Established in 1982, Dance/USA  recently released the names of the 2022 Dance/USA Artist Fellows and among them were two Los Angeles based artists Gema Sandoval and Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez. Dance/USA is the national service organization for Dance and DFA is one of our programs. This is the second round of Dance/USA Fellowships where 30 dance and movement-based artists will receive a $30,167 grant to use as they wish. Overall, the funds awarded will equal $905,010. DFA is made possible with generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF).

In a statement sent out by the DFA, it states: “As society grapples with unprecedented challenges and increasingly recognizes systemic inequities and injustices, Dance/USA is reaffirmed that the work of supporting artists who engage in art for social change is pivotal and overdue. The goals of DFA include offering unrestricted financial support for individual artists, building a peer cohort among the Artist Fellows, and facilitating cohort spaces that are emergent and honor the artists’ choices and desires.”

I reached out to Sandoval and Gutiérrez to learn more about their projects and reactions on receiving this grant.

How does it feel to have been awarded the Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists?

Sandoval:  I am incredibly honored to have been selected by a national dance organization. My presence in this roster means that my art form will have a national voice, not as an immigrant transplant, but as part of the American footprints of dance. And that is huge.

Alma Llanera Ultima (pointing) - Dancers (L-R) Andy Romero, Christie Rios, Mimi Rios, Cecilio De Castro - Photo by Francisco Sandoval

Alma Llanera Ultima (pointing) – Dancers (L-R) Andy Romero, Christie Rios, Mimi Rios, Cecilio De Castro – Photo by Francisco Sandoval

Gutiérrez:  I’m in deep gratitude for re-grant maker, DanceUSA, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for funding the fellowship honoring the work I’ve done since 2013. In my mission to visibilize, honor, and financially support foster youth artist perspectives in Los Angeles and beyond, it’s been unclear at times understanding the impact of my work/advocacy. Receiving this grant was a much needed reassurance that foster youth voices can be unfiltered, paid equitably, and continue to grow despite there being no infrastructure for performing arts x foster youth programs.

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez - Photo by Patty Huerta @pa_huer

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez – Photo by Patty Huerta @pa_huer

What is the project that you submitted for this award and will you now be able to complete it?

Sandoval: The project I submitted for is Mujer-Ayer, Hoy y Siempre/Woman-Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. The narrative of this work is told through the eyes of women of three different generations-mother, daughter and granddaughter. The focus of the work are the elements of culture that are constant through the generations; those that change, the reasons for these changes and what remains of them over time. Topics include: the Pandemic survival, #Metoo movement, Sisterhood, Racism, Decolonization, and Immigration, among others. The stories are told primarily through the vocabulary of Mexican folk dance in order to establish artistic cohesiveness. The project is being developed by me, my daughter Christie Rios and my granddaughter Mimi Rios. The performers, as always are Floricanto. The project began with funds from the CAC’s Impact program. But this particular topic has been  difficult for me. After all, I am part of the generation that has lived with and tolerated Racism, Decolonization, etc.. So it has taken longer to finish than originally anticipated. But, because these are important topics for me as well as the community I represent, I strive  to finish this program. And now it is being supported by a Dance/USA fellowship.

Las Tres Fridas,(L-R) Valerie Amanda, Mary Maldonado, Mimi Rios - Photo by Frank Sandoval

Las Tres Fridas, (L-R) Valerie Amanda, Mary Maldonado, Mimi Rios – Photo by Frank Sandoval

Gutiérrez:  I plan to use the funds from the fellowship to begin building the first foster youth dance collective in Los Angeles. The overall goal is to start chipping away at the prevalence of shame from both community members and foster youth themselves when it comes to sharing our stories. In a world where voices are filtered through a lens of only trauma survivors or only resilient because of the physical outcomes (having a home, graduating college, etc…) the aim of my work is to continue building (and performing) the nuance between the spectrum of foster care experiences. As a former foster youth myself and reconnecting P’urhépecha community member, I am also using the fellowship to continue retracing my own lineage, culture and dances while supporting foster youth in their re-connection journeys. The method of my work during this fellowship will also follow the tenets of my adoptee-led program MoFundamentals: creating with not for foster youth and creating healing outside of the foster care system.

