Nationalization of Folklórico Dance

Imagine this….you are the President of Mexico, Álvaro Obregón (1920-1923), your country survived a bloody revolution. In fact, you still have to quell a few up-risings here and there. Your countrymen and women identify more with their region than with the nation. You realize that your people need to unite culturally and politically. They must identify with the nation of Mexico. What do you do?

A Bit of History

To solve this dilemma, Obregón appointed José Vasconcelos to serve as the Secretary of Public Education (1920-1924). Not only was Vasconcelos instrumental in helping combat illiteracy, he also began the Cultural Nationalist Movement. What better way to unite the country than through music and dance? Vasconcelos wanted to be sure that every child enrolled in public school was taught folkloric dances. So, he started programs to train Physical Education teachers to teach Mexican folklórico dances. Vasconcelos even developed the Cultural Missions whereby a team of teachers including a Physical Education teacher would travel to a rural area in Mexico to teach. They were also instructed to document and collect the dances of the rural people (Mendoza-Garcia 324-329). What happened as a result of this emphasis?

The result was an officially sanctioned vision of Mexico that was supported by folklórico music and dances designated to represent the nation. Ricardo Pérez Montfort in Avatares del Nacionalismo Cultural: Cinco Ensayos (2000) argues that the national culture defined “Mexicanness” as coming from the pueblo. In the 1920s, the pueblo was thought of as being rural, provincial, poor, marginalized, yet experienced by the majority. Education was the key to consolidate and modernize the pueblo, and thus the nation itself. In addition, Pérez Montfort suggests that the use of the image of the pueblo became synonymous with the stereotyped image of “Mexicanness” which was invoked by the political leaders of Mexico to legitimize public policy (Avatares 35-45; Estampas 113). Rural Mexico was invoked in the music of the Mariachi band, as well as in the popular songs such as huapangos, corridos, and sones that are accompanied by the indigenous and folkloric dances (Sáenz 20-23). Folklórico flourished under this romanticized, idealized vision of Mexico.

Picking the Dances to Represent

Pablo Parga in Cuerpo Vestido de un Nación. Danza Folklorica y Nacionalismo Mexicano (1921-1939) (2004) argues the elites specifically chose which dances were to represent the regions of Mexico. In fact, they designated the Jarochos to represent Veracruz, the huapangos to represent the huasteca region, as well as, the charro and china poblana to represent the nation. Thus, many of our beloved folklórico dances that we perform to were actually hand-picked to represent the nation. In fact, Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” (1905-2000) indicated to folklorist Ron Houston that in 1924 the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) established a committee to standardize the Jarabe Tapatío. The committee chose the steps, music, and sequence of motifs of the Jarabe Tapatío which would be taught to school children. Furthermore, in her accounts of the history of the Jarabe Tapatío, Flores de Angeles states that in 1924 the Mexican government commissioned the SEP to synthesize the much shorter two and a half minute Jarabe Tapatío from the six minute version of the Jarabe Largo Ranchero. She indicated that she was a part of this committee (Mendoza-Garcia 323). Thus, much of what we know as folklórico today was born out of these ideas of what dances should represent the nation.

China Poblana
China Poblana in 2020 in the United States

Parga notes that an unofficial version of Mexican music and dance remained within the pueblo. This unofficial version stands in opposition to the official sanctified ideas promoted by the state. He suggests that when the nation began to nationalize the folklórico dances of Mexico, a “it has to be this way” kind of thinking developed. Parga remarks that believing that the dances ” has to be this way” developed from the elites who picked the dances to represent Mexico. He argues it is very centralistic and patriarchal way of thought.

My Ideas

I am very intrigued by the ways in which folklórico dance was nationalized by the state. I ask the following questions. What dances were chosen and why? Who gets left out of this official narrative? What gets erased?  What is the political reason behind this? Montfort argues that it is time to re-envision what dances belong to the nation (Breves Comentarios 192). What do you think?

Works Cited

Mendoza-Garcia, Gabriela. 2016. “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico.” edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young, 319-342. Oxford University Press.

Parga, Pablo. 2004. Cuerpo Vestido de un Nación. Danza Folklorica y Nacionalismo Mexicano (1921-1939).  Mexico: Conalculta/fonca.

Pérez Montfort, Ricardo. 2005. “Breves Comentarios al Libro Cuerpo Vestido de Nación.” Desacatos. 19: 189-192.

