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 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.


Dancing Veracruz

3 Folklorico Findings that Shook Me (Surprised)

I feel that I am always learning more and more about our folklorico dances. I am constantly reading, asking questions, and thinking about new ideas.  Very often I am shook (as my teenage daughters would say) when I come across a new finding.  Here, are a few folklorico findings that shook me!

Theoretical Principle

First off, I like to bring academic theory into our conversations around folklorico dance. In my previous blog called Folklorico Dance as an Invented Tradition, I talk about how oftentimes we think that all the folklorico dances that we perform have a long history. In reality, they are recent creations. Eric Hobsbawn in his classic text “Inventing Traditions” (1983) coins this term to refer to “traditions actually invented, constructed and formally instituted and those emerging in a less easily traceable manner within a brief and date-able period-a matter of a few years perhaps- and establishing themselves with great rapidity (1).”  He notes that these invented traditions are practices with a given set of rules, rituals, that are repeated and that are thought to have a long history but in actuality are very recent (1).  Many of our Mexican folklorico costumes, music, and dances fall under this definition of invented traditions. In my writing, today I continue this thought by adding a few more folklorico facts that really support Hobsbawn’s theory of Invented Traditions.

  • Invention of the Huapangos Tamualipecos

In the summer of 2018, I attended the Asociacion Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I took a Tamualipas dance workshop with María Teresa Montelongo Ortíz. She gave presentation before the entire membership and told us that the huapango dances of Tamualipas were invented. (Surprise!!)

She said that they were created by Raúl Pazzi Sequera (national grand champion winner Huapango Veracruzano) and Moisés Rodríguez (former dancer with the Ballet Folklórico de Amalia Hernádez). Both men traveled to Tamualipas and created the distinctive footwork sequences that would come to represent the huapangos of Tamualipas. Then, alongside the Conjunto Típico Tamaulipeco which was the official musical group of Tamualipas, they traveled all across the country teaching the dances of the son huapango to the rhythm of the jarana (Montelongo Ortíz 26).  Thus, these dances were an invented tradition created for the stage.

  • Stylization of the Ranchera costume
Ranchera Costume
Ranchera Costume Worn by Dancers of the Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico

I always thought that the ranchera costume of Jalisco had evolved from the outfits worn by women during the Colonial era. Low and behold, as I am reading through my materials I find out that this is partly true. The costume did evolve through time but the style that we wear today was created by Josefina Gómez and Maria Del Refugio García Brambila also affectionately known as Miss Cuca.[i]  They both designed this costume using oral histories, personal experiences, and a bit of artistic creativity.  This is the story behind the ranchera costume. One day Miss Cuca ran out of espiguilla so instead she bought ribbons to adorn a costume she was sewing. She discovered that the ribbons really complimented the dress. Plus, the ribbons accentuated the movement of the skirt so that it was really highly visible (Chávez Rodríguez 51). This would become the Ranchera dress that we know of today.

  • Innovations in Veracruz Dancing

Many of the zapateado sequences that I had always thought were derived from the Jarochoas/os of Veracruz as they danced during their festivals, were in fact created for the stage by Mario Cabrera Salgado. According to the video Mario Cabrera “El Jaquetón,” Cabrera invented 54 jarocho steps which we use today in our dances. He also was the first person to use white botines when he danced Veracruz. Not only that but he changed the cotton palecate and used a long one made out of satin. He also changed the hat to a more durable one that would withstand our zapateados. Such creative innovations in dance that we still continue to this day.

Mario Cabrera “El Jaqueton”

My Thoughts: These are just three examples of the ways in which folklorico dances were invented for the stage during the 20th century. What other folklorico dances are invented traditions?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

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

To read more about Mexican folklorico dance, please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by yours truly. For more information, click on the link below:
https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Works Cited

Chávez Rodriguez. Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Congreso.46-52. July. 2002, Riverside, California.

Hobsbawn, Eric and Terence Ranger, Eds. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983.

“Mario Cabrera: El Jaquetón,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWF7zrMBnKI

Montelongo Ortíz,María Teresa. Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Congreso. 26-27. July. 2018, Phoenix, Arizona.

—-.—-. “ Huapangos Tamualipecos” (lecture, Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos, Phoenix Arizona, July 2018).


