In the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History 1325-1910, my aunt Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter, narrates the crucial role that Dance played in the lives of the Mexican people from the Pre-Hispanic era to the start of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. This month I have decided to honor Mexican scholar and artist Luis Covarrubias. I am selecting a few drawing that can be found in his books Mexican Native Dances and Trajes Regionales de México to bring to life my aunt’s text. (For more information on my favorite books to read see Folklorico Books for Every Folklorista’s Collection.) The following is an excerpt from the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) I have added illustrations by Luis Covarrubias in this blog post. Martínez-Hunter cites Covarrubias in her analysis. Due to copyright laws these drawings could not be included in her book. Martínez-Hunter writes of the Dance Dramas during the Spanish influence after the conquest of Mexico.
Los Moros y Cristianos (The Moors and the Christians)
The first Christian dance-drama to be introduced into Mexico was probably the dance of the “Moors and the Christians.” The earliest known record of this dance in Mexico dates from 1524, at which time Los Moros y Cristianos was presented to Cortés in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. This drama symbolized the union of two cultures. The dramatization exemplified the constant struggle of the Indigenous people in deciding between their own ancient traditions and new customs the Spaniards had to offer as a means of survival.
Los Santiagos (Dance of St. James)
A variant of the “Moors and Christians” dance described above in Los Santiagueros or Santiagos. According to legend prior “to decisive battles between the Spanish and Indians, visions of Santiago appeared in the sky.”
In this dance-drama, Saint James with help from no one converts the “heathens” to Christianity or vanquishes them. Hence the conquest of Mexico is itself brought about by the dance. In effect, in the introduction, the priests admonish the Indigenous people by telling them that if they do not accept the new religion they will risk God’s anger.
La Danza de los Concheros (The Concheros Dance)
A number of dances are clearly reminiscent of the Concheros, an Indigenous group of people who inhabited Central Mexico in ancient times. Described in their songs as “soldiers of the Conquest of the Holy Religion,” the name of these legendary figures, “concheros,” is derived from the musical instrument associated with them, a mandolin or guitar fabricated from the shell-like protective armor, or concha, of the armadillo, an animal regarded as a symbol of the earth.
Sones of Mexico
Martínez-Hunter also writes of the different types of sones of Mexico that were sung and danced from 1810-1910. As she explains it, The jarana is a dance-type of son. The dance is named after the small guitar of the same name. The word jarana can be literally translated as “happy and vivacious.” The jarana is much like the Spanish jota, a dance popular in Aragón. Jaranas are most popular in Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, and Quintana Roo.
The Spanish jota, zapateado, and seguidillas of the 1600 and 1700 became popular in the Yucatán peninsula. The locals of the area assimilated parts of the new Spanish music into the aboriginal dances, and soon the Jarana took on a new “feel.” The Jarana depicts the mestizo spirit like the huapango and jarabe. Today the Jarana dances have diminished in popularity and are interpreted mostly by folk dance performing groups to represent the dances from the Yucatán peninsula.
In Yucatán the townspeople, decked in their finest clothes, come together to celebrate a vaqueria (round-up) a traditional folk festival. The yucatecas (women from Yucatán) wear gala ensembles of lovely white huipiles or embroidered tunics, silk rebozos or scarfs, starched laces, and gold filigree necklaces. The men wear distinctive, white guayaberas also called filipinas (pleated dress shirts) with a short raised collar. Linen trousers, alpargatas (thick sandals), and fine henequen or panama straw hats.
I find it amazing to think that many of these dances are still performed today. They continue to evolve and change with the passage of time. Yet, these dances are bodily passed down from one generation to another. Folklorico dance as an embodied practice maintains the history of our ancestors with every zapateado.
To purchase your copy of Dancing Throughout Mexican History 1325-1910 please visit Amazon at the link provided below.
Luis Covarrubias, Regional Dances of Mexico. México: Fischgrund- Litographia Record, n.d. p. 23.
 Donald Cordry. Mexican Masks. Texas: University of Texas Press, 1980 p. 232.
 Covarrubias, p. 25.
 Covarrubias, p. 14.
 Guillermina Dickins, Dances of Mexico (Great Britain: Billing and Sons Ltd. Guildford, n.d.), p. 7.
 Dickins, p. 10.
 The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, XII (1980), S.v. “Mexico.”
 Herrera Ochoa, José Rafael, 2007. “Yucatán,” in Associación Nacional
de Grupos Folklóricos Conference Syllabus, New Mexico: ANGF. n.p.
Books by Luis Covarrubias
Covarrubias, Luis. Mexican Native Costumes. Mexico D.F.: Eugenio Fischgrund, n.d.
—.—. Mexican Native Dances. Mexico D.F.: Eugenio Fischgrund, n.d.
—.—. Trajes Regionales de México.Mexico D.F.: Eugenio Fischgrund, n.d.