The Love Story behind the Jarabe Tapatío: as told by Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance”
I always tell my dancers “we tell our histories through our zapateados.” I feel that we need to pay close attention to our body movements because they make meanings on many different levels. This idea is evident in the writings and teachings of Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance.” When I spoke to her former students and colleagues, they told me that Flores de Angeles would teach the footwork of the Jarabe Tapatío alongside the love story that surrounded it. Wanting to learn more, I researched her writings. I discovered that Flores de Angeles had written a series of articles on various dances of Mexico in the Real Mexico publication in the 1930s. The article on the Jarabe Tapatío was one in particular that really caught my attention. In this article, she described the love story behind the Jarabe Tapatío. Analyzing these findings, I noticed that the footwork sequences of the Jarabe Tapatío told the story. By knowing the footwork and by paying close attention to the dance steps, the love story of the Jarabe Tapatío unfolds. Here, I share with you this love story as written by Alura Flores de Angeles and documented by Folklorist Ron Houston.
Romantic Love Story
As Alura Flores de Angeles recounts,
now the explanation of the meaning of the dance. There are eight steps, quite intricate ones. The first step represents the galloping of a horse. The charro, booted and spurred, is on his way to the china’s house. In the second step he rasps briskly at the door but it is not opened to him because the china is not in. In the third step the charro walks across the corral in order to take his horse from the stable, and on the way, in the fourth step, he meets the china poblana. She coquets with him, but keeps him at arms’ length. The fifth step shows the charro drunk-probably to drown his sorrow. He is unable to guide his horse straight as the sixth step indicates (Flores de Angeles 1934, 17).
Fearing her father would see the charro drunk, the china poblana serves him hot tea to sober him up. They both perform the footwork sequence known as the hojas de té (Houston 2017, 50).
The china poblana is touched. She turns toward the charro and the two start to flirt again. The charro signifies that he is all hers by throwing his hat on the floor. The china in order to accept him takes the chic method of dancing on the broad brim of the hat (Flores de Angeles 39) or by either placing the hat on her head (Houston 2017, 51).
In the eighth and last step, both are hilariously merry and express their pleasure and happiness by dancing “La Diana” (Flores de Angeles 1934, 39).
[They] both hide behind the hat and kiss, as they are now engaged (Houston 2017, 51).
This, then, is the story of the Jarabe Tapatío, Mexico’s national dance, which …. is now known to all the world interested in dancing (Flores de Angeles 1934, 39).
The video footage below was taken in the late 1970s. Performing are my aunt Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and her student Roy Lozano dancing the Jarabe Tapatio. At this time, Martinez-Hunter was a Dance faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. She founded the UT Ballet Folklorico in 1975 with her students Roy Lozano, Patsy Haynes, and Michael Carmona. Martinez-Hunter would teach at UT until retirement. Roy Lozano would audition and dance with the Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández. Later, he would start his own company called Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklorico de Tejas of which I was a part of. As they dance the Jarabe Tapatio, I narrate the love story behind the dance as Flores de Angeles did so many times. Enjoy! (Footage courtesy of Michael Carmona)
As you notice, our dance movements tell the love story of the charro and china poblana. Listen closely and you can hear the charro galloping on his horse and knocking on the door of the china poblana with our zapateados. The dancers move close to each other keeping eye contact as they flirt. Both the charro and the china poblana perform the borracho step when the charro gets drunk on a bottle of tequila. They perform the ojas de té step when the china sobers him up. Our dance movements continue the story as the charro throws his hat on the floor when asking for the love of the china. She accepts his affections by picking up the hat and placing it on her head. A military tune called La Diana is played as the charro has romantically conquered his china poblana. Notice that this is the first time the couple faces the audience. They solidify their love through a final kiss which represents their engagement to marry (Mendoza-García 2013, 51-60).
Where did Flores de Angeles learn this love story behind the Jarabe Tapatío? I have found no oral accounts or written documents to answer this question. Yet, when I spoke with Folklorist Ron Houston and searched my aunt’s archival collection, I discovered that “at age twenty-one Flores de Angeles served on the committee that choreographed the National dance of Mexico, the Jarabe Tapatío (known at this time as the Jarabe Largo).” Perhaps, she learned the love story when she served on the committee so many years ago.
When I learned the Jarabe Tapatío from my dance teachers, I was not told the love story behind the dance. I feel that it is an important part of the history of this dance. Now, I always teach this dance explaining the love story as I go along. I hope you do so too.
To read a bit more of my writings surrounding the Jarabe Tapatío, please read my article called “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico” that is published in the Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (2016).
Also, please read my dissertation called “Bodily Renderings of the Jarabe Tapatio in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and the Millennial United States: Race, Nation, Class, and Gender” which was submitted in 2013 at the University of California, Riverside.
Finally, please check out my aunt’s book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) which is edited by myself. It is available for purchase on amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia
Flores Barnes and Jeanne Maisonville. 1934. “The Dances.” Mexican Folkways. 3(15): 16-17, 39.
Houston, Ron. 2017. Folk Dances of Mexico for Grupos Folklóricos: Dances Introduced by Alura Flores and her Students. Austin: Society of Folk Dance Historians.
—.—.. Photograph of Alura Flores de Angeles. N.d. Society of Folk Dance Scholars Collection. Austin, Texas.
—.—. Personal Interview. 14 April 2011.
Martinez, Sanjuanita. Letter to University of Texas Departments. 1979. Collection of Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter, Austin, Texas.
Mendoza-García. “Bodily Renderings of the Jarabe Tapatío: Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in Twentieth Century Mexico and Millennial United States.” Ph.D dissertation. The University of California Riverside, 2013.
The Jarabe Tapatío. N.d. Collection of Michael Carmona. Austin Texas. Public Access.
Cover photo is in the public domain.
Copyright, May 3, 2020, Mendoza-Garcia
Gabriela Mendoza-García Ph.D. is an Artist and Scholar. She has her own dance school and company called the Gabriela Mendoza-García Ballet Folklórico in Laredo, Texas. Dr. Mendoza-Garcia founded this group in 2013 and teaches children and adults of all ages. Her company consists of seasoned folklórico dancers with years of experience performing this art form. She teaches traditional Mexican folklórico dance pieces, as well as, works that are inspired by her scholarly research. Her scholarship includes: Dancing throughout Mexican History (1325-1910), History & Folklore booklet with an accompanying documentary sponsored by the Webb County Heritage Foundation, The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class and Gender in 1920s Mexico published by Oxford University Press, an on-line blog, writings for Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos, and others.
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