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.


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.”


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.


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