At the tender age of 13 and with five years of traditional Mexican dance behind her, Jocolyn Mendoza is on her first international tour.
Along with 13 fellow dancers from South San Francisco's sister city, Atotonilco el Alto in Jalisco, Mexico, Mendoza will grace the stage of South San Francisco High School Friday night in a joint performance with South City's own Ballet Folkórico Alma de Mexico.
The Atotonilco troupe, Ballet Folklórico Atl-Tecuilli-Ko, will perform dances from three Mexican states—Yucatan, Guanajuato and Jalisco—and will join with South San Francisco dancers in a performance of El Jarabe Tapatío, a national dance in which women wear traditional "China" dresses that make pictures out of sparkling sequins.
Wearing a Justin Bieber t-shirt at a luncheon Tuesday hosted by SSFUSD and the city of South San Francisco, Mendoza said she's enjoying her first trip to the United States.
"It's very beautiful," Mendoza said. "There are more shopping areas and amusements."
The Atotonilco dancers, traveling with their director Salvador Hernandez Aceves, arrived at SFO on Friday night and have been busy sightseeing, including a tour of South San Francisco, visits to the police and fire stations and a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. They hope to get to Tahoe before they leave on Sunday to see some snow.
Israel Aviles, 20, said he was surprised by the cleanliness, the gardens and the tall buildings he saw in downtown San Francisco. But most of all, he was impressed by "the welcome we've been getting."
The dancers are staying with host families in South San Francisco, and though only 14 of them made the trip, their troupe has over 50 members back home. It's the first time the group has traveled to the United States, but South San Francisco's Ballet Folklórico has traveled to Mexico twice before, in 2003 and 2008, where they performed joint concerts.
Joseph Ortiz, 24, is a graduate of and a former Ballet Folklórico dancer who made the trip to Mexico in 2008.
"It was one of the best experiences I've had in my life," said Ortiz, who spent two weeks traveling around the country as well as visiting Atotonilco.
Ortiz met his wife, Erica Ortiz, 24, in Ballet Folklórico when they were 16, and they now have two young children.
"We're not the only ones," Erica Ortiz said.
Erica Ortiz, who still dances as a graduate through the Parks and Recreation program, will perform in four dances Friday night from different regions of Mexico. Each region has different music, steps and costumes. For example, her dance that comes from the tropical state of Sinaloa uses a costume that only has one sleeve.
"It's a little more sexy," she said.
Over 130 South San Francisco Ballet dancers will perform Friday in what will be Ballet Folklórico Alma de México's 20th anniversary dance concert.
For more information about the concert, .