Aztec dancers

5 Amazing Dances Performed by the Aztec People

Oftentimes, we depict Aztec dancing as very solemn with a ritual purpose. Yet, the Aztecs danced different ways for many occasions. Spanish chronicler Fray Diego Durán (1537-1588) in his text God and Rites tells us about the many ceremonial and festive dances of the Aztec people. Although his writings are from the Spanish viewpoint, they give us valuable insight into the dances of this remarkable people. I am most interested in the dances performed for festive occasions since I am not familiar with any staged adaptations.

Joyful dances— Durán writes of a dance which he called dances of youth. These dances and songs spoke of love and flirtation. They were performed on happy occasions. Think about it, these are themes still popular today.  I am amazed at how many songs today write of love lost and found (295).

Aztec Dance

Scandalous dances—One dance scandalized Durán in particular. He says it is known as Cuecuechcuicatl (tickling dance or dance of the itch). Durán describes this dance as “roguish” and compares it to the Spanish sarabande because dancers wriggle, grimace, and are immodest (295). The sarabande was outlawed in Spain in 1583 because it was thought of as depicting unbridled passions (Martinez-Hunter 81-82). In a poem written by the Italian Giambattista Marion called L’Adone he describes the sarabande as,

The girls with castanets, the men with tambourines, exhibit indecency in a thousand positions and gestures. They let the hips sway and the breasts knock together. They close their eyes and dance the kiss and the last fulfillment of love (Martinez-Hunter 83).  

Using this description as a guide, we can get an idea of how the Cuecuechcuicatl was danced.

Comedic Dances—Durán calls the Dance of the Humpbacks comedic. He describes this dance as extremely merry and very funny. Here, men wear masks to represent old men (297). Many scholars believe he is referring to the Danza de los Viejitos. It is known as a humorous dance because young men wear masks over their face to disguise themselves as old men (Covarrubias n.p, Flores Barnes 25, 50, Toor 357). They dance gingerly as little old men using canes to walk slowly. Their canes have an animal carved at the handle (Toor 357). Then, the music which uses string instruments such as the jarana, skips to an up-beat tempo and the little old men begin to dance with vigor, strength, and speed until they pretend to collapse from fatigue (Covarrubias n.p, Flores Barnes 25, 50, Toor 357).

Acrobatic dances—In Durán’s writings he states that there is this dance that begins with a “simpleton who pretended to understand all his masters’ words backward, turning around his words” (297). Then, a juggler immediately follows this performance. Here, the juggler balances a log with his feet. He is so skillful at his tricks that he amazes the audience.

Imitation Dances–In another dance, the Aztecs painted themselves black or white or green. They wore feathers on their heads and their feet.  Some women stand in the center while both men and women pretend to drink from jars and cups that they held in their hands.  The dancers act as if they are drunk. Durán indicates that this dance was created for fun and amusement (297-298).

My Thoughts

Durán tells us that the Aztec people performed thousands of games, farces, comedies, and joyful songs. This small list reveals that the Aztec people danced for religious and secular events. They danced for all occasions not just solemn ones. I am discovering that I am always learning something new about the Aztec people.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-García Ph.D.

Works Cited

Covarrubias, Luis. n.d. Mexican Native Dances. Mexico D.F.: Fischgrund.

Durán, Diego. 1977. The Book of God and Rites and the Ancient Calendar. Translated by Fernando Horcasitas, Doris Heyden, and Miguel León Portrilla. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Flores Barnes, Alura. 1935, “The Dances of Mexico: Dance of the Viejitos.”  Real Mexico. 4(20): 26,50.

Martínez-Hunter, Sanjuanita. 2018. Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910). Edited by Gabriela Mendoza-García. San Bernardino: Mexico Lindo Press.

Scolieri, Paul A. 2013. Dancing the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Toor, Frances. 1947. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

For Further Reading please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available on Amazon.com. Please see link below.

https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)


Folklórico Meets Fashion Design (Part 1)

Many years ago when I was first began teaching folklórico, I mistakenly thought that all the costumes we danced with were once used by a community of people. I had no idea that many of our beloved costumes were created specifically for the stage by maestra/os. Even a fashion designer named Ramón Valdiosera Berman created a few. Valdiosera designed costumes to represent Veracruz Huasteco, Aguascalientes, Tabasco, Nuevo Leon, and Quintana Roo. In this writing, I will tell a little bit about his designs and his choice of symbols for the costumes of Veracruz Huasteco and Nuevo Leon. In my up-coming writing, I will detail his costume designs representing Tabasco, Aguascalientes and Quintana Roo.

