms outstretched. Several white chairs, mics and mic stands can be seen in the background. One man standing in the far right corner of the frame gazes in a soft, compassionate manner toward the dancers.

November 19, 2021
Volume 3 Issue 1
By: Ashley Gibson

“To me, the music and the movement is my home . . . the place that brings up lots of memories.”

Hilda Lucía Estrella moved to the United States from Mexico 14 years ago and has since caught the attention of Atlanta audiences as the director of the popular Mexican folkloric dance group, Alma Mexicana Danza Folklórica. Estrella is a highly sought-after dancer, teacher and leader in the greater Atlanta area. She has made prominent strides in both educating the public and broadening its view of Mexican culture over the years.

While she considers folklore to be her specialty, Estrella comes from a colorfully diverse arts background. She began training in ballet, like a lot of young kids around the age of four, and went on to study an assortment of styles throughout her school years. Estrella’s first exposure to traditional Mexican folklore music and dance actually came through her elementary school program. It was there that her lifelong adoration for this intricate art was born.

Estrella, now with more than 30 years of experience, studied professionally at the Mexico National Institute of Fine Arts’ Monterrey Superior School of Music and Dance. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Mexican Folkloric Dance, as well as in Electronics and Communications Engineering.

When Estrella moved to the United States in 2007 in pursuit of a career with her other degree, dance temporarily took a backseat in her life. With Facebook and social media still in their formative years, Estrella found herself unable to locate or connect with any Latin American dance groups. Looking back, she now knows there were two major groups at the time, but she did not know how or where to find them.

Thus, in 2008, Estrella began blazing her own trail from the comfort of her home, and Alma Mexicana, which translates to “Mexican Soul,” was born. She embraced her love of pedagogy, an art she had been cultivating since the age of 15, and began teaching lessons from her home in Lilburn.

“At the time, I wasn’t thinking of doing a school or a dance group. I was just thinking I wanted to dance and feel the music. . . . It all started because I was homesick,” says Estrella. Her now 13-year-old dance group has traveled all over, sharing the culture and flavor of Mexico to people all around the state of Georgia.

Estrella thrives on the joy of being able to touch the lives of others, whether it is her students, their families or audience members. Her group performs regularly at Zoo Atlanta, museums, city halls and theaters across the region. One of their most recent notable performances in October was at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for an event called “Goblins in the Garden.” But what stands out to Estrella is not the big, flashy moments of these grander events. Estrella delights in the small moments — the aftermath of performances and the personal conversations that follow them.

She recalls one of her most memorable performances, just a kids’ show at a small Marietta school. She draws inspiration from connecting on a visceral level with others who now find themselves as homesick as she was.

“When that performance finished, some parents came to talk to me, and one of them told me that they hadn’t seen Mexican dances since they moved from Mexico,” says Estrella. “She told me it was ‘like a caress into my heart,’ and that really touched me.”

Estrella longs to see Mexican dance in the Atlanta area blossom into something even greater, and represent even more closely the scale and magnitude of performances back in Mexico. She would love to add a live musical component to her work in the future. 

Photo Credit: Diana Alford
Two dancers, one man and one woman, share an energetic dance at the bottom of an outdoor staircase. His face is turned toward her, and he is wearing a black jacket and pants lined with intricate white swirls. His black boots show his toes lifting upward in dance. His black and white hat is tilted down looking at her. She wears a yellow dress with colorful stripes, flowers in her hair and low white heels. She smiles softly up at her partner with the blue sky and soft, wispy clouds in the background.

The group, who uses primarily recorded music now, has partnered with a few mariachi bands in the past. She says that the biggest constraints they face in this area are budgets and schedules. Big productions in Mexico could have anywhere from four to six musicians for mariachi or norteño bands, and brass bands must have a minimum of six musicians. Sometimes if the budget allows, big productions could even have 10 or more musicians playing alongside them.

Another dream of Estrella’s is to add more dancers to Alma Mexicana. Currently, the group has four children and five adults with several additional students in training. Estrella explains that in Mexico, these traditional folkloric dances often have large groups of 10 or more couples.

Estrella’s interest in the arts goes beyond strictly movement. She has also dabbled in visual arts like painting and drawing, as well as a little bit of music. She believes that because of this, she has a wider vision of the arts, one that has enriched her as a human being and artist. Estrella is thrilled about the current explosive growth, interest in and engagement with the ever-evolving Mexican culture.

Throughout the ups and downs of life, Estrella’s drive has continued to flourish, as more and more people seek out and request performances from Alma Mexicana. “That gives you fuel to keep going,” says Estrella. “You are wanted. It’s the feeling that you’re wanted and want to be seen and that somebody wants to see you.”

To check out Alma Mexicana’s upcoming performances or to get involved, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo Credit: Leo Lev
A group of 10 dancers, a mix of kids and several adults, smile at a photographer out of the frame on the front right side. They wear a delicate combination of white, pink, blue, orange, yellow and green pastels with bright, colorful headpieces. The two men wear white hats and red scarves tied around their necks. The women have long chains of pearls and colored beads gracing their necklines. A green line of trees, a handrail and various small signs can be seen behind the group.

Ashley Gibson holds a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Kennesaw State University. She is a current faculty member at both Studio Go and the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. Ashley also serves as a freelance writer and copy editor in the Atlanta community and contributes regularly to Into the Proscenium. When she’s not dancing or teaching, she enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors.

More from Ashley:
Courtney Lewis redefines her self-perception, welcomes future of Atlanta dance
Graduating class of 2020 dances into uncertain future with creativity, poise
Spring 2020 college feature revisited
Jerylann Warner embraces lifetime full of history in her work at Callanwolde