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.


Cupid’s Arrow: Folklórico Choreographies to Love

February is the season of love. What better way to celebrate the season than by recognizing a few folklórico choreographies that are beloved by many. For this blog post, I describe my four favorite folklórico choreographies that have been set by talented maestro(a)s. I chose these works because of their tremendous influence throughout the folklórico community. So, let’s recognize a few iconic folklórico choreographies by amazing artists who have influenced us all.

*Técnica Raza

Rafael Zamarripa Castañeda, Ballet Folklórico de la Universidad de Colima

Rafael Zamarripa Castañeda founded the Ballet Folklórico de la Universidad de Colima in 1981. He has choreographed many dance suites. Yet, it is his development of a folklórico technique called Técnica Raza that is my favorite of all his contributions. I learned elements of Técnica Raza from him at the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos (ANGF) conference in 2002. Here, dancers learn sophisticated folklórico zapateado sequences that utilize the heel, toe, and entire body as they travel across the floor. Designed to increase spatial awareness, enhance motor ability, and especially encourage clear zapateado footwork sequences this technique is a wonderful tool for dance training (Director’s Class ANGF Dance Workshop, June 29-July 6, 2002; https://www.tecnicaraza.com/founder).

*Although Técnica Raza is a series of folklórico dance training techniques, I have included this as a choreographic work because I have seen folklórico dance groups perform it on stage. Plus, these techniques required choreographic skill to develop and teach.

Revolución

Amalia Hernández, Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández 

Las Adelitas
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Teen/Adult Beginners

Amalia Hernández founded the Ballet Folklórico de Mexíco in 1952. (Aguirre and Escalona, 1994, 16-42). One of Hernández’s most famous choreographies depicts the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) using song and dance. Hernández choreographed this suite based upon her own family stories. It is very close to her heart. In this iconic dance piece she utilized the corridos of the era. The corridos are musical ballads that sing of the heroes/heroines of the war, love lost and found etc. She usually begins La Revolución showcasing the aristocrats dancing the ballroom dances of the epoch. Then, the revolutionaries or peasants interrupt the scene carrying rifles while the aristocrats rush off stage. The music changes to the corridos of the time period alongside dancing which has intricate footwork and skirt work elements (Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández: Sesenta y Cuatro Aniversario).  Of this suite one of her most beloved is a tribute to the soldaderas called Las Adelitas. These women who fought along men in battle during the Mexican Revolution are depicted as strong, brave, and fierce. So many folklórico groups in Mexico and the United States have followed her lead in depicting the dances and soldaderas during the Mexican Revolutionary War.

El Bolonchon

Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance,” Cultural Missions

We cannot forget the contributions of Kinesiology teachers in the 1920s and 1930s who were sent by the Secretaría de Educación Pública to rural communities to teach. The Cultural Missions consisted of a group of teachers in different disciplines plus a social worker to rural areas where public education was lacking. Flores de Angeles was a part of one of these missions. She remembers teaching physical education classes to all. In addition, she was instructed to collect the dances of the rural people. She was sent to Chiapas, Mexico in San Juan Chamula. At the time she was a single mother because her husband had recently passed away. While her son was living with his grandmother, Flores de Angeles traveled with this group of educators to teach. She is most famous for learning El Bolonchon during the festival of the Virgen de Asunción. She choreographed it for the stage. These efforts mark the very beginnings of the folklórico movement that we know of today (Mendoza-García, 85-102).

To read more about Flores de Angeles, please read the following posts:

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

Teaching Folklorico Dance as a Living Practice

Las Michoacanas: Recovering the Writings of Alura Flores de Angeles

Calabaceados de Baja California

Juan Gil Martínez Tadeo, El Grupo de Danza Folklórica Kicukpaico

Calabaceados de Baja California
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Company

In the 1960s in La Misión, Baja California, Mario Ramón Reyes Meléndez spoke with the elders of this community who stated that the varsouvianna, polka, and shotis were the traditional dances of this region. Yet, he noticed that in this community the youth danced calabaceados (Valdovinos García, 125-126). These dances are performed by cowboys and cowgirls to musica norteña. They dance with much flexibility kicking their legs in the air and stomping the heel of the boot on the floor (Martínez Tadeo, 41-42). In 1979, Mario Ramón Reyes Meléndez organized the first festival called La Fiesta de la Misión in La Misión, Baja California. Here, the youth danced calabaceados. In 1982, he invited Juan Gil Martínez Tadeo to choreograph these calabaceados for the stage. In 1991, Martínez Tadeo started El Grupo de Danza Folklórica Kicukpaico and they performed a dance suite representing the calabaceados of La Misión, Baja California. According to Raúl Valdovines García in El Baile Calabaceado: Tradicion de la Fiesta de Vaquero (2017), calabaceados were not considered part of the folklórico repertory for a long time. It was until Martínez Tadeo choreographed these dances for the stage, that they gradually were adopted into the folklórico repertoire of companies in Mexico (17, 21, 37, 126-127, 129-131). I know it is hard to imagine the folklórico community without the calabaceados because they have become a part of the identity of the people of Baja California.

