Sones de Artesa

Are Folklórico Performances Merely Happy Dances?

One time “my so called friend” attended my dance concert. This “friend” happened to sit next to my cousin. My cousin told me what she had overhead. After seeing my folklórico concert “my so called friend” stated, “why does folklórico only have happy dances? Don’t they show any other emotions?” After hearing this I was completely flabbergasted. Then, I became really, really angry.  A few days later, I had the chance to confront her and this is what I said.

“Although it may appear that our dances are merely happy dances, nothing can be further from the truth. These dances reveal the ways in which our people have adapted, survived, and thrived throughout history.”  

Dancing Reveals our Adaptability

It may appear that we are merely performing “happy” because oftentimes we depict scenes at a festival or party. Yet, I argue that these “happy” dances show the perseverance and adaptability of our people. Our dance teachers and scholars have told us of the Indigenous, Spanish, and African influences in many of the dances of Veracruz and Guerrero.

For instance, María de los Angeles Luna Ramirez notes by the 17th century, inquisition records point to certain genres of music that were performed by the mulattos and practiced in different areas in Veracruz and other part of New Spain. Sones like the el chuchumbe, el jarabe gatuno, and others can be considered direct antecedents to the diverse sones that populated the national territory of what we now know as the son jarocho. She cites the scholarship of Santiago de Murcia who states that by the middle of the 18th century the sones de la tierra developed from the afro-mestizo people in what is now known as el son jarocho. The Spanish brought the sevillanas, fandiguillos, bulerías, garrotines, and a type of zapateado movement that was infused with African improvisational, rhythmic elements. All of this was the foundation for the music and dances of the son jarocho (Luna Ramirez 2003, 47).

Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Juvenil
Veracruz- Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Juvenil

In addition, Orqueida Gessel Figuera Gomez states that in Guerrero in the Costa Chica, the people dance the sones de artesa. These dances are a combination of “chilena” and the Mexican son combined with the tribal dances of the African people who arrived to this region as Spanish slaves. These African people fled from slavery and settled along the coast.  (Figuera Gomez 2001, 69). 

Recent scholarship has pointed to the possibility that the sones and jarabes of Jalisco, as well as the huapangos of the Huasteca region as having African alongside Indigenous and Spanish influences (Please see my blog post called Recovering the African Presence in Folklorico Dance).  Gabriel Saldívar in La Historia de Música (1934), believes that it is quite possible that African people living in Mexico after the first half of the seventeenth century greatly influenced the development of the son (265).  Susan Cashion mentions in The Son and the Jarabe: Mestizo Dance Forms in Jalisco, Mexico (1967) that for many years’ scholars thought that no African-derived body movements supported his argument (34). However, recently scholars such as J. Arturo Chamorro Escalante in Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe, y Son: Símbolos Compartidos y Tradición Musicale en las Identidades Jalisciences (2000) have begun to argue the contrary. Chamorro Escalante suggests that there are indeed African influences in the sones and jarabes from the state of Jalisco. Furthermore, Patricia de Carmen Florencia Pulida in Crónica Histórica del Huapango (1994) argues “it is my opinion when I observe the Huapango, it has an African influences from the past that are a result of the fusion with the Spanish and Indigenous influences. These elements have ensured its own unique regional style” (Del Carmen Florencia Pulido 1994, 28). These ideas of the dances of Jalisco and the Huasteca region as having African inspired movements were negated for years.  Yet, these movements of our Spanish, Indigenous, and African ancestors remain within our dancing body.

Jalisco-Gabriela Mendozs-Garcia Ballet Folklorico

Revealing our Bodily Presence

Guillermo Bonfil Batalla in México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization (1996) argues that an indigenous presence is evident in the social and cultural aspects of Mexico. He tells us that “the presence of Indian culture is, in some aspects, so commonplace and omnipresent that one rarely stops to think about its profound significance, or about the long historical process that made possible its persistence in social sectors that assume a non-Indian identity today” (22).

Let’s take his argument and apply it to the dances of Veracruz, Guerrero, and Huasteca areas of Mexico. Although Bonfil Batalla focuses on the Indigenous presence in Mexican society, I note the ways in which throughout Mexican history the presence of our Spanish, Indigenous and African ancestors remain within our dancing bodies. By calling these dances “happy” dances we ignore the continuing historical and political processes that make them appear so. Although these dances appear as “happy” dances, the movements, gritos, and musical rhythms reveal the ways in which our ancestors survived and adapted to political turmoil, unrest, and the changing times. The mere fact that these dances have evolved and are still performed today, show us of the strength and determination of our people.

My Thoughts

Folklórico dances may seem to portray merely “happy” dances but they reveal so much more. To really understand our dances, you have to learn our history. Our dancing bodies tells our history of how our people survived conquest, slavery, colonization, violence, poverty, discrimination, etc. These are dances of survival! Some of us may put on a smiling face because this is one way we survive the cruelties of the world. On the dance floor we can forget all our troubles for just a brief moment. This is a profound survival mechanism used throughout history and that many of us continue to use today.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Photo credit: David Martinez, Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia

Works Cited

Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo. 1996. Mèxico Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization. Translated by Philip A.Dennis. Austin: University of Texas at Austin Press.

Del Carmen Florencía Pulido, Patricia. 1994. Crónica Histórica del Huapango. Tamualipas:  Universidad Autónoma de Tamualipas.

De los Angeles Luna Ramirez, María. “Son Jarocho Tradicional.” 30. Congreso Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos en Xalapa, Veracruz, México del 12 al 19 de Julio de 2003. Veracruz:  Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklórico, 2003.

Figuera Gomez, Orqueida Gessel. “Guerrero-Tixtla.” 28. Congreso Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos en Veracruz, Veracruz, México del 30 de Junio al 7 de Julio de 2001. Veracruz:  Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklórico, 2001.

Cashion, Susan Valarie. 1967. “The Son and the Jarabe: Mestizo Dance Forms of Jalisco, Mexico.” MA thesis. University of California at Los Angeles.

Escalante Chamorro, Arturo J. 2000. Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe, y Son: Símbolos Compartidos y Tradición Musicale en las Identidades Jalisciences. Zapopan:  El Colegio de Jalisco, 2000.

Saldívar, Gabriel. (1934) 1987. Historia de la Música. México. Reprint. D.F.: SEP Ediciones Gernika.

 To read more, please see the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and myself. To purchase click on the link below: https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia


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.