Category: Hidden Texas

Cultures Dance their way into Austin

 By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec

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Bright dresses and choreographed dance moves captured the stage at the Austin Earth Day Festival on Saturday.  

The Mueller Lake Park event highlighted multiple social dance styles, including flamenco, ballet folklórico, square dancing and tango.

Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento, was one of the dance groups at the event. It presented a traditional Mexican dance from Oaxaca. Edgar Yepez dance instructor at Oaxaca, said the dance represents Mexican heritage.

“It’s a Mexican tradition,” Yepez said. “It’s a Mexican folklore.”

Arte en Movimento’s goal is to be a growing space for culture and art, while promoting diversity, opportunity and cultural expression. Yepez said they’ve been around for a year and have seen their program grow tremendously from four participants to 40. He credits the growth to style of dance.

“The main difference in the style of dance is Guelaguetza,” Yepez said. “No one is doing Guelaguetza in Austin. That’s the main difference between other kinds of dance.”

Oaxaca showcases the vibrant social dance culture in the city.

But Austin isn’t always as kind to professional dance. Austin’s professional dance culture has the same issues as other major cities. According to Caroline Clark, who is working on her Ph.D. about Austin dance, said the only dancers who make a salary are ballet dancers. There’s also limited space. But she added that “that’s true everywhere.”

While professional dance has its troubles in the city, Clark said the most important thing about Austin’s dance culture is its growth.

 

Origins of Dance Cultures

Infographic Created By: Kaylee Nemec 

 

“The most important thing to know about Austin dance is that as Austin’s population grows, the diversity of dance forms that one can do here increases,” Clark said. “There are many kinds of dance here, from African forms to Hispanic forms to European folk forms to Asian forms. And, don’t forget the big Native American powwow that takes place every November. And, the very influential Texas dance hall tradition.”

Some of the biggest reasons for social dance’s popularity in Austin is it’s fun atmosphere. Mickey Jacobs, a senior tango instructor at Esquina Tango Cultural Society of Austin, said people attend tango classes at Esquina for the relaxed environment.

“We laugh a lot,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very open, and welcoming community. That’s really what esquina is known for and that’s what brings people back. It’s not intimidating … We make it easy to take that first step.”

Jacobs said Esquina offers a wide variety of classes. The main focus is Argentine tango, which places emphasis on the dance partners’ connection. Jacob’s performed a tango routine with fellow instructor Orazzio Loayza at Saturday’s festival, which displayed the dance’s heavy reliance on a duo’s embrace, and it additionally showed the technical side of the dance.

“It’s a couples dance first and foremost so learning to have the conversation, if you will, between the follower and the leader, but instead of a verbal conversation, it’s a conversation with your body,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very sensual dance. It’s all about responding to each other’s body movement … It all goes back to an embrace. The dance position is called the abrazo, which means embrace, and that’s where everything originates.”

Jacobs added that Esquina isn’t the only place in Austin teaching tango. She said the tango culture in Austin, much like the city’s overall dance community, is alive and well.

“There’s a very vibrant community,” Jacobs said. “There are a few 100 people, who regularly dance tango. There are definitely people around town, who are great, that serve people all around Austin … There are good teachers throughout the city, and a very vibrant active community.”

 

 

Meanings of Bharata Natyam Hand Gestures

Photos and Cutlines By: Kaylee Nemec

 

 

Photos and Cutlines By: Nick Castillo

 

Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en5fkzMcs7c

The Dirty Truth: Bar Closures on “Dirty Sixth” During Texas Relays

Keep Austin Buzzin’

By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec

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Lance Wilson has been around honey bees his entire life.

Wilson, a master beekeeper who manages hives in Llano and Travis County, was introduced to beekeeping by his grandfather when he was a child.

“So many people you’ll notice have grandparents that are involved with beekeeping and are exposed to it that way,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how you would accrue the number of years that I was exposed to it with my grandfather, but I’ve been doing it myself as an adult for about seven or eight years.”

 Wilson, president of the Austin Area Beekeepers Association and area director of the Texas Beekeepers Association, said he’s noticed a decrease in his colonies’ population size – a trend that matches national statistics which show a huge decline in honey-producing bee colonies.

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“There’s been a precipitant decline in the number of managed colonies,” Wilson said. “There’s all sorts of reasons for this.” He added that harmful parasites, such as mites, loss of habitat and pesticides were among the top reasons for decline in bee population.

 According to the National Agriculture Statistics Services, there are 2.44 million honey-producing bee colonies in the United States, a sharp decline from the 5.9 million colonies in 1947.