[i] In “Ballet Folklórico Mexicana: Choreographing National Identity in a Transnational Context, Olga Nájera-Ramírez  interviews Rafael Zamarripa Artistic Director of the Ballet Folklórico de la Universidad de Colima. He was as one of Miss Cuca’s former students. He says that Miss Cuca earned a degree in Physical Education. She also taught dance at Beatriz Hernández Boarding School. Her dancers would win national titles. She taught at many schools. Her dance group at the Escuela Normal or Teacher’s College was designated the official state representative of Jalisco.


Celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Celebrating Dia de los Muertos Folklorico Style

When I first started dancing folklorico as a college student at the University of Texas at Austin, my dance teacher, Michael Carmona, told us about Dia de los Muertos. I remember painting my face like a skeleton and dancing in our community in celebration of our ancestors. I have noticed that with the release of the Disney movie Coco, it seems like this event is even more popular than ever. Yet, I notice that when we dance as skeletons our movements take on additional meanings.

What is Dia de los Muertos? 

Dia de los Muertos is translated as Day of the Dead in English. It is celebrated on November 1 and 2 in Mexico and all around the world. Mexicans believe that on these days the souls of the departed return to earth to visit their family and friends.

What is the history of Dia de los Muertos?

Dancing as Muertos
Dancing as Muertos

It is very difficult to pinpoint the origin of anything. However, scholars acknowledge that the customs surrounding Dia de los Muertos have an indigenous influence. For example, the Aztec people held special offerings and ceremonies to honor children and adults who had died. It was known asMiccailhuitontli and Miccailhuitl which is translated as Little Feast of the Dead and Great Feast of the Dead. This is just one example because Mexico is a very ethnically diverse country whereby indigenous andmestizo groups celebrated the death of their loved ones through song, dance, ritual, and offerings. In the sixteenth century with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Catholic friars noticed that the indigenous people incorporated their own ceremonies celebrating the dead during the Catholic feast day of All Souls Day.

How do we celebrate Dia de los Muertos today?

Loved ones prepare for a visit by the deceased by creating an altar that is displayed in their home. The altar is decorated with all the favorite items of the departed including pictures. In addition, food is prepared and placed on the altar so that the loved one may return and partake. In my city of Laredo, Texas, many celebrate by visiting the cemetery and put flowers on the graves. Others attend a mass in memory of their loved ones. Many buy pan de muerto (bread of the dead) which is a type of sweat bread that has bone shapes and is sold at the local bakeries.  Different villages, cities, and regions celebrate this custom in many different ways.

Who was José Guadalupe Posada?

José Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913) was an illustrator, print maker that worked for many different Mexican periodicals and presses. He is most known for his illustrations of calaveras (skulls) that were dressed in fancy clothing and infused with political satire. One of his most popular drawings was of a rich, female skeleton wearing a fancy hat with a feather on it. Posada dubbed this drawing La Calavera de la Catrina. Posada’s skeletal illustrations were not greatly appreciated until after his death. Since the 1920s and 1930s these skeletal images have been closely associated with celebrations of Dia de los Muertos.

How is Dia de los Muertos a Bodily Memory?

Los Muertos Bailan

Folklorico dance groups celebrate Dia de los Muertos by dancing with their faces painted as skulls. Then, our dances take on additional meanings. Yes, we are still performing our Mexican cultural history when we dance. Yet, on Dia de los Muertos we are also performing as skeletons bringing to life the bodily memories of our ancestors. Oftentimes, when the dancers perform it may appear that the skeletal Catrina image depicted by Posada has come to life. I usually dedicate my own dancing to my beloved father, grandparents, aunt and my loved ones who are no longer physically on this earth. I remember them with every zapateado, grito, and skirt flourish. Sometimes I can feel their presence with me even stronger. This is the power of our dancing.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Works Cited

Berdecio, Roberto and Appelbaum, Stanley. Eds. Posada’s Popular Mexican Prints. Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 1972. Print.

Carmichael, Elizabeth and Chloë Sayer. The Skeleton at the Feast: Day of the Dead in Mexico. Austin:  University of Texas Press, 1991. Print.

Delsol, Christine. “La Catrina: Mexico’s Game of Death.” SF Gate. October. 2011. Web. 6 May. 2014.


