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.”


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.