 While honey bees might strike fear in some or be seen as a nuisance during a day at the park, they play an important role in agriculture. Honey bees pollinate flowers and without them, many crops wouldn’t be produced. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year.

 Research has been conducted because of honey bees high-value in agriculture and society. Waldan Kwong, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University, said research has been done to find the reasons behind the decline and how to reduce the loss of bee population.

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“At this stage, many scientists are trying to understand the causes and scale of the problem – very basic research – such that in the future, better policies can be implemented at the regulatory level,” Kwong said in an email. “For my own research, I am looking at the bacteria that live in association with [honey and bumble] bees.”

 Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are aiding in bee research. Integrative biology professor Nancy Moran leads a bee research lab in the department of biosciences. Moran and her team examine bacteria in bees and how it interacts with the them.

 “These bacteria are not pathogenic, but are rather commensals and mutualists that are part of the natural social environment of these insects,” said Kwong, who is also a postdoctoral fellow in Moran’s lab. He added that the bacteria work with the honey bees to help fight off harmful pathogens, and help with the bee’s digestive system.

Moran’s lab has 10 bee colonies on top of the J.T. Patterson Labs Building. These honey bees are used in her lab research. The hope is to see how these bacteria can protect them from negative exposure to pathogens, which would reduce the population decline.

 “There’s the hope that [the bacteria in bees] will be helpful with factors that affect the health [of bees],” Moran said. “It’s been shown that bacteria can protect bees.”

While there is a concern about honey bees rapid population decrease, Moran said the concerns should be lessened.

 “It’s not like honey bees are going to go extinct,” Moran said. “There are a lot of honey bees.”

Honey Bee Facts 

Despite his concerns about the bee population, Wilson said there is work being done to halt the decline.

 “The good thing is that there are various chemical treatments that are biopesticide or are organic in nature that means we’re finding better ways to treat honey bees and keep mites under control that doesn’t negatively impact the colonies,” Wilson said.

 

 

 

Honey Bee Terminology

 

 

 

 

Photos By: Kaylee Nemec

 

 

 

 

Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez

 

Austin Community Revamps “Free Art Friday”

Tiny Homes For A Tiny Budget

By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall

Lisa Villanyi, 46, may need to go out for Thanksgiving dinner next year. The small dining space in the 399 square-foot home she’s thinking about buying may not be enough room to cook a full feast – and fit her entire family.

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Villanyi is soon to be part of the one percent of homebuyers that have chosen to purchase a house of less than 1,000 square feet. As apartment rent costs rise and consumers become more environmentally conscious, the tiny house movement has grown in certain U.S. cities, including Austin.

 

“I think everyone still wants a piece of the American dream, and small houses are sustainable and affordable,” said Shay Reynolds, owner of Buy A Small House in Austin.

 

On Nov. 19, the Austin City Council even voted to ease the rules restricting the construction of backyard cottages, or additional add-on properties to larger homes, which often serve as housing for aging relatives.

 

“When someone comes in and they’ve decided they want to buy a small house, they choose between 15 to 18 different floor plans,” Reynolds said. He said customers are then able to also select the type of flooring and roof, as well as paint colors.

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“Once it’s finished being built, we deliver it, lock it, level it, tie it down and hook it up to the utilities and it’s a fully functional house,” Reynolds said.

 

Reynolds said people tend to either purchase or lease land, or find an RV park to place their new $45,000 tiny home. He also said the 399 square-foot houses are not subject to sales or property taxes.

 

Villanyi, who currently resides in Denver, Colorado, said she is currently struggling to find property in Austin to put her house, as the area has recently become flooded with new housing and construction developments. She said she currently pays $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

 

“You’re constantly paying rent every month and never getting ahead,” Villanyi said. “I figured if I could pay for this in cash, then I’d have it for my own.”

 

Reynolds said “business is booming,” but it is difficult to determine the actual impact the tiny house movement is having on Austin since other forms of housing remain popular.

 

Residential Strategies Inc., a Dallas-based market research company, reported in January 2015 the new home inventory – including model homes, homes under construction and finished vacant homes – was 7,279 at the end of 2014. This was a 46-unit increase from 2013. Several new apartment complexes are also under construction to keep up with the housing demand of the city’s booming population.

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But Villanyi has other things to think about, especially if she will be able to host her family that lives in Colorado for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

“I haven’t even thought about holidays,” Villanyi said. “It’s small, but it’s plenty big for me.”

