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The Aztec Way

Special to The Times

As the sun slipped behind the hills, the rhythmic drumming began. The dancers circled around, twirling and capering to cadences that may date to the time when the Olmecs ruled what is now Mexico and Central America.

For eight years, La Danza Azteca Cuahtemoc has conducted classes at parks in San Fernando and North Hills that offer perspiration and education.

La Danza dances, which feature dancers wearing feather-adorned head pieces, or pemachos, celebrate Aztec culture. The exhibitions also include oral history lessons of the Aztec people and language instruction. It’s all aimed at preserving a rich cultural tradition.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about the Aztecs out there,” says Eduardo Rivera, 19, known as “The Historian” for his storehouse of ancient knowledge.

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The group, he said, “is not about reclaiming the past or running around naked. It’s about excavating and reclaiming your dignity.”

Rivera is one of 30 members of La Danza in the San Fernando Valley. The nonprofit group has about 100 members throughout Los Angeles, said Liliana Curioca, a dancer. Other La Danza Azteca Cuahtemoc chapters can be found in Washington and Boston, she said.

The Valley group, whose members range from 2-year-olds to the elderly, performs at a variety of social functions throughout the area.

“We’re always trying to work within our community and get involved with the issues in the Valley,” Curioca said. “We try to implement everything we’ve learned.”

Primarily, the lessons are of cultural history, dignity and unity among all people.

Patricia Jaramillo, the group’s leader, said she encourages everyone to participate in La Danza.

“We want to tell the people that we haven’t disappeared,” she said.

Staff writer Amy Oakes contributed to this story.

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