Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Dancing Veracruz

Transformations of Folkloric Dance

In the book Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity (1995), Néster García Canclini argues that traditional practices that identify us as a nation or people are highly valued. They are thought of as a treasure from the past and are so valuable that we imagine them as beyond question. We are so intent on preserving, restoring, and disseminating these traditions that we fail to see the ways in which these traditions interact, contradict, and respond to modern day influences. Canclini continues by stating that some people believe that folklore should remain unchanged, and that progress as well as modern communication alters and destroys it and makes it lose its identity. Instead, he argues that modern influences do not erase folklore but instead transform it (108, 148-149). I have noticed this same line of thought amongst folkloristas. We love our dances so much that we fail to realize just how much these dances continue to be transformed by history, politics, and modern day influences. I argue that these dance influences are part of a circular pattern where the communities are influenced by modern day politics, trends and vice versa. Plus, as Canclini mentions it is so important is to think through the contradictions expressed within these dance practices.

Folkloric Dance Transforms throughout History

Thinking through Canclini’s ideas, let’s use a historic example from the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History 1325-1910 (2018) as written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself to show the ways in which folkloric dance is transformed based upon political upheavals. The following is an excerpt.

The Spanish conquistadors came to forcefully impose their way of life and morality on the Aztec people. The conquerors saw no value in the Indigenous culture or religion…..[1]

However, the Spanish conquerors faced the problem that many thousands of their Indigenous subjects worshipped through dance. Desiring at all cost to save the souls of the newly conquered people, the conquistadors incorporated polytheistic festivities and dance into their sacramental rites. In their eyes, substituting the symbols and deity of Christianity for the polytheistic motifs and deities while preserving the pomp and color of polytheistic ceremonies helped actualize the transition from the sinful life of certain damnation to the holy life of eternal joy.[2]

As the acculturation progressed, the religious fiestas changed in form. Ancient deities who had presided over the festive rituals were replaced by the patron saints of Christianity. Dance included themes such as the struggle between Christianity and atheism, the medieval Crusades, and even the Spanish Conquest (43).[3]

In her writings, Martínez-Hunter continues to describe the ways in which the indigenous people also changed their dances using new dance movements, musical instruments, and themes of the time period. In other words, the indigenous people and the colonizers were influenced by each other and made changes to the dances to transform them. They did not stay the same during times of political unrest, uncertainty, or peace. Instead, Canclini urges us to examine the many contradictions that these dances express.

Folklorico is Constantly Changing Even Today

Now, let’s thinks of a more contemporary example which shows the ways in which Mexican Folkloric dances are influenced by and react to contemporary dance trends.  Folkloric dance companies are known for their staged presentations of dances as performed by a community of people. Anthony Shay in “Choreographing Identities: Folk Dance, Ethnicity, and Festival in the United States and Canada” (2006) argues that dance communities borrow styles and ideas from folkloric dance companies. He quotes an interview in which Amalia Hernández of the Ballet Folklórico de México recounted the following story:

With only a small trace of irony, Hernandez describes being invited to judge a contest of traditional dancing in culturally conservative Veracruz. Watching the competition, Hernandez discovered that the participants were openly incorporating steps she had invented for her classic Ballet Folklórico de México suite. “I didn’t say a thing” she recalls with a big smile. “The tradition is like a river of style that goes on (Segal 1997, 67).”

This is yet another example showing the ways in which Dance influences are two-fold and form a circular pattern. In other words, just as we are influenced by the dances of the community of people they are influenced by the folkloric dances presented by companies on stage, on television, via the internet etc. Both examples reveal this circular effect, where communities inspire the staging of the dances and vice versa. By carefully analyzing the dances, we can start thinking about the contradictions expressed.

My Thoughts

I argue that Folkloric dances are influenced by their historic and political surroundings, as well as, modern day influences. In addition, they are dynamic, fluid and travel across communities in a circular manner.  It’s time we start analyzing the dances to think about the many contradictions they express. What do you think?

Announcement: The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia is scheduled to be released in October 2018. It will be available for purchase through amazon. I will post more details at a later date.

Works Cited

Martínez-Hunter, Sanjuanita. Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910). South Carolina: Mexico Lindo Press, 2018.

Shay, Anthony. Choreographing Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation, and Power. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

Footnotes

[1] Anne Schley Duggan, et.al., Folk Dances of the United States and Mexico (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1948), p. 103.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luis Covarrubias, Regional Dances of Mexico (México: Fischgrund Litographia Record, n.d.), p. 34.


Folklorico Books for Every Folklorista’s Collection

Part of our responsibilities as Folkloristas is to research using books, newspapers, archives, oral histories, and bodily transmissions. We need to fully engage as practitioners of our art form. Our choreographies need to be grounded in theory, text, oral/bodily accounts, and especially in history to create and/or transmit them.  Part of this process involves collecting books written by scholars/artists that we can use as a reference. Every Folklorista that I know has their own book collection that they use to inspire their choreographies and learn more about our history. So, this month I decided to share with you my favorite books that have helped me as a scholar, writer, and choreographer. So, here it goes… Read More


Recovering the African Presence in Folklorico Dance

As Folkloristas we have learned that dances from the coastal areas of Mexico such as Veracruz and Guerrero have African influences due to the slave trade during the Colonial period in Mexican history. However, have you ever thought that the sones and jarabes may also have African influences as well? Yes, that’s right it’s true. Read More


The Jarabe Tapatio

Performing Nation: The Jarabe Tapatío of 1920s Mexico

As I was researching for my latest project, I happened to find my article entitled, “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico” as published in The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity available for preview on-line. Please click below.

Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity

I invite you to read through this article and tell me your thoughts. I have decided to give a brief summary of my arguments from this article for this months’ blog. Read More


Embodying the Nation–China Poblanas of 1920s and 1930s Mexico City

As I pour through stacks and stacks of newspapers from 1920s and 1930s Mexico City, I notice that in print are all types of photographs of young women dressed in their China Poblana costumes. These photos chronicle women as competing for the Reina de fiestas patrias, as part of charriadas, actresses, etc. Nowadays newspapers are no longer filled with images of China Poblanas. I wonder aloud, what was happening in 1920s and 1930s Mexico City to make this so popular? Read More


Creation, Growth, and Inspiration: The Beginnings of the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos (1974-1976)

This article was written specifically for the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos in 2016. This blog post includes an excerpt. To read the article in its entirety please click on the link below

Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos

As I write this account, I note that it has been forty-one years since the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos or ANGF first began as a non-profit organization. The purpose of ANGF is “to serve as a voice for the promotion and preservation of Mexican folklore traditions…”  This is accomplished by organizing an annual conference whereby participants meet to learn regional dances, music, and traditions of Mexico and Latin America countries by renown teachers. Read More


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

Alura Flores de Angeles was a woman who was ahead of her times. She was born in 1905 the daughter of an indigenous man from Xochimilco and an American born Protestant missionary. At a time in Mexico when more than 50 percent of the population was illiterate, Flores de Angeles graduated from the National Preparatory School in San Ildelfonso in 1924. She was a star athlete who participated in the swim, volleyball, and basketball teams. She graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) majoring in Physical Education. Flores de Angeles stated that as part of her Physical Education training she learned Mexican folkloric dances. Read More