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Austin’s First Cat Café

By: Julia Farrell, Taylor Wiseman, Mariana Muños, Michelle Sanchez

History of Cat Cafés

Blue Cat Café is on a mission to provide Austin with coffee and cats. Although this is the first of its kind to open in Texas, cat cafes are becoming more popular across the nation. California, New York, and Pennsylvania are just a few of the states that have picked up on the trend in the past year. The idea of a “cat café” established the concept in Japan nearly 17 years ago.

For a light fee, customers can enjoy a meal while playing with some feline friends. The café houses a maximum of 25 cats at a time, all of which are shipped directly from the Austin Humane Society. That means that for each 25 cats housed by the café, 25 cages are opened up at AHS. Since its opening in July, the café continues to provide food and shelter for stray kittens.

“Most of the cats we get have never had a real home,” says Rebecca Gray, co-founder of the Blue Cat Café. “This is their first real glimpse at home life until they are adopted by a family.”

Blue Cat Café

A typical day at the café begins at 7:00 a.m. The kittens are all lined up at the door, awaiting the arrival of humans. After being fed, the owners do a cat count every morning to ensure that none are sick, as a disease within the colony can spread quickly. By 9 a.m. customers are lined up at the door. Due to health policies, all of the food is prepared in a food truck outside of the café. The food is then brought inside, where customers can eat and drink coffee in the company of the cats.

Blue Cat Café is also an adoption agency. Not only can you play with the kittens, but you can also take one home. The adoption process is simple: just pick your kitty and pay a $50 fee, which covers the cost of food, toys, and a bed for your new pet. Adoption opens up space for new cats to be sheltered at the café, which in turn helps reduce the stray cat population in Austin.

“We’ve been averaging over an adoption a day,” says co-owner of Blue Cat Café Jacques Casimir.

“We’ve had four yesterday, so we’d be on pace at this point for more than 400 adoptions in a year.”

Austin’s feral cat population has spiked significantly in the past decade. Places like the Blue Cat Café help reduce the stray cat population by taking in kittens and caring for them until they are adopted. Casimir says that they receive cats from AHS on a daily basis, except for weekends.

AHS does not keep a census of the stray cat population in Austin due to the overwhelmingly large number. Mike Di Tullio, AHS’ feral cat program supervisor, says that the growing population is a large problem for the city. In 2007, the program began a free Tap-Neuter-Return program in an attempt to control the feral cat population. It involves volunteers locating stray cats and bringing them to the clinic so that they can be fixed. This way, when they are returned to the streets, they are not able to reproduce at such a quick rate. This is yet another way that the city is trying to curb the number of cats on the streets.

Cat Cafés Worldwide

Community stands by The Hole in the Wall

Bigger Doesn’t Always Mean Better

By: Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, Jessica Stovall, Vanessa Pulido

Standing in front of a chalkboard listing more than 15 types of pie, Ignacio Pineda, an employee at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle, Texas, takes the orders of regular and new customers with ease.

Located less than a block from City Hall, the bakery is one of the last places in Kyle that bears any resemblance to the small town where he grew up, Pineda said.

The downtown area of Kyle is small and dominated by small businesses, city hall, and the train tracks that run through the town.

The downtown area of Kyle is small and dominated by small businesses, city hall, and the train tracks that run through the town.

“This entire street here was Kyle before they started adding the stores and shops and what-not,” Pineda said. “The great Kyle from the past is gone. What we have now is the industrial Kyle.”

Over the last 10 plus years the city of Kyle, Texas has grown over 730%.

Over the last 10 plus years the city of Kyle, Texas has grown over 375%. Source: U.S. Census Bureau

From 1998 to 2013, Kyle’s population grew 772 percent – from 3,641 to 31,760 –according to the U.S. Census Bureau, transforming the rural area 20 miles south of Austin into a city that is nowadays more akin to a suburb than a small Texas town.

“I remember when I came here before we moved here,” said Mayor Todd Webster, who moved to Kyle with his family in 1998. “I drove around looking at the town – there were chickens running around.”

Webster said one of the primary drivers of Kyle’s growth was the inflation of housing prices in nearby cities such as Austin. Once city rents began to soar during the late 1990s, Austinites and people from other places like California began making their way to Kyle looking for an affordable place to live.

“That’s why I moved here,” Webster said. “I had two kids, and I was delivering pizzas. This was before I went to law school. It provided an opportunity for me to have a nice home for me to raise my children.”

But according to Webster, growth is not without growing pains.

One of the first water towers built in Kyle,Texas. Due to its massive growth in recent years Kyle had some struggles with its water supply.