Ramón Valdiosera Berman (1918-2017) was a fashion designer, artist, historian, cartoonist, illustrator, and collector. His most famous contributions are in the field of fashion design. His designs were inspired by the colors, sights, and sounds of Mexico. He is the first Mexican to have his fashion collection premier in New York City in 1949. He also presented his fashion collections in Chicago, Puerto Rico and Canada. He designed costumes for many Mexican movies (“Ramon Valdiosera Berman: Ejemplo de Amor por México” n.p.). However, it is his designs for Mexican folklórico dances that piques my interest. 

Please see video clip below.

Design of Veracruz, Huasteco

According to Rodolfo Carrillo Vazquez, Don Raúl Pazzi headed a committee in which the members asked Ramón Valdiosera to design a dress to represent Veracruz Huasteco. This costume was presented in the first Feria y Exposición Regional de Pánuco in 1961. The costume that he designed incorporated images of the four Huastecas. Here, he decided to include an apron, fan, and necklace to represent the jarocha from Veracruz.  The quechquémetl (indigenous blouse) and the many colores of the petob (headdress) worn on the head of the woman represent San Luis Potosi. Valdiosera decided that the fringe alongside the quechquémetl would represent the cuera Tamualipeca. Finally, the apron and quechquémetl are both adorned with an embroidered flower (retama) representing Hidalgo. The men utilize a dress shirt that is called a guayabera that is typically found in the Huasteca region. It has four pleats which symbolize the union of the four Huastecas. He wears a red bandanna and a hat of the area. Valdiosera chose to costume the men wearing white pants and a white guayabera to give the outfit an elegant look, as well as to symbolize the purity of spirit of the people of Veracruz (Carillo Vasquez 54-55).

The following are photographs of Don Raúl Pazzi and Dr. Patricia del C. Florencia Pulido along with a few other dance partners as they perform using the costume designed by Valdiosera. (All photos are taken from the internet.)

Designing a Costume Representing Nuevo León Central

Nuevo León has many costumes to represent its people. Yet, the costume designed by Valdiosera is very distinctive. Raúl Rangel Frías who was the governor of Nuevo León from 1955 to 1961 alongside the Cervecería Cuahtémoc organization insisted that Valdiosera create a costume to represent the state of Nuevo León.   It was presented during the celebration of the “fiestas de la cerveza” in 1956.  The committee of this fiesta was headed Raúl Rangel Frías (59).

Valdiosera designed a short, puffed sleeve blouse for the women. He took inspiration from the blouse worn by the peasant women which had a rounded neckline. Valdiosera designed a flowered band that adorns the edges of the sleeves and the neckline.  The shimmery, silk skirt has a gold colored waistband that ties with a bow in back. The upper portion of the skirt has a gold fabric sewn upon it. The gold colors of the fabric represent the arid soil. The rest of the skirt is white in color and has gold, green, and blue zig zagged ribbons in rows.  The hem of the white fabric skirt is jagged. Valdiosera designed this hem to form an “m” which is a symbolic representation of the mountains of Nuevo León called the Cerro de la Silla, as well as the Western Sierra Madre. Then, Valdiosera designed a layer of deep, blue silk fabric with a straight hem. The woman wears a fan and her hair is pulled back in braids with flowers and a cachiril de carey upon her head completes the look.

Valdiosera decided that the men would wear khaki pants alongside a cowboy shirt of a similar design to what is worn in that region. He designed the shirt to be made of cotton but with blue panels on the shoulders and a portion of the back. A strip of blue fabric is sewn alongside the front of the shirt where the buttons are located. Gold trim adorns the blue fabric. Valdiosera designed cowboy details long both sides of the shoulders. The men wear a bandana and a cowboy hat.

This costume was used by dance groups for the first time at the Confrontación de Danza Folklórica de los Centros de Seguridad y Bienestar Social del IMSS and at the national level in Mexico in the Teatro Tepeyac in June 1970. Afterwards, the Ballet Folklorico Magesterial de la Sección 21 del S.N.T.E. utilized this costume during a performance representing Nuevo León at the 8th annual Juegos Nacionales y Juegos Culturales del Magisterio celebrating the city of Victoria, Tamualipas in October of 1981. From then on, many folklórico groups have utilized this costume in to represent Nuevo León, Central (Guerrero Hernández 59-60).