My Thoughts

I think that these choreographic works are iconic in our folklórico community. I cannot imagine what the folklórico world would be like without the choreographic contributions of these maestra/os. Yes, there are so many more maestra(o)s with iconic dance choreographies that I did not mention. These are just a few. What choreographies are your favorite?

Written by: Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, Ph.D.

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

The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself is available for purchase on amazon. Please click on the link below.

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

Works Cited

Aguirre Cristiani, and Felipe Segura Escalona.1994. El Ballet Folklórico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández. México D.F.: Fomento Cultural Banamex. A.C.

Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Conference XXIX  Director’s Class Workshop. 2002.

Ballet Folklórico de Mexico de Amalia Hernández: Sesenta y Cuatro Aniversario. DVD. Disc 1. Documental.

Martínez Tadeo, Juan Gil. Calabaceados de Baja California. In Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Conference XXIX Syllabus. 2002. 42-44.

Mendoza-García, Gabriela. Bodily Renderings of the Jarabe Tapatío in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and the Millennial United States: Race, Nation, Class, and Gender. PhD. diss. University of California, Riverside, 2013.

Valdovinos García, Raúl. 2017. El Baile Calabaceado: Tradición de la Fiesta del Vaquero. Baja California: Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.

Zamarripa Castañeda, Rafael. n.d, Técnica Raza.      https://www.tecnicaraza.com/founder (accessed January 28, 2020).


Dancing our Gender within Folklórico

A few year back I met up with a friend of my during the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos conference in Arizona. We talked about our families, and the challenges of teaching dance. At that time her son was two years old and mine was about five years. I told her that my son was taking folklórico classes with me. She told me that she was reluctant to enroll her son in folklórico. Surprised, I asked why. She responded, “what do you do with heteronormativity?” I have to admit, I was taken aback. But then, we had a wonderful conversation.

What is heteronormativity?

According to scholars Berlant and Warner, in Sex in Public (1998) they argue that heteronormativity is this underlined idea that male/female couples are the norm. This permeates our laws, customs, and even our dances (552-558). Yes, in our folklórico dances especially the bailes or social dances of Mexico we represent male/female couple relationships as the norm.

Dancing our Gender

Without even realizing it, many of the dances especially the social ones require men and women as dancing partners. In fact, men often dance with their legs wide apart, have their chest held out, and their torso bent forward to catch the woman in a kiss. Their long, blasting gritos and whistles fill the air as they dance. Women match the speed of the male yet they dance with their legs closer together, must move their arms and wrists in skirt work movements that complement the dance. Depending on the type of dance, women can be told to keep their gaze down to the floor with a shy expression while the man romantically pursues her. We perform specific gender role expectations as we dance. In fact, when we perform the bailes of Mexico we even reinforce heteronormativity—this expectation that men and women are a romantic couple. Very seldom is any other alternative given.

Campobello Sisters: Challenging Heteronormativity

Campobello Sisters in 1930 Dancing Jarabe Tapatio

One famous sister duo to challenge heteronormativity was Nellie and Gloria Campobello.  Nellie Campobello was born in 1900 while Gloria Campbello was born in 1911(Tapía 3,7, 9). In 1930, the sisters were employed as teachers in the National Music and Dance Section of the Department of Fine Arts of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) (Tortajada Quiroz 276).

According to Frances Toor in A Treasury of Mexican Folkways (1947) Nellie and Gloria Campobello premiered their own version of the Jarabe Tapatío as part of their work with the Department of Fine Arts of the SEP in 1930. Nellie performed the role of the Charro and Gloria performed the role of the China Poblana (Tortajada Quiroz 277). They danced together as a couple. I have to ask myself did Nellie take on the characteristics of the Charro and try to woo her sister Gloria when dancing? Was this female/female version of the Jarabe Tapatío well received?

I found a newspaper article written by Carlos del Rio in the 1930 about the sisters’ dance. Del Rio stated:

​​Nellie and Gloria Campobello discovered the true jarabe and they danced it without fear, passionately. The lack of a male dancer did not stop them. What helped Nellie was her experience with the outdoors, her taste of adventure, her silhouette as an admirable man who pursues, wins, and dominates the woman in a final joy (38). [i]

Well, it appears that Del Rio loved this interpretation of two women dancing the Jarabe Tapatío together. Del Rio was elated that the sisters did not need a male dancer for their duets. According to Del Rio, Nellie did take on the characteristics of the Charro she was described as adopting a behavior that was entirely masculine on stage because she pursued the woman, defeated her, dominated her and then ended the dance joyously.[ii]

There are many reasons why this dance might have been accepted. For example, the fact that they were sisters dancing together might have made it acceptable for them to perform this dance. In addition, it could be that the sisters might not have deliberately danced the Jarabe Tapatío to challenge heteronormativity but it could certainly have been read this way by those in the audience.