One of the first water towers built in Kyle,Texas. Due to its massive growth in recent years Kyle had some struggles with its water supply.

As Kyle’s population increased, Webster said infrastructure problems began to develop, first manifesting with the water system.

“We had a big water shortage here,” Webster said. “My personal experience literally was not having water come out of the faucet. Water would spit like there was air in the lines.”

While city government worked to diversify the water supply, which had primarily consisted of only groundwater, other issues began to be made apparent, including residents’ lack of access to a close hospital. The closest emergency care unit was located 20 miles away in Austin.

“I had an emergency with my oldest when she was five, and I had to rush her to the hospital, and it was the longest drive of my life,” Webster said. “I got her in the car and drove 100 mph to Austin to get her to the hospital.”

With the influx of people, demand for health services became more widespread, resulting in the construction of Seton Medical Center Hays on Kyle Parkway.

Along with a new hospital, a new HEB was also built after the town’s local grocery store – the Bon-Ton – burnt down in the early 2000s.

“I think that was the biggest change,” Pineda said. “The Bon-Ton had been the town grocery for forever. My uncles worked there. My sister worked there. I worked there for a summer. That was a family-owned establishment, and it served so many people for so many years. You didn’t need Wal-Mart.”

As the construction of chain restaurants in Kyle began to greatly outpace that of local enterprises, Gordon Wybo, president of Sustainacycle’s Sustainable Living Center, said he started Sustainaclycle to help residents with their nutrition and to support small businesses.

“We can get all of the chains – as you can see we’ve got enough restaurants for two or three cities – but the demographic is supporting them,” Wybo said. “On the flip side of the coin, with small businesses, especially niche businesses like mine, the demographic is also supporting that too.”

Even though Kyle’s population increase has been good for business, Pineda said he still misses the small town atmosphere.

“I’m old-fashioned, so I like the smaller things,” Pineda said. “But it’s nice seeing a whole bunch of people from out-of-state bringing what they can to this town.”

Racist Roots: An inside look at UT landmarks

By Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, Danny Goodwin, & Danielle Vabner

In front of the main tower at the University of Texas, there is an empty space where a statue of Jefferson Davis once stood. Appearing indifferent toward its absence, students walk by on their way to class, cell phones in hand.

The university made the controversial decision to remove the statue after South Carolina took down its own Confederate flag. Some disagree with its relocation, arguing that the statue is simply part of the school’s history, and that to remove it from its original location is to deny its history and its ties to the Confederacy. Others, however, are relieved that the statue is no longer on display, and feel that the time has come to bid adieu to the prejudiced past it is associated with.

“I think that’s kind of what the university allows for in this space is for these kind of conversions and controversies,” said Dr. Simone Browne, an Associate Professor in African and African Diaspora Studies. “But in the end, at least for me, the right thing was done, and for other people they want that to remain so that we can understand these histories.”

The history of the university and its landmarks goes deeper than Jefferson Davis. There are still other figures on campus that remain at the center of this debate, figures who have had an influence on the university for years. One example is George Littlefield, who was a donor to the university and had ties to the Confederacy.

“He established a Littlefield Fund for Southern History, which would basically archive a history that was a celebration of the Confederacy,” Browne said. “[He] gifted not only this archive, but also gifted the money to create what we have as the six-pack…and so his name is still continually on the campus.”

Though Browne said that she agrees with the removal of the statue, she does not believe that awareness of the university’s history and keeping these landmarks up for all to see have to be mutually exclusive.

“[We need to understand] the university, its architecture, and its formation as a…memorialization to the Confederacy as an enterprise,” Browne said. “That’s what it was about. That’s why basically the, the university’s back is facing the north, why we’re facing the Capitol, why we have everything around that fountain.”

Dr. Leonard Moore is an example of a UT faculty member who feels that the statues and other landmarks originating from can serve as learning tools for students, and that they should not be taken down.

“I’m a historian, so other people may see a Confederate statue as problematic. I value them for their historical value, you know what I mean?” Moore said. “I like to use things like that as a teachable moment. I wish they had left them up, because I think it reminds people of the history of this place.”

Moore also said that he does not believe that the statues have a profound effect on minority students at UT. He said that in his experience, students are looking to get more support from the UT community.

“They would’ve probably said some more scholarships, some more outreach efforts, some more outreach programs out of the College of Business and the College of Engineering,” he said. “And so the fear was, when they put the statues down, now we can’t get anything else.”

 

What Goes Down Must Come Up