ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – When watching ballet folklorico, the intricate, colorful dresses catch the eye. Seam-by-seam, dressmaker Damis Hernandez has shaped the St. Vincent Pallotti Ballet Folklorico in Abilene.
What starts her hands and a sewing machine turns into a display of Mexican heritage. At 15, as a young girl growing up in Primero de Mayo in Coahuila, Mexico, Hernandez found her calling as a seamstress.
“My grandmother inspired me to sew. She came here to the United States and said that they made good money. I said ok, I’m also going to do that, but no, my parents gave me an education in Mexico, and there I started working, and here I do it as a hobby. I like it. It’s my hobby,” Hernandez shared.
At the age of 20, she would make her way to the United States. Although her experience in Mexico was making dresses for weddings, quinceaneras, and school uniforms, she would be asked to expand her skill set with culture-rich ballet folklorico dresses and costumes.
“Someone recommended me to the St. Vincent Church, and I’ve been trying to help them as much as I can. I like it when I see the dresses. I say that I do something wonderful because it’s a lot of work, but I like it,” Hernandez expressed.
Now, Hernandez has created these dresses for more than 30 years. She shared that hours of work and many materials are invested in each unique piece.
“Like a week making a single dress. It takes a lot of material. More than 30 yards per dress and about 200 yards of ribbon to attach it. It’s tiring, but after it’s complete, I say it looks great,” Hernandez explained.
What makes Hernandez unique is her ability to craft ballet folklorico dresses and costumes —something exclusive to the St. Vincent Pallotti Ballet Folklorico and for a reason.
“It’s just what the ballet asks of me. It’s for the ballet because another ballet can’t bring the same as another. Everyone has their own style of how to make a dress and every dancer has their own style of dress to dance with,” Hernandez said.
As each generation passes, the traditions of the Ballet Folkrico become increasingly challenging to keep alive.
“Nobody likes it. My daughters don’t like to sew, but it’s something marvelous, and I believe it’s not just knowing, but it’s a talent,” Hernandez shared.
All in all, she is thankful for the gift of her craft that her father gave her.
“I feel proud. Proud of doing this type of work. More than anything, proud of myself and for my father who put a lot of effort into providing education, and that’s how I learned how to do this. I owe it to my father,” Hernandez added.
Hernandez encourages those who’ve never seen a ballet folklorico performance to watch one because it captures many traditions of Mexican history.