Pa' Bailar Tijuana Tries to Get People Dancing Across the Border
October 13, 2010

TIJUANA, Mexico -- Pa' Bailar Tijuana is trying to get people to dance on the streets on October 21st. The idea is to celebrate Tijuana, despite the ongoing stigma of violence that has affected the border city for years.

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
A group of Tijuana residents practice their moves steps away from the Pacific Ocean.

Renato Lopez has gathered a group of about a dozen middle-aged women. They're in Playas de Tijuana -- a place where the border wall meets the westernmost corner of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

Lopez is a 21 year-old college student and one of the organizers of Pa' Bailar Tijuana.

The music blares from a pair of speakers, and Lopez leads the dance, but the women trail behind, off beat. The song they're dancing to is by Julieta Venegas, a Tijuana-born pop star, and the steps were choreographed by the Tijuana-based dance troupe, Lux Boreal.

"The dance moves shouldn't be hard to learn," says Lopez. "It's a simple four-step with hand motions that say 'I love Tijuana.'"

Seventy-five-year-old dance instructor Gloria Ledon is practicing her moves. She's one of hundreds of people in the city who say they will come out on October 21st to dance to this song outside, in parks, shopping malls, and plazas. The idea is simple: to celebrate Tijuana.

"I would love to have Americans who cross regularly into Tijuana join in on the dance," says Ledon. Norma Pennock, standing next Ledon nods in agreement.

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
Renato Lopez, 21, shows the different moves for the Pa' Bailar Tijuana choreography.

"It's important that people keep coming to Tijuana because the city has another side to it," says the Pennock, an arts blogger. "Tijuana is a noble city that gives work, housing and food to anyone who works hard."

Tijuana-San Diego is the busiest border crossing in the world. There are 30 universities in Tijuana, and many factories producing everything from medical devices to televisions.

But in the last three years, drug-related killings and kidnappings have made a serious dent on the city's public image. The global economic downturn further hurt Tijuana by closing shops and leaving thousands without work.

Speaking at the Tijuana Innovadora conference in Tijuana last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon championed the current push to clean up the city's reputation.

"Tijuana's efforts at self-improvement are especially important right now, at a time when the country faces a major security problem," he said. "Until recently, Tijuana had an image that was almost exclusively linked to crime."

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
Mexican federal police, or "Federales", pose for pictures in front of the border wall near the site where dancers are practicing for the October 21st street performance.

But just this week, newspaper headlines announced seven killings in three separate incidents that signaled the possible return of drug-related violence in the city.

Back in Playas de Tijuana, the group of dancers is getting better at following their steps. Elsewhere in the city, there are hundreds of people practicing and getting ready to take over the streets on October 21st.

In San Ysidro, people will be gathering at the Plaza Las Americas Outlet Mall at 6:00 pm for the U.S. side of the public performance. But no one knows how many people will join in the dance from the California side of the border, and whether Pa' Bailar will be the catalyst for change that many hope it to be.