Valdiosera's Nuevo Leon Costume

My Thoughts

It truly amazes me the ways in which folklórico dance, costume, and music are in a state of continuous re-invention and creation. Don Raúl Pazzi was instrumental in formulating a new way of dancing the huapangos from Veracruz. He wanted a representative costume to accompany his choreography. Furthermore, the governor of Nuevo León wanted a distinct costume to represent his state at the “fiestas de la cerveza.” They both asked Valdiosera for his input and help in creating a costume to represent their state. These costumes were not worn by a community of people but overtime have come to represent them.

Written by: Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Works Cited

Carillo Vasquez, Rodolfo. “Veracruz Huasteco.”  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 Folklóricos, 2001.

Guerrero Hernández, Jaime. ed. 2003. “Indumentarias de Nuevo León.” In Nuevo León: Textos del Folklore. Monterrey: Asociación Nacional de Maestros de Danza Popular Mexicana A.C.

“Ramón Valdiosera Berman.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqbbF8NC_9k

“Ramón Valdiosera Berman: Ejemplo de Amor por México.” Movimiento Cuidadano. Accessed on January 21, 2021. https://movimientociudadano.mx/federal/boletines/ramon-valdiosera-berman-ejemplo-de-amor-por-mexico

Further Reading

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)

To learn more about 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 at Amazon.com. Please see the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia


Sones de Artesa

Are Folklórico Performances Merely Happy Dances?

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).

Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Juvenil
Veracruz- Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Juvenil

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.

Jalisco-Gabriela Mendozs-Garcia Ballet Folklorico

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.

My Thoughts

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

Works Cited

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.

 To read more, please see the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and myself. To purchase click on the link below: https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia


Dia de los Muertos: Folklórico Speaks through the Bodies of the Living

As folkloristas we prepare to bodily celebrate Dia de los Muertos through song and dance. We carefully practice intricate footwork sequences, deliberately choose costumes with skeleton body suits, calavera masks and/or skull face paint that accompany the traditional music of our people. When we dance we perform an embodied memory that honors our loved ones who have passed bringing their memories to life.  

What is an embodied memory?

Yvonne Daniels in “Rhythmic Remembrances” (2010) argues that we store understandings, perspectives, observations, practices, and community rituals inside our bodies (82). For example, many times when our abuelitas cook a dish they do so without a written recipe to guide them. They hold within themselves a bodily memory of that recipe. So, oftentimes they measure ingredients with their hands with a pinch of this and a dab of that. These bodily memories are passed on from one generation to the next. The same can be said with our dancing bodies. Joseph Roach in Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (1996) writes in a similar vein by stating that bodily movements preserve and transmit social memories through performance (4-5).

Speaking through the Bodies of the Living

Joseph Roach states that the living bodily remembers the dead through the preservation of artifacts, construction of cemeteries, the creation of commemorative buildings, and especially through performance. According to Joseph Roach, “the voices of the dead speak freely now through the bodies of the living (xiii).” How can the voices of the dead speak through the bodies of the living?

 I argue that dancing folklórico during celebrations of Dia de los Muertos is a form of bodily remembrance. For example, Consuela Espinoza, Education Assistant at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, remembers her loved ones by listening and dancing to their favorite music. She tells me that when she dances she experiences a feeling of ” joy, love, and happiness. ” This feeling also occurs when she is dancing folklorico on Dia de los Muertos. “Whether I am dancing to folklorico music or favorite songs of people I have lost, I am expressing what I feel and how I feel those who have gone would have expressed themselves while dancing.” I suggest that when we dance folklórico these feelings of joy, love, and happiness as described by Espinoza are a form of bodily remembrance.

The Guadalupe Company Celebrates Dia de los Muertos

Ted Ruiz, Co-Director of Primavera Folklorico Dance Company in Phoenix, Arizona, tells me when he dances folklórico on Dia de los Muertos he keeps the memories of his loved ones “alive in his heart.” I argue that this idea of experiencing the memories of your loved ones through folklorico is way our bodies remember our ancestors. Ruiz sees his dancing during Dia de los Muertos as a type of bodily celebration. Ruiz tell me that we dance on this day in celebration of those who have gone before us.” For Espinoza and Ruiz our dancing takes on additional meanings of loss, love, and remembrance. Both Espinoza and Ruiz describe the ways in which the voices of their loved ones speak through the folklórico dancing body.

