Amalia Hernandez and her 100th birthday

Life Lessons from Two Folkloristas

Looking back on my life so far, I can honestly say that I have had big successes but at the same time huge, heartbreaking professional failures. Personally, I feel that I still have so much more to accomplish. For this reason, I am always looking for inspiration from folkloristas to help me navigate my journey through life.  Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” and Amalia Hernández of the Ballet Folklórico de Mexico are two examples of strong women who recovered from huge personal and professional obstacles to fulfill their ambitious dreams.

Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance”

Alura Flors de Angeles Courtesy of The Society of Folk Dance Historians Collection

It was the late 1920s, Alura Flores de Angeles had graduated from the National Autonomaus University (UNAM) with a degree in Physical Education. With this degree she was taught the rules and regulations of many different types of sports plus a few Mexican folklórico dances. At that time, Physical Education instructors were also in charge of teaching folklórico in public schools. Flores de Angeles was married to Alfonso Canales who she had met when studying at the university. They had a four year old son. Flores de Angeles was teaching and coaching in the public schools. This is the late 1920s and early 1930s when women were encouraged to become wives and mothers. Teaching was an acceptable profession for women but only if they were unmarried and chaste. Once married, women were expected to abandon their careers and focus on motherhood. Flores de Angeles did not abide by these gender expectations. Instead, she continued teaching even after her marriage.

Six years after she was married, her husband was murdered. Flores de Angeles now widowed was left as sole support her young son and her mother. This could have broken anyone down. What did she do? Right away, Flores de Angeles enlisted the help of mother for the care of her son. She continued teaching Physical Education in public schools. In the early 1930s, she traveled with the Cultural Missions to rural areas such as Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas. Here, she taught Physical Education and collected the dances of the rural people. She had to leave her son and mother for months at a time when she traveled to rural areas. Flores de Angeles would later teach folklórico classes at UNAM for over fifty years. With much sacrifice, Flores de Angeles was able to provide for her family and successfully support her son’s education (Mendoza-Garcia 2013, 332-337; Houston 2017, 247-248).

Amalia Hernández, Ballet Folklórico de México

“Amalia Hernández: Tres Formas de Conocer la Vida y la Obra…”

Hernández began her teaching career in 1948 when the director of the National Institute of Fine Arts invited her to teach at the Academia de Danza Mexicana.  Here, she worked alongside her former dance teachers Nellie and Gloria Campobello, Waldeen, and others. It is during this time period that Hernández choreographed her famous work called Sonatas. She used the folk dances of Michoacan as an inspiration for this piece.  Yet, in 1951 there was a change in leadership at the Academia de Danza Mexicana. Miguel Covarrubias was the director. He thought that dance should use a modern, universal language to express the nation of Mexico as revolutionary, nationalistic, and indigenous. He believed that only modern dance could accomplish this. Hernández felt limited by these new ideas. In fact, she was specifically told to set her Sonatas choreography to contemporary music instead of folk music. So, what did she do? Hernández decided to leave the Academica de Danza Mexicana and start her own independent company. This company is now known as the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez (Tortajada Quiroz 2012, 515-516, Tortajada Qurioz n.d., 60-61).

My Thoughts: Flores de Angeles and Hernández are examples of strong, powerful folkloristas. They each faced personal and professional challenges in their lives head on. Flores de Angeles at a very young age was widowed and the sole support of her family. She traveled away from home for weeks at a time to provide for her family. She sacrificed so much. Hernández was not afraid to take professional risks. It must not have been easy to leave her teaching position at the Academica de Danza Mexicana to start her own dance company. She left the security of a monthly paycheck for the unknown. Yet, this did not stop her.

During this pandemic, it is time for all of us to reassess our goals. Many of us have had to close our studios or have opted to teach on-line. We face the challenges of paying rent at our studio with little or no income generated. We also face many personal struggles. Yet, I think we need to look back these two great folkloristas who overcame so much and allow their life stories to inspire us in our own endeavors.

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

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

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

Works Cited
“Amalia Hernandez: Tres Formas de Conocer la Vida y Obra del Iconico de la Danza Mexicana.” n.d. Seccion Amarilla .https://blog.seccionamarilla.com.mx/amalia-hernandez-vida-y-obra/

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

Mendoza-Garcia, Gabriela. 2016. “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico.” In The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity, edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young, 319-343. New York: Oxford University Press.

Society of Folk Dance Historians Photograph Collection. Austin, Texas.

Tortajada Quiroz, Margarita. 2012. Frutos de Mujer: Las Mujeres en la Danza Escénica. México: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.

—.—.   n.d. “Amalia Hernández: Audacia y Fuerza Creativa.”