—.—. 2000. Avatares Del Nacionalismo Cultural: Cinco Ensayos. Mexico, D.F.: CIDHEM.

 —. —. 1994. Estampas Del Nacionalismo Popular Mexicano: Ensayos Sobre Cultura Popular Y Nacionalismo.” Mexico,D.F.: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios.

Sáenz, Moisés. 1939. Mexico Integro. Peru: Imprenta Torres Aguirre.

Photos courtesy of Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia

Copyright, October 4, 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.

4 thoughts on “Nationalization of Folklórico Dance

  1. Beto Rincón

    Yes! Thank you for talking about the nationalization of Folklórico. It brings up this question: By nationalizing BF, does it work to devalue the local qualities such as song, dance, and local clothing design/ embroidery and other local customs as a result of the creation of a nationalized interpretation? I would agree with Parga that what is at stake here is the possible formation of an elitism around the idea of “the possible” when it comes to the performance and praxis piece.

    I would love to get my hands on the Parga text you cite here. Any idea how I can get it?

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your writings and the writings in the Dancing across Borders text about the standardization project by the Mexican Govt. in the 1920’s and the broader efforts to nationalize BF.

    Thinking about this topic brought up a few examples from my own life: 1) When I took a group to a Folklórico competition and was told in the judges comments that I had designed the “wrong” choreography for a certain state. I had never heard of right and wrong choreography for given states. Am I missing something here?

    2) When I was told that usually the male dancer in Colima’s La Iguana typically has a 6-pack. I, along with my partner had just been awarded 1st place for my performance of the dance and was told this by one of the judges as he handed me the trophy. As an adult I later pondered- was he making a joke with me or was there really a standard agreed upon by a group of “elites” regarding the expected stature of “La Iguana” that I, and my maestro (Colima native and current resident), were unaware of?

    Also, as a folklórico lifer who is also a Son Jarocho musician, I vividly remember the day when I learned the name of the genre Son Jarocho by a young man in Austin, Texas who brandished a jarana mosquito over his shoulder. I had danced Veracruz repertoire since I was about 10 years old but never knew the name of its respective genre. He mentioned that the genre of Son Jarocho predated the commercialization of Folklórico, namely the attribution of Veracruz folklorico repertoire with all white vestuario and tacones, and harp being played in the music. What he made sure I knew about was the jarana jarocho and the tradition of handmaking these instruments out of one solid piece with simple tools in, talleres found outside the homes of lauderos all over the state of Veracruz. He also made sure I knew that before the stage performances of the dances from Veracruz , fandangos were where the tocado and the zapateado of Son Jarocho music were typically found and that fandangos could arise for anything from birthdays, weddings to a death in the family…none of which required a formal setting.

    These examples show particular moments when I began to be confronted with this aspect of folklórico that perhaps suggests 1) there is a right and a wrong to this traditional art form and 2) you better be careful as to the liberties one can take when choreographing and performing pieces of BF repertoire out of fear of “doing it wrong”. Now as a maestro I am certainly guilty of attempting to research as much as I can to gain the context I’m going to need to make artistic decisions. I recognize no one will ever truly “get it right”, but I think understanding where our decisions lie within the context of the broader body of work that is our beloved ballet folklórico is important to know.

    As you can see, your question of what gets erased reminded me of these experiences I’ve had after all these years as a cultural worker.

    Thank you again for this writing!


    • Hi Beto! You bring up good points. I think Nationalization of dances may not necessarily devalue the dances but it does selectively pick those dance and music traditions deemed worthy of representing the state. Then, so many other dances are not thought to represent the nation but instead represents their community of people. So, it is a deliberate action. We should ask ourselves what is this dance telling us? Why was it picked to represent the nation? What does it say about the entire nation? What dances are erased or deemed unworthy by the state and why.
      Books from Mexico are so hard to get. Let me look into the parga book.
      I think folkloristas are in a bind. We must constantly ask ourselves how far do we steer away from tradition in our choreographies and costuming. I think folkloristas in the United States are in a greater bind because we seek to represent communities of people that we may not be a part of. It is sort of a policing atmosphere where we are told what is right and wrong. But really I don’t know if there truly is a right or wrong since dance and music are constantly changing. Thanks so much for your feedback


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