Primavera Folklorico Company Performs "La Visita"
Primavera Folklorico Company Performs “La Visita”

Gabriel Avila, Director of Passion de Mi Tierra Folklorico in Los Angeles, California, remembers experiencing a deep spiritual connection through his performance during Dia de los Muertos. In 2019, he created a choreography called Monarcas y Migrantes which showed immigration as a natural happening. Avila created a choreography in which he depicted immigrants, just like the monarch butterflies, moving from one place to another. Here, he showed immigrants leaving their towns to come to the United States to work. His dancers portrayed construction workers, house keepers, college graduates, etc. Avila performed a special role where he represented all those immigrants who crossed into the United States and did not survive. When he danced the role he told me that he, “felt like a funnel. I felt the winds coming through and speaking out of me. I really felt that I am that spirit of those left behind. I heard these voices coming from my throat and I knew it was not me speaking.” Avila suggests that folkloristas can serve as vehicles for unexpressed thoughts, values, and actions. He says that it is important that we let our bodies explore the idea of enabling our ancestors to speak through us using dance and song. I note that Avila describes a spiritual connection when dancing that reached throughout his body and spoke through him. This spiritual feeling is a form of bodily remembrance, a bodily memory that is felt when he dances.

My Thoughts

I too have had a similar experiences of remembrance when dancing folklórico during Dia de los Muertos. For me, I usually pray to God before I perform during Dia de los Muertos. In this prayer I thank God for all my blessings and I pray for the souls of my loved ones. Then, I dance. At times, I have felt a strong presence of my ancestors. I sense this kind of calm, tranquil feeling. It is a feeling of happiness that lingers within me even after I finished dancing.  Espinoza, Ruiz, and Avila all describe different ways in which our ancestors speak through our dancing body. Dancing folklórico allows us to dig deep within our souls and recover the memories of love and loss. In this way, we feel the presence of our ancestors even more when we dance for Dia de los Muertos.

Works Cited

Avila, Gabriel. Interview with author. October 25, 2020.

Daniels, Yvonne. 2010. “Rhythmic Remembrances.” edited by Mamadou Diouf and Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, 77-94. University of Michigan Press.

Espinoza, Consuelo. “Education Assistant at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.” Email. 2020.

Ruiz, Ted. “Co-director of the Primavera Folklorico Company.” Email.2020.

Roach, Joseph. 1996. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.


Jalisco

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.

china poblana in 1920s and 1930s
China Poblana in 1931 in Mexico City

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?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, Ph.D.

For additional readings please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself.

Dancing Throughout Mexican History
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

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.


charro and china poblana of the 1930s

The Love Story behind the Jarabe Tapatío

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

Alura and Antonio as the china poblana and charro
Alura and Antonio as the china poblana and charro

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).

Video Explanation

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)

The Jarabe Tapatio with Dr. Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and Roy Lozano

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).

My Thoughts

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.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Further Reading:

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).

https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

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.
http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8c47k3gm

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

Works Cited

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.


Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Juvenil

A Note to Folkloristas–We Will Persevere

I could never have imagined the position that we are in–never in my wildest dreams. It began with me seeing all the postings on Facebook of my colleagues in California cancelling their concerts, classes, and even events. I noticed my friends in other states began to do the same. In Texas, Governor Abbot declared that all public schools would be closed until April 3rd. That is when it hit home! I suspended all my dance classes. I began to share warm-up exercises, zapateado techniques, and even host a few Facebook live on-line classes just so that we wouldn’t completely stop dancing folklórico entirely.  I had to re-think this entire situation. And these are my thoughts.

Aztec Codex Borgia
Aztec Codex Borgia

We come from a very strong people. Our people have overcome conquest, colonization, and even genocide. We adapted and survived the European colonization of the Americas, the Spanish inquisition, the War of Independence from Spain, the Reform Wars, the Mexican-American War, the Mexican Revolution, etc. In the United States, our people are both native people and immigrants to this country. We struggled and fought in many wars such as the American Revolution, American Indian Wars, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the Gulf War, etc. We protested and fought for our civil rights during the Chicano Movement. We continue this fight even today. Our music and dance traditions continuously transform. They are inspired by the political events around us. We did not stop dancing in times of hardship. During the Spanish Inquisition, our people were punished with three hundred lashes with a whip, fined, and put in jail for singing and dancing the jarabes. This did not stop us from playing our music, singing our songs, and dancing.

