One time “my so called friend” attended my dance concert. This “friend” happened to sit next to my cousin. My cousin told me what she had overhead. After seeing my folklórico concert “my so called friend” stated, “why does folklórico only have happy dances? Don’t they show any other emotions?” After hearing this I was completely flabbergasted. Then, I became really, really angry. A few days later, I had the chance to confront her and this is what I said.
“Although it may appear that our dances are merely happy dances, nothing can be further from the truth. These dances reveal the ways in which our people have adapted, survived, and thrived throughout history.”
Dancing Reveals our Adaptability
It may appear that we are merely performing “happy” because oftentimes we depict scenes at a festival or party. Yet, I argue that these “happy” dances show the perseverance and adaptability of our people. Our dance teachers and scholars have told us of the Indigenous, Spanish, and African influences in many of the dances of Veracruz and Guerrero.
For instance, María de los Angeles Luna Ramirez notes by the 17th century, inquisition records point to certain genres of music that were performed by the mulattos and practiced in different areas in Veracruz and other part of New Spain. Sones like the el chuchumbe, el jarabe gatuno, and others can be considered direct antecedents to the diverse sones that populated the national territory of what we now know as the son jarocho. She cites the scholarship of Santiago de Murcia who states that by the middle of the 18th century the sones de la tierra developed from the afro-mestizo people in what is now known as el son jarocho. The Spanish brought the sevillanas, fandiguillos, bulerías, garrotines, and a type of zapateado movement that was infused with African improvisational, rhythmic elements. All of this was the foundation for the music and dances of the son jarocho (Luna Ramirez 2003, 47).
In addition, Orqueida Gessel Figuera Gomez states that in Guerrero in the Costa Chica, the people dance the sones de artesa. These dances are a combination of “chilena” and the Mexican son combined with the tribal dances of the African people who arrived to this region as Spanish slaves. These African people fled from slavery and settled along the coast. (Figuera Gomez 2001, 69).
Recent scholarship has pointed to the possibility that the sones and jarabes of Jalisco, as well as the huapangos of the Huasteca region as having African alongside Indigenous and Spanish influences (Please see my blog post called Recovering the African Presence in Folklorico Dance). Gabriel Saldívar in La Historia de Música (1934), believes that it is quite possible that African people living in Mexico after the first half of the seventeenth century greatly influenced the development of the son (265). Susan Cashion mentions in The Son and the Jarabe: Mestizo Dance Forms in Jalisco, Mexico (1967) that for many years’ scholars thought that no African-derived body movements supported his argument (34). However, recently scholars such as J. Arturo Chamorro Escalante in Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe, y Son: Símbolos Compartidos y Tradición Musicale en las Identidades Jalisciences (2000) have begun to argue the contrary. Chamorro Escalante suggests that there are indeed African influences in the sones and jarabes from the state of Jalisco. Furthermore, Patricia de Carmen Florencia Pulida in Crónica Histórica del Huapango (1994) argues “it is my opinion when I observe the Huapango, it has an African influences from the past that are a result of the fusion with the Spanish and Indigenous influences. These elements have ensured its own unique regional style” (Del Carmen Florencia Pulido 1994, 28). These ideas of the dances of Jalisco and the Huasteca region as having African inspired movements were negated for years. Yet, these movements of our Spanish, Indigenous, and African ancestors remain within our dancing body.
Revealing our Bodily Presence
Guillermo Bonfil Batalla in México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization (1996) argues that an indigenous presence is evident in the social and cultural aspects of Mexico. He tells us that “the presence of Indian culture is, in some aspects, so commonplace and omnipresent that one rarely stops to think about its profound significance, or about the long historical process that made possible its persistence in social sectors that assume a non-Indian identity today” (22).
Let’s take his argument and apply it to the dances of Veracruz, Guerrero, and Huasteca areas of Mexico. Although Bonfil Batalla focuses on the Indigenous presence in Mexican society, I note the ways in which throughout Mexican history the presence of our Spanish, Indigenous and African ancestors remain within our dancing bodies. By calling these dances “happy” dances we ignore the continuing historical and political processes that make them appear so. Although these dances appear as “happy” dances, the movements, gritos, and musical rhythms reveal the ways in which our ancestors survived and adapted to political turmoil, unrest, and the changing times. The mere fact that these dances have evolved and are still performed today, show us of the strength and determination of our people.
Folklórico dances may seem to portray merely “happy” dances but they reveal so much more. To really understand our dances, you have to learn our history. Our dancing bodies tells our history of how our people survived conquest, slavery, colonization, violence, poverty, discrimination, etc. These are dances of survival! Some of us may put on a smiling face because this is one way we survive the cruelties of the world. On the dance floor we can forget all our troubles for just a brief moment. This is a profound survival mechanism used throughout history and that many of us continue to use today.
Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.
Photo credit: David Martinez, Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia
Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo. 1996. Mèxico Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization. Translated by Philip A.Dennis. Austin: University of Texas at Austin Press.
Del Carmen Florencía Pulido, Patricia. 1994. Crónica Histórica del Huapango. Tamualipas: Universidad Autónoma de Tamualipas.
De los Angeles Luna Ramirez, María. “Son Jarocho Tradicional.” 30. Congreso Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos en Xalapa, Veracruz, México del 12 al 19 de Julio de 2003. Veracruz: Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklórico, 2003.
Figuera Gomez, Orqueida Gessel. “Guerrero-Tixtla.” 28. Congreso Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos en Veracruz, Veracruz, México del 30 de Junio al 7 de Julio de 2001. Veracruz: Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklórico, 2001.
Cashion, Susan Valarie. 1967. “The Son and the Jarabe: Mestizo Dance Forms of Jalisco, Mexico.” MA thesis. University of California at Los Angeles.
Escalante Chamorro, Arturo J. 2000. Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe, y Son: Símbolos Compartidos y Tradición Musicale en las Identidades Jalisciences. Zapopan: El Colegio de Jalisco, 2000.
Saldívar, Gabriel. (1934) 1987. Historia de la Música. México. Reprint. D.F.: SEP Ediciones Gernika.
Photos courtesy of Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia
Copyright, 12/6/2020, 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.