One time my two dear friends fought with each other. Of course, I was stuck in the middle. Each one told me their side of the story. All I could do was sit and listen to them tell me their perspectives on what happened to cause this disagreement. Have you ever been in this situation?
Well, this reminds me of how we think of history. Believe it or not, our ideas about history are always changing. When I was growing up, I was taught to think of history as searching for the “truth.” Now, I know that history is more like listening to different perspectives—not necessarily finding the “truth” as in this case with my two friends arguing with each other.
Our understanding about Aztec people and their dancing is constantly changing. Scholars still debate among each other, offer up different perspectives, and discover new finding even in the 21st century. Here are a few new ideas that I find fascinating.
- The Aztecs Never Thought of Cortès as a God
When I was growing up, I remember learning in my history class that part of the reason that Cortès was able to defeat the Aztecs is that they thought of him as the god Quetzalcoatl who was supposed to return to rule them. Matthew Restall in When Moctezuma Met Cortès (2018) argues that this a myth designed to justify the conquest of the Aztec people. Restall states that Cortès never mentions in any of his writings that the Aztecs thought of him as Quetzalcoatl. In fact, this idea surfaced in a poem written by a Spaniard in 1798 and continued from there (Restall 43-44). Think about it, if you position the Aztecs as simple minded people who believe that the Spaniards are gods, then these are people who need the guidance and help of the Spanish. They must be conquered, guided, and converted to Christianity.
2. Aztec Dancing Used to Justify the Conquest
- As I read through the book Dancing in the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest by Paul A. Scolieri (2013), I vividly imagine the Aztecs dancing for their social and religious ceremonies. Yet, what is remarkable to me are the ways in which Scolieri notes that the Spaniards justified the conquest of Mexico by referencing Aztec dancing. For example, He writes of the Noche Triste in which thousands of unarmed Aztecs were massacred by the Spanish conquistadors as they danced to celebrate the Toxcatl ceremony. The dancers were nobles and warriors. All were deliberately killed by the Spanish because they thought it was a ruse to overthrow them. He notes how some Spanish chroniclers lamented the massacre of the Aztec people and others romanticized Cortès’ involvement as a rescuer. Furthermore, he describes so many dances involving human sacrifice. These dances involving human sacrifice allowed the Spaniards to have even more reasons to convert them to Christianity (92, 101-102, 70-72). Scolieri shows us the interconnections of Aztec dancing with history, politics, and religion.
3. Concheros Dancing has Many Interpretations
- In her writings, Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” and other scholars argue that conchero dances do not have a direct indigenous lineage to pre-hispanic dance. Thus, I couldn’t understand why practitioners would tell me that the dances do have an unbroken indigenous lineage. That is until I read The Role of Interpretation in Determining Continuity in Danza Aztec History by Kristina Nielson (2018). This writing is from a blog taken from Nielson’s dissertation. As she explains it scholars interpret the move from indigenous worship to Christian worship and vice versa of the conchero dances over time as a break in lineage. Yet, practitioners see these changes as transformations of the dances which are a continuous cycle and not a break at all. Here, she argues that scholars and practitioners have different ways of interpreting the history of the concheros dancing. So, this explains this disconnect that I experienced.
As I debunk the idea of history as a “truth,” I wonder how this idea affects our own understanding of folklórico dance traditions. What happens when we think of folklórico dancing as a perspective and not a “truth?” What do you think?
Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.
To read more of Mexican dance history, please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available for purchase on Amazon.
Nielson, Kristina. The Role of Interpretation in Determining Continuity in Danza Azteca History. Mexica Resistance (blog). June 12, 2018. Accessed February 20, 2019. https://mexika.org/.
Restall, Matthew. (2018). When Moctezuma Met Cortès. New York: HarperCollins.
Scolieri, Paul A. (2013). Dancing in the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest. Austin: The University of Texas Press.