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez - photo by Leo Rivas, @leomyhero

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez – photo by Leo Rivas,

Any other thoughts that you would like to share with our readers in regard to this Fellowship?

Sandoval: I see the fellowship as a great opportunity to not only expand my artistic voice, but also create a path for other folkloristas to follow on the road to their own personal artistic recognition. Finally, what I discovered as I wrote and applied for this prestigious fellowship is that my work represented folklorico as an agent for change.

Collaboration with Cesar Castro’s musical group, Cambalache - Dancer, Mimi Rios - Photo by Frank Sandoval

Collaboration with Cesar Castro’s musical group, Cambalache – Dancer, Mimi Rios – Photo by Frank Sandoval

Gutiérrez:  For the audience of readers, it is imperative that you invest in this work as a collaborator, ally, and funder where possible. I’ve recently premiered and built DespadazaoR. with 4 emerging foster youth artists in Los Angeles exploring what it means to despedazar (break apart) our foster care experiences in the right ways while also centering our moments of grief within sadness, joy, and sense of home outside a house. The work explores how to bring empathy to the foster youth and houseless community, understanding that LA County has finally confirmed and attributed 1/3 of the houseless community (as of 2020) is driven to be houseless because of their foster care experience. I am inviting in audiences, collaborators, and community members to acknowledge and reshape the much needed attention to foster youth artists in Los Angeles. I am ready to build more directly with the arts community in ways that honor the untapped potential of foster youth like myself in Los Angeles.

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez - Photo by Patty Huerta @pa_huer

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez – Photo by Patty Huerta @pa_huer

The 30 artists receiving this grant work in very diverse dance and movement-based forms. To see the full list of who they are and what they do, please click HERE.

“As I consider Dance/USA’s impact on the national dance ecosystem, it means so much for us to be able to deepen our commitment to artists through programs like DFA,” said Dance/USA Executive Director Kellee Edusei. “We are humbled to create a space for disruption within the dance ecosystem and performing arts sector by uplifting and honoring these incredible artists. We are immensely grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for their steadfast support and trust as we center the artist in every aspect of this program.”

About the two Los Angeles artists

Gema Sandoval (she/her) says that she is “devoted to illuminating her Chicano heritage through dance.” She creates work that uses her art form, Mexican folk dance, as a vehicle for change in her community. Sandoval is the Artistic Director and Choreographer of Danza Floricanto/USA, also known as Floricanto Dance Theatre, founded in 1975 making it the oldest existing professional Mexican folk dance troupe in Southern California. In addition to the traditional regional dances of Mexico, over the past nineteen years, she has staged theme works using the creative tools of her chosen art form: foot work, skirt work, rebozos and Mexican iconography. Examples are: Si Se Puede / Yes You Can, inspired by labor activist and United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez. Her rendition of internationally renowned Chicano author, Rudolfo Anaya’s novel “Bless Me, Ultima,” entitled, Alma Lllanera / Spirit Of The Plains, and Gema’s most recent full evening production, Immigrant Stories, An American Journey. Learn more about Sandoval and her company HERE.

Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez (he/him/el) is originally from Chicago and a first generation street artist. As an adult adoptee, Gutierrez founded MoFundamentals dedicated to highlighting the resiliency of the foster and adoptee community. Through university lecturing, collaborating with other foster and adoptee artists, and performing, Gabriel brings important ancestral practices from his P’urhépecha lineage into his work. His contributions at the intersection of hip hop, education, healing practices, and foster care advocacy have earned him the invitation to train at intensives hosted by Rennie Harris, a nomination for the ACTIVATE Arts Advocacy Fellowship to represent Los Angeles City District 1, and recruitment into the pilot reentry programming funded by the California Arts Council. Follow his work on Instagram and on LinkedIn.


For information about the Panelist and the Peer Readers, please click HERE.

For more information about Dance/USA, please visit their website.

For more information about the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: (L-R) Gema Sandoval (Photo: Juan Escobedo), Gabriel “MoFundamentals”Gutiérrez (Photo: Patty Hueta) – Photo collage by LADC