Campobello Sisters Performing the Jarabe Tapatío

Challenging Heteronormativity in the 21st Century

What do we do today to challenge heteronormativity? There are a few folklórico groups in the United States and Mexico that challenge heteronormativity. I spoke with Arturo Magaña of the Ensamble Folklórico Colibri whose purpose is “to create an artistic outlet for the LBGT community to express their heritage” (A. Magaña, pers. comm.).  This dance group performs the dances of Mexico with its dancers choosing the gender roles.  In this group sometimes their dancers perform with female/female partners, male/male partners or sometimes they dance with male/female partners.

Ensamble Folklorico Colibri
Ensamble Folklorico Colibri 2019

More specifically, Magaña has challenged heteronormativity within his choreography. So for example, in his version of El Alcaraban from Chiapas. Instead of women/men couples courting each other, he choreographed a love dance between male/male couple. In his choreographic works, Magaña is not afraid to even go a step further. For example, instead of depicting the traditional Nayarit wedding with the female bride and male groom dancing at their wedding reception. Magaña choreographed a full cuadro of Nayarit depicting a lesbian wedding to tell the stories of the LBGT community. Magaña tells me that his work is accepted in embraced throughout California. To my surprise, he says that 99% of the negative reactions come from folkloristas (A. Magaña, pers. comm.).

My Thoughts

I can’t help but wonder why we (folkloristas) are the ones who are the most resistant to challenging heteronormativity.  What are we holding onto? I think that as folkloristas we need to recognize the ways in which we reinforce heteronormativity in our teaching and our dances. It’s essential to point these instances out to our students, to ask questions, and most of all to have conversations and discussions. This is how we grow as folkloristas.

So, I go back to the original question. What do you do with heteronormativity?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) is now available for purchase on Amazon. It is written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself. https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

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

Works Cited

Berlant, Lauren and Michael Warner. 1998. “Sex in Public.” Critical Inquiry 24 (2): 547-566.

Del Rio, Carlos. “Nelly y Gloria Campobello-Creadora de Danzas.” Revistas de Revistas: El Semanario Nacional.October 12. 1930.

Magaña, Arturo. 2019. Interview by author: December 13.

Tapía, Minverva. “Nellie Campobello: A Mexican Political Dance Pioneer.” MFA thesis.  University of California at Irvine, 2006.

Toor, Frances. 1947. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways. New York: Crown Publishing. 

Tortajada Quiroz, Margarita. 2001. Frutos de Mujer:Las Mujeres en la Danza Escenica. Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.


[i] This is my translation.

[ii] Later in life, Nellie Campobello served as Director of Mexico’s National School of Dance for forty-five years and directed the Mexico City Ballet. Gloria Campobello is remembered as having been Mexico’s first prima ballerina and taught at Mexico’s National School of dance (Tapia 24, 1, 11-13). The Campobello sisters would become celebrated as prominent dancers, educators, choreographers, researchers, and writers.


Books from my bookshelf

Digging Deep into Research

As Folkloristas it is essential that we conduct our own research on the dances that we present while making efforts to learn new choreographies. There are so many things we can do to enhance our cuadros (choreography) by conducting our own research.

Search your own Dance Library

I often start my research at home scouring my home library for materials that I may need before teaching a new cuadro to my students. In it I have some classic texts that I always reference. (See my blog posts: Folklorico Books for Every Folkloristas Collection and Summer Reading for Folkloristas of All Ages). I also keep materials from any workshops that I have attended. I have all my eleven years of monographs from the Asociacion Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos (ANGF) conference which I always rely on for more information on costumes, music, history, and dances. I try to get different perspectives from scholars by reading materials from authors written during different time periods. So, for example I may read an article or book from Frances Toor to see her perspective on Veracruz dances during the early 20th century. Then, I may dig into something written by a current folkloristas by referencing my ANGF monographs.

Posing for the Camera as I Read a Book
Reading a Book

Look for out of Print Materials

I am always searching for copies of out of print materials. I usually review books available on amazon and visit used book stores for copies of books that are no longer in print. When they are for sale at a reasonable price, I buy them immediately. However, many rare books are not sold today. So, I often visit a university library. First, I utilize the on-line database called world cat. (https://www.worldcat.org/ ). This is a database for researchers. I log in and mark my hometown libraries as my favorites. For me, my favorite library is the University of Texas at Austin (UT) Benson Latin American Library. I search their database by submitting a subject, title of book, and/or author. This database searches for