Jarabes during the Colonial Era
Jarabes during the Colonial Era

Our people survived small pox which killed millions of indigenous people throughout the Americas in the 1500s. In Tenochtitlán approximately 150,000 died of small pox. We are the survivors of the measles, syphilis, influenza, etc. Throughout this decimation our ancestors continued dancing. Perhaps the reason we express so much joy in our dances is because our people turned to music and dance as a survival mechanism. Think about it, for a few hours they could leave their problems behind them while they danced. We should do the same

So, we shall too overcome this pandemic. As Folkloristas we are the storytellers, the shamans, the bearers of our cultural dance traditions in the twenty-first century. We will adapt, change, and continue dancing just as our ancestors before us. We will persevere!

Written by: Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

To read more about Mexican dance history, please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available on amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

Dancing Folklorico: A Way of Speaking with the Body

Dancing Folklorico: A Way of Speaking with the Body

What does it mean to speak with the dancing body?

That is a question I was posed my first quarter as a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside. Yes, we discussed, debated this issue and even analyzed writings by current scholars. Yet, it was until I began my own research that I found that Nellie and Gloria Campobello, two Mexican dance maestras, had already begun this conversation in 1940.

Nellie and Gloria Campobello

Nellie and Gloria Campobello
Nellie and Gloria Campobello in 1932

Nellie Campobello was born in 1900 while Gloria Campobello was born in 1911. Nellie would later write a book of poems called Cartucho: Relatos de la Lucha en el Norte de México (1931) describing her experiences of having lived through the Mexican Revolution. Both sisters investigated Indigenous dances, taught in the Cultural Missions and were employed as teachers in the National Music and Dance Section of the Department of Fine Arts of the Secretary of Public Education. Later on, the Campobello sisters would be instrumental in forming the National Ballet of Mexico with Gloria becoming known as Mexico’s first prima ballerina.

To read more on the Campobellos please read my blog posts: Dancing our Gender within Folklorico Dance

Speaking with the Body

In the book Ritmos Indígenas de México (1940), the Campobellos argue that for the indigenouos people, movement is the principal form of expression. They have their own distinct ways of speaking, moving, and gesturing that parallels language. The Campobellos declare that the indigenous people speak more with the body than with their tongue. They advocate observing the indigenous people as they dance to understand their rhythms.  Body movement is a sacred language to the indigenous people. The Campobellos believe that through the analysis of movement you learn their secret beauty and pain inscribed in every movement (12-13). Let’s take the Campobello’s arguments a bit further. How does folklorico dance speak with the body?

Nowadays, Dance scholars believe that through a careful study of dance movements, you can understand the joy, pain, cultural, and even political stance of a people. So, we must analyze every zapateado, skirt flourish, even grito to hear the dancing body.

These groundbreaking ideas espoused by the Campobellos in 1940 are utilized by Dance scholars today when we study dance. Sixty-seven years after the Campobellos wrote Ritmos Indígenas de México, Diana Taylor argues the same ideas in her book The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (2007). Here, she writes of the importance the indigenous people placed on the body to re-tell histories. She also declares we must all study the dancing body because the body is an archive that stores and disseminates memories, a sense of our identity, and our social knowledge (Taylor 2-3). So, our folklorico dances retain within their zapateados and movements memories of our ancestor’s histories. When we dance we tell stories of our identity and reveal our society’s customs.

How do we speak with our dancing bodies?

Speaking with our body
Photo of dancers of the Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Infantil

Barbara Browning in Samba: Resistance in Motion(1995) compares dance to a form of “bodily dialogue” in which many bodily meanings are spoken simultaneously and in different languages (2). Think about that, when we dance folklórico our body has many meaning that are spoken on multiple levels, at different tempos and rhythms.  What are we saying when we dance? It is up to us to think, study, and analyze these movements to find out what they are telling us.

My Thoughts

The Campobellos wrote about indigenous people and the ways in which dance made meaning for them. Yet, their ideas can be applied to all dance forms. Perhaps we should really sit back listen to our zapateados, hear the music, and connect with oral/written histories to really understand what our dances are saying. What do our folklórico dances say about us as a people? What do they say about our histories? What would it mean to us if we really listen to our dancing bodies and allow them to speak? Without saying a single word, our folklorico dancing bodies tell us so much.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself is available for purchase on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

Works Cited

Browning, Barbara. 1995. Samba: Resistance in Motion. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Campobello, Nellie. 1940. Cartucho: Relatos de la Lucha en el Norte de México. México: E.D.I.A.P.S.A.