Las Michoácanas: Recovering the Writings of Alura Flores de Angeles

After my aunt Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter passed away, I helped my mother sort through all her personal possessions. Among her boxes of paperwork, I found a collection of manila folders with the words Alura Flores de Angeles scribbled on top. Thrilled, I opened each folder and in it were slides, pictures, brochures, press releases, newspaper clipping all documenting Flores de Angeles’ many visits to the University of Texas at Austin in which she displayed her costume collection, conducted dance workshops, and lectured on Mexican folkloric dance. Among my aunt’s paperwork, I also found copies of articles on Mexican Dance written by Flores de Angeles from 1934 to 1935 for Real Mexico magazine.

Alura Flores de Angeles (1905-2000) earned a degree in physical education at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) during a time when few people much less women attended college. She was known for her poetic recitation having performed at nearly every theatre in Mexico City. Yet, she was especially known as a teacher of Mexican folkloric dance having taught at UNAM for over fifty years. Few realize that she was also an author. This month I share an excerpt from an article as written by Alura Flores de Angeles for Real Mexico in the December 1934/ January 1935 issue which I found in my aunt’s collection.

Business Card of Alura Flores de Angeles

Las Canacuas (Michoacán Dance)

We are now going to study some of the dances of the State of Michoacán. Michoacán is situated in the southwestern part of Mexico, and is one of the richest and most interesting states in the Republic. The most important and best known of the Michoacán dances are: La Danza de las Canacuas (The Dance of the Crowns), which is a women’s dance and is very beautiful.

Fiestas

Las Canacuas are danced on the Fiestas de las Coronas (Fiestas of the Crown) which are celebrated several times throughout year, particularly on certain market days when large crowds of visitors from far and near are attracted to the town where the fiestas are being held. Uruapan is the town where Las Canacuas are danced most often, and many people come from the towns nearby such as Huecorio, Janitzio, Jarácuaro, Santa Fe and others. Now that the pretty town of Uruapan is becoming so popular as a resort with Mexicans and visitors alike doubtless many more persons each year will have the opportunity of witnessing the dancing of Las Canacuas as well as the other Michoacán dances.

Ceremonial

There is a graceful little ceremony connected with the dance. Presents are offered to the assembly of visitors such as flowers, fruits, and small toys and curios. The state of Michoacán is famous for its flowers and fruits and indeed its lush soil will produced anything. The state also excels in the manufacture of attractive and ingenious arts and crafts. Among the most notable of these are the jicaras, which are trays peculiar to Michoacán and are famous all over Mexico. They are hand painted with birds, flowers, and other dainty or fanciful motifs. The jicara is used in the dance of Las Canacuas.

The girls of the dance and there may lie any number of them, are known as Michoacánas (Michoacan girls). They enter in a single file. Each has her jicara on her head and all carry small bouquets of flowers and fruits as well as small toys and curios. These are for presentation to the priests. The flowers presented are small yellow flowers indigenous to Mexico. They are called here flores del corazón (flowers of the heart). Small bouquets of these flowers are arranged with dried corn husk and a bunch is presented to each guest. The significance of this charming custom is to welcome. The michoacánas dance and sing and they hand round the bouquets. The words of the songs are often very naïve.

Costuming

The costume worn by the Michoacánas is beautiful and very vivid. The blouse called a huanengo is of fine, white handwork and is embroidered with fancy patterns in bright wool. The skirt is also of wool, usually of navy blue wool. At the bottom of the skirt is a rather wide border of the same material as the blouse. This can also be embroidered with wool or fancy patterns and figures may be appliqued on it. The waistline of the skirt is gathered and a band is wound a coupled of time about the waist and tied at either side.

The Michoacána also wears a shawl around the head. It hangs down her back below her waist. She wears jewelry, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings, usually of coral. She has her hair arranged in two long braids and sometimes she entwines ribbons in her braids.

Dancing

The dance consists of graceful moving and turns and the tapping of the feet on the ground. It is charming, picturesque, and beautiful. Usually the dance of Las Canacuas is prolonged to include the dancing of the Jarabe Michoacáno. This dance is quite different from the Jarabe Tapatío, the national dance of Mexico. Its procedure is thus: the girls place their jicaras down and seat themselves on the floor; they clap their hands; a man enters; he selects one girl from the group and dances the Jarabe Michaoacáno with her. This dance consists of a continued beating of the feet, turns, etc. It too is very attractive.

My Thoughts

Let’s remember that Flores de Angeles wrote this article in the 1930s. She describes Uruapan as just beginning to be discovered by tourists. Her writings reveal the ceremonial and social aspects of Las Canacuas and not necessarily a dance performed on stage with a set sequence of steps or movements. Amongst my aunt’s belongings, I also found a series of pictures of Alura Flores de Angeles’ costume collection. I am thinking about compiling all these archival photographs to write my new book project. This book would include full color photos of this costume collection plus other archival sources. What do you think about this project?

Works Cited

Flores Barnes, Alura. 1934. The Dances of Mexico: Las Canacuas (Michoacán Dance). Real Mexico 12, no. 1. (December/January): n.p.

___.___. 50 Veranos: Alura Flores de Angeles. N.d.  Dance program. Society of Folk Dance Historians Collection,  Austin.

—.—. Photograph. Society of Folk Dance Historians Collection, Austin.