Teaching Folklorico Dance as a Living Practice

“Empecé a enseñar el jarabe tapatío a los extranjeros en 1932 y nunca lo he enseñado dos veces exactamente igual. Yo enseño parte del ‘Proceso Folclórico’ viviente, que como una mariposa, se transforma para hacerse más hermosa.”[I began teaching the Jarabe Tapatío to foreigners in 1932 and I have never taught it the same way twice.  My teachings reflect the living ‘folkloric process’, in which like a butterfly it is transformed to make it even more beautiful.] Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance”

Alura Flores de Angeles (1905-2000) was a remarkable woman known for her accomplishments in athletics, poetic recitation, and especially her contributions to Mexican Folklorico Dance. She taught Folklorico Dance at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City for over fifty years. Flores de Angeles traveled to the United States, Europe, and Asia teaching this art form to many. In an interview with me, Nelda Drury Guerrero, colleague and friend of Flores de Angeles remarked that Flores de Angeles taught the Jarabe Tapatío in slightly different ways at workshops throughout the United States. Folk dancers from different parts of the country brought different versions of the Jarabe Tapatío to the dance floor depending on where and when they had learned it from Flores de Angeles.

Flores de Angeles taught the Jarabe Tapatío as an ever changing art form. In so doing, her teaching style utilized the improvisational nature of dance common to the peasant communities. Paradoxically, Flores de Angeles was not of the peasant class. Drury Guerrero described her as being well-connected, with a social status above that of a teacher. Yet, Flores de Angeles taught the Jarabe Tapatío as peasant communities would have performed it, using improvisation, and by slightly altering the movements every time she taught it.  Drury Guerrero commented to me that oftentimes the students attending different workshops would beg Flores de Angeles to teach them all the same version of this dance, so that they could all dance together, yet she refused.

Nowadays, many practitioners teach Mexican Folklorico Dance as a fixed, series of movements. We are taught dances by our own teachers and pass them on to our students trying to keep them exactly as shown.  I suggest that this method of teaching goes against the improvisational nature of the dance practice from which it was derived. I argue that Flores de Angeles in her manner of teaching the Jarabe Tapatío retained something quite significant from the customs of the peasant and indigenous communities. She taught the dance as a living practice.

I often ask myself what it would mean for folklorico dance practitioners to teach as Flores de Angeles suggests as a living, breathing tradition that is in constant flux. Well, for one thing Flores de Angeles was a highly respected Dance teacher whose life work was intertwined with the culture and traditions of the people. So, this would mean that as dance practitioners we would need to research and really comprehend history, movements, and customs of the state/regions of Mexico that we teach. What could we do as educators to teach folklorico as a living practice? What if we allowed our students to create their own movement sequences and incorporated these ideas into our choreography? Or, perhaps we could leave space in our choreography for our students to improvise on stage. What if, we challenge ourselves to slightly alter the movements of the dances as we teach them making sure to retain the essence? I for one am going to try teaching dance as a living practice. What about you?

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Me Teaching Dance as a Living Practice

For more information on the life of Alura Flores de Angeles please see my post from Feb. 25, 2015. Citations and sources for this blog are located in my doctoral dissertation located at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8c47k3gm

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