Campobello, Nellie and Gloria Campobello. 1940. Ritmos Indígenas de México. México.

Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press.


Cupid’s Arrow: Folklórico Choreographies to Love

February is the season of love. What better way to celebrate the season than by recognizing a few folklórico choreographies that are beloved by many. For this blog post, I describe my four favorite folklórico choreographies that have been set by talented maestro(a)s. I chose these works because of their tremendous influence throughout the folklórico community. So, let’s recognize a few iconic folklórico choreographies by amazing artists who have influenced us all.

*Técnica Raza

Rafael Zamarripa Castañeda, Ballet Folklórico de la Universidad de Colima

Rafael Zamarripa Castañeda founded the Ballet Folklórico de la Universidad de Colima in 1981. He has choreographed many dance suites. Yet, it is his development of a folklórico technique called Técnica Raza that is my favorite of all his contributions. I learned elements of Técnica Raza from him at the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos (ANGF) conference in 2002. Here, dancers learn sophisticated folklórico zapateado sequences that utilize the heel, toe, and entire body as they travel across the floor. Designed to increase spatial awareness, enhance motor ability, and especially encourage clear zapateado footwork sequences this technique is a wonderful tool for dance training (Director’s Class ANGF Dance Workshop, June 29-July 6, 2002; https://www.tecnicaraza.com/founder).

*Although Técnica Raza is a series of folklórico dance training techniques, I have included this as a choreographic work because I have seen folklórico dance groups perform it on stage. Plus, these techniques required choreographic skill to develop and teach.

Revolución

Amalia Hernández, Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández 

Las Adelitas
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Teen/Adult Beginners

Amalia Hernández founded the Ballet Folklórico de Mexíco in 1952. (Aguirre and Escalona, 1994, 16-42). One of Hernández’s most famous choreographies depicts the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) using song and dance. Hernández choreographed this suite based upon her own family stories. It is very close to her heart. In this iconic dance piece she utilized the corridos of the era. The corridos are musical ballads that sing of the heroes/heroines of the war, love lost and found etc. She usually begins La Revolución showcasing the aristocrats dancing the ballroom dances of the epoch. Then, the revolutionaries or peasants interrupt the scene carrying rifles while the aristocrats rush off stage. The music changes to the corridos of the time period alongside dancing which has intricate footwork and skirt work elements (Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández: Sesenta y Cuatro Aniversario).  Of this suite one of her most beloved is a tribute to the soldaderas called Las Adelitas. These women who fought along men in battle during the Mexican Revolution are depicted as strong, brave, and fierce. So many folklórico groups in Mexico and the United States have followed her lead in depicting the dances and soldaderas during the Mexican Revolutionary War.

El Bolonchon

Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance,” Cultural Missions

We cannot forget the contributions of Kinesiology teachers in the 1920s and 1930s who were sent by the Secretaría de Educación Pública to rural communities to teach. The Cultural Missions consisted of a group of teachers in different disciplines plus a social worker to rural areas where public education was lacking. Flores de Angeles was a part of one of these missions. She remembers teaching physical education classes to all. In addition, she was instructed to collect the dances of the rural people. She was sent to Chiapas, Mexico in San Juan Chamula. At the time she was a single mother because her husband had recently passed away. While her son was living with his grandmother, Flores de Angeles traveled with this group of educators to teach. She is most famous for learning El Bolonchon during the festival of the Virgen de Asunción. She choreographed it for the stage. These efforts mark the very beginnings of the folklórico movement that we know of today (Mendoza-García, 85-102).