Dancing Nuevo Leon Central

Dancing Nuevo León Central and Chihuahua

When I was a folklórico dancer with the University of Texas Ballet Folklórico, I remember my teacher Michael Carmona taught us the polkas, redovas, and schottisches of Northern Mexico. He called it Norteño. This group was started in 1975 by UT students and my aunt Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter. This was one of the first regions in their repertoire. By the time I attended the University of Texas at Austin some twenty-five years later or so, we continued this dance tradition of representing the entire Northern region of Mexico in a suite of dances. Afterwards, I danced with Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklórico de Tejas which was founded in the 1980s. When I danced with Roy Lozano in the 1990s, we would perform dances representing Nuevo León and another set representing Chihuahua. Thus, no longer was the entire Northern region of Mexico depicted in a suite of dances. Today, I see folklórico groups performing the norteño dances of Durango, Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, etc., as separate and distinct states. Thinking about this, I wonder what the bodily distinctions are between the dances of Nuevo León Central and Chihuahua.

Dancing the Polka, Redova, and Shotis

In folklórico, Nuevo León Central is characterized by dances that include the polka, redova, and shotis (Guerrero Hernández 2003, 35). In contrast, only the polkas characterize the folklórico dances of Chihuahua. However, according to Rito Ortega Posada, he says that if you every travel to Chihuahua all you have to do is say “Let’s dance a few dances of Northern Mexico” and everyone will dance the redova, shotis, etc. with with you on the dance floor (Ortega Posada 2001, 73).

A Final Bow . Photograph courtesy of Jesse Solis.
A Final Bow after Dancing Chihuahua

New Choreographies

Many of the dances and music that we perform to today are derived from choreographies and compositions created in the twentieth century. In my blog post, Folklórico Dance as an Invented Tradition, I wrote about Antonio Tanguma and his famous compositions that we now dance to that represent Nuevo León. He composed the songs entitled:  El Cerro de la Silla, Evangelina, El Naranjo, Polka Alegre among others. In fact, his very first composition was composed in 1938. It was entitled De China a Bravo (Houston 2017, 107; Quiroz 2003, 88-89).

It was during the 1970s that a new style of dancing the polkas from Chihuahua emerged. This type of style is similar to what we perform today. During the 1970s composers created new songs which included: De Chihuahua a Concordia, Cierro Prieto, El Huarachazo to name a few. New dance moves with new choreographies accompanied the music (Ortega Posada 2001, 73).

Stylistic Interpretations

There are stylistic interpretations that characterize the dances of Nuevo León Central and Chihuahua.

The polkas of Nuevo León Central use the punta y talón or toe/heel combinations, carretillas accentuate the footwork when wearing boots, pespunteados y entrecruces and are marked with rapid turns that resemble the European style of dancing (Guerrero Hernández 2003, 35).

According to Vicky Barriga of the Rarajipame Ballet Folklorico Infantil, there are five different stylistic versions of dancing the polkas of Chihuahua. Maestro/as who created their own stylistic versions of Chihuahua include: Prof. Antonio Rubio of the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua, Leonor Avalos (considered by Barriga to be one of the great choreographer of the polkas), husband and wife duo Victor Barriga and Rita Cobos Lugo of the Rarajipame Ballet Folklórico, and Profesor Chava who choreographed dances to represent Ciudad Juárez. Barriga also mentions that we can’t forget all those dancers who participate in competitions. This is also a specific style in which they incorporate new footwork and movements to win.  Also, she mentions that Leonor Avalos revolutionized these dances by making them synonymous with the state of Chihuahua. Before Avalos the dances of Chihuahua were lumped together as dances of the norteño region. She describes Chihuahua as having distinct polkas with rapid turns that requires much agility and elegance.  Each of the maestro/as listed above put their own touch to the polkas of Chihuahua (Barriga 2019).

My Thoughts

Writing this piece, makes me realize that I still have so much to learn. I feel that I am always learning something new. How does your folklórico group embody the norteño dances?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

To read more about Mexican Dance History please read
the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) which is written by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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

Also, my blog posts entitled: How do Folklorico Dancers Embody the Son?, Dancing Mexico: As Seen through the Eyes of Luis Covarrubias,  cover a bit of the findings from the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) .

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

Works Cited

Barriga,Vicky. 2019. Correspondence by author. January 31.

Houston, Ron. 2017. Folk Dances of Mexico for Grupos Folklóricos: Dances Introduced by Alura Flores and Her Students. Austin: Society of Folk Dance Historians.

Garza Quiros, Fernando. 2003. “Artisticas Destacados de Nuevo León: Antonio Tanguma.” Nuevo León: Textos del Folklore. Monterrey: Asociación Nacional de Maestros de Danza Popular Mexicana A.C.

Guerrero Hernández, Jaime. ed. 2003. “Bailes y Ritmos de la Región Central.” In Nuevo León: Textos del Folklore. Monterrey: Asociación Nacional de Maestros de Danza Popular Mexicana A.C.