I began dancing folklorico over 40+ years ago, when I was in the 6th grade. Dancing was an amazing escape for me where I didn’t have to worry about anything but what I was doing at that exact moment. My body and mind were challenged constantly, and the pride in finally getting a new step or routine was such a great feeling. It was there that I learned so many life lessons like commitment, tenacity and discipline as well as gained self-confidence.
These are the things I hope to pass along to every student that passes through Floricanto’s doors. This is a safe space to learn, to try, to dream, to risk and not be judged.
As Artistic Director, it is both my obligation and pleasure to continue on the path that Floricanto has been on for decades. To uphold the culture and traditions that our organization holds dear. Floricanto has helped me flourish from student to dancer to teacher to administrator and now to Artistic Director. This is not a position I take lightly. I hear my ancestors’ whispering words of encouragement and hope. I am here to honor them and serve our community.
Gema Sandoval, founder of Danza Floricanto/USA is devoted to illuminating her Mexican-American heritage through dance. Over the past 20 years, Sandoval has staged theme works in addition to traditional regional dances of Mexico. Among these are: a commissioned work for the opening of the 1999 Kaleidoscope Festival, titled Fandango Angeleno; Si Se Puede/Yes You Can, a work inspired by labor activist and United Farm Workers founder, Cesar Chavez, and co-choreographed with Loretta Livingston; Sandoval's Dia de los Muertos-Day of the Dead Celebration which, since 2001, has become an annual community tradition which Floricanto performs somewhere in the Southland; her 2003 collaboration with Kayamanan Ng Lahi Philippine Dance company, From Acapulco to Manila-Another Story from the Pacific Rim commemorating the musical and dance traditions of the Mexican and Philipino people and their mutual influence and transformation through centuries of Spanish trade in the galleons; her past 10 year collaboration with Whittier College's Shannon Center for the Performing Arts, Navidad en Whittier; which is now presented annually at the Floricanto Center For The Performing Arts; her work with Chicano music sensation, Quetzal which generated Fandango Without Borders in 2004; Un Zapateado Chicano-Rhythmic Footprints, in 2008; Alma Llanera-Spirit of the Plains, inspired by Rudolfo Anaya's novel, Bless Me Ultima, which was workshoped in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2010, to premiered at the Downey Theater in March 2011, and has been restaged by current Artistic Director, Christie Rios in June, 2023; and her latest work, Mujer-Ayer, Hoy y Siempre, to be co-choreographed by Gema, Christie Rios, her daughter and Mimi Rios, her granddaughter, scheduled to be premiered in September 2023.
Along with the company, Sandoval is the winner of the 1994 and 1995 Horton Award for the Staging of Traditional Dance, a year 2000 fellow of the California Arts Council's Fellowship in Dance Program, a winner of the Irvine Foundation's California Dancemaker awards for 2001. Sandoval and her company are also the proud recipients of a New England Foundation for the Arts National Dance Creation and Project production grant for 2003-04, for Fandango Without Borders. the recipient of the 2006 Irvine foundation's Dance Creation to Performance Fellowship for Un Zapateado Chicano also funded by the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. In 2015 she received the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture Award and the Achievement Award from the Danzantes Unidos Statewide Organization, in 2016 the Soy Mexico Award from the Coalicion de. Grupos Folkloricos Southern California. Most recently, in 2022 she received the DANCE/USA National Fellowship for the creation of her latest work Mujer-Ayer, Hoy Y Siempre, a collaboration among Sandoval, Christie Rios, her daughter and Mimi Rios, her granddaughter.