To read more about Flores de Angeles, please read the following posts:

Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” (1905-2000)

Teaching Folklorico Dance as a Living Practice

Las Michoacanas: Recovering the Writings of Alura Flores de Angeles

Calabaceados de Baja California

Juan Gil Martínez Tadeo, El Grupo de Danza Folklórica Kicukpaico

Calabaceados de Baja California
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Company

In the 1960s in La Misión, Baja California, Mario Ramón Reyes Meléndez spoke with the elders of this community who stated that the varsouvianna, polka, and shotis were the traditional dances of this region. Yet, he noticed that in this community the youth danced calabaceados (Valdovinos García, 125-126). These dances are performed by cowboys and cowgirls to musica norteña. They dance with much flexibility kicking their legs in the air and stomping the heel of the boot on the floor (Martínez Tadeo, 41-42). In 1979, Mario Ramón Reyes Meléndez organized the first festival called La Fiesta de la Misión in La Misión, Baja California. Here, the youth danced calabaceados. In 1982, he invited Juan Gil Martínez Tadeo to choreograph these calabaceados for the stage. In 1991, Martínez Tadeo started El Grupo de Danza Folklórica Kicukpaico and they performed a dance suite representing the calabaceados of La Misión, Baja California. According to Raúl Valdovines García in El Baile Calabaceado: Tradicion de la Fiesta de Vaquero (2017), calabaceados were not considered part of the folklórico repertory for a long time. It was until Martínez Tadeo choreographed these dances for the stage, that they gradually were adopted into the folklórico repertoire of companies in Mexico (17, 21, 37, 126-127, 129-131). I know it is hard to imagine the folklórico community without the calabaceados because they have become a part of the identity of the people of Baja California.

My Thoughts

I think that these choreographic works are iconic in our folklórico community. I cannot imagine what the folklórico world would be like without the choreographic contributions of these maestra/os. Yes, there are so many more maestra(o)s with iconic dance choreographies that I did not mention. These are just a few. What choreographies are your favorite?

Written by: Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, Ph.D.

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself is available for purchase on amazon. Please click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Works Cited

Aguirre Cristiani, and Felipe Segura Escalona.1994. El Ballet Folklórico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández. México D.F.: Fomento Cultural Banamex. A.C.

Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Conference XXIX  Director’s Class Workshop. 2002.

Ballet Folklórico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández: Sesenta y Cuatro Aniversario. DVD. Disc 1. Documental.

Martínez Tadeo, Juan Gil. Calabaceados de Baja California. In Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Conference XXIX Syllabus. 2002. 42-44.

Mendoza-García, Gabriela. Bodily Renderings of the Jarabe Tapatío in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and the Millennial United States: Race, Nation, Class, and Gender. PhD. diss. University of California, Riverside, 2013.

Valdovinos García, Raúl. 2017. El Baile Calabaceado: Tradición de la Fiesta del Vaquero. Baja California: Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.

Zamarripa Castañeda, Rafael. n.d, Técnica Raza.      https://www.tecnicaraza.com/founder (accessed January 28, 2020).


Dancing our Gender within Folklórico

A few year back I met up with a friend of my during the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos conference in Arizona. We talked about our families, and the challenges of teaching dance. At that time her son was two years old and mine was about five years. I told her that my son was taking folklórico classes with me. She told me that she was reluctant to enroll her son in folklórico. Surprised, I asked why. She responded, “what do you do with heteronormativity?” I have to admit, I was taken aback. But then, we had a wonderful conversation.

What is heteronormativity?

According to scholars Berlant and Warner, in Sex in Public (1998) they argue that heteronormativity is this underlined idea that male/female couples are the norm. This permeates our laws, customs, and even our dances (552-558). Yes, in our folklórico dances especially the bailes or social dances of Mexico we represent male/female couple relationships as the norm.

Dancing our Gender

Without even realizing it, many of the dances especially the social ones require men and women as dancing partners. In fact, men often dance with their legs wide apart, have their chest held out, and their torso bent forward to catch the woman in a kiss. Their long, blasting gritos and whistles fill the air as they dance. Women match the speed of the male yet they dance with their legs closer together, must move their arms and wrists in skirt work movements that complement the dance. Depending on the type of dance, women can be told to keep their gaze down to the floor with a shy expression while the man romantically pursues her. We perform specific gender role expectations as we dance. In fact, when we perform the bailes of Mexico we even reinforce heteronormativity—this expectation that men and women are a romantic couple. Very seldom is any other alternative given.

Campobello Sisters: Challenging Heteronormativity

Campobello Sisters in 1930 Dancing Jarabe Tapatio

One famous sister duo to challenge heteronormativity was Nellie and Gloria Campobello.  Nellie Campobello was born in 1900 while Gloria Campbello was born in 1911(Tapía 3,7, 9). In 1930, the sisters were employed as teachers in the National Music and Dance Section of the Department of Fine Arts of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) (Tortajada Quiroz 276).

According to Frances Toor in A Treasury of Mexican Folkways (1947) Nellie and Gloria Campobello premiered their own version of the Jarabe Tapatío as part of their work with the Department of Fine Arts of the SEP in 1930. Nellie performed the role of the Charro and Gloria performed the role of the China Poblana (Tortajada Quiroz 277). They danced together as a couple. I have to ask myself did Nellie take on the characteristics of the Charro and try to woo her sister Gloria when dancing? Was this female/female version of the Jarabe Tapatío well received?

I found a newspaper article written by Carlos del Rio in the 1930 about the sisters’ dance. Del Rio stated:

​​Nellie and Gloria Campobello discovered the true jarabe and they danced it without fear, passionately. The lack of a male dancer did not stop them. What helped Nellie was her experience with the outdoors, her taste of adventure, her silhouette as an admirable man who pursues, wins, and dominates the woman in a final joy (38). [i]

Well, it appears that Del Rio loved this interpretation of two women dancing the Jarabe Tapatío together. Del Rio was elated that the sisters did not need a male dancer for their duets. According to Del Rio, Nellie did take on the characteristics of the Charro she was described as adopting a behavior that was entirely masculine on stage because she pursued the woman, defeated her, dominated her and then ended the dance joyously.[ii]

There are many reasons why this dance might have been accepted. For example, the fact that they were sisters dancing together might have made it acceptable for them to perform this dance. In addition, it could be that the sisters might not have deliberately danced the Jarabe Tapatío to challenge heteronormativity but it could certainly have been read this way by those in the audience.

Campobello Sisters Performing the Jarabe Tapatío

Challenging Heteronormativity in the 21st Century

What do we do today to challenge heteronormativity? There are a few folklórico groups in the United States and Mexico that challenge heteronormativity. I spoke with Arturo Magaña of the Ensamble Folklórico Colibri whose purpose is “to create an artistic outlet for the LBGT community to express their heritage” (A. Magaña, pers. comm.).  This dance group performs the dances of Mexico with its dancers choosing the gender roles.  In this group sometimes their dancers perform with female/female partners, male/male partners or sometimes they dance with male/female partners.

Ensamble Folklorico Colibri
Ensamble Folklorico Colibri 2019

More specifically, Magaña has challenged heteronormativity within his choreography. So for example, in his version of El Alcaraban from Chiapas. Instead of women/men couples courting each other, he choreographed a love dance between male/male couple. In his choreographic works, Magaña is not afraid to even go a step further. For example, instead of depicting the traditional Nayarit wedding with the female bride and male groom dancing at their wedding reception. Magaña choreographed a full cuadro of Nayarit depicting a lesbian wedding to tell the stories of the LBGT community. Magaña tells me that his work is accepted in embraced throughout California. To my surprise, he says that 99% of the negative reactions come from folkloristas (A. Magaña, pers. comm.).

My Thoughts

I can’t help but wonder why we (folkloristas) are the ones who are the most resistant to challenging heteronormativity.  What are we holding onto? I think that as folkloristas we need to recognize the ways in which we reinforce heteronormativity in our teaching and our dances. It’s essential to point these instances out to our students, to ask questions, and most of all to have conversations and discussions. This is how we grow as folkloristas.

So, I go back to the original question. What do you do with heteronormativity?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) is now available for purchase on Amazon. It is written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself. https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

Works Cited

Berlant, Lauren and Michael Warner. 1998. “Sex in Public.” Critical Inquiry 24 (2): 547-566.

Del Rio, Carlos. “Nelly y Gloria Campobello-Creadora de Danzas.” Revistas de Revistas: El Semanario Nacional.October 12. 1930.

Magaña, Arturo. 2019. Interview by author: December 13.

Tapía, Minverva. “Nellie Campobello: A Mexican Political Dance Pioneer.” MFA thesis.  University of California at Irvine, 2006.

Toor, Frances. 1947. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways. New York: Crown Publishing. 

Tortajada Quiroz, Margarita. 2001. Frutos de Mujer:Las Mujeres en la Danza Escenica. Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.


[i] This is my translation.

[ii] Later in life, Nellie Campobello served as Director of Mexico’s National School of Dance for forty-five years and directed the Mexico City Ballet. Gloria Campobello is remembered as having been Mexico’s first prima ballerina and taught at Mexico’s National School of dance (Tapia 24, 1, 11-13). The Campobello sisters would become celebrated as prominent dancers, educators, choreographers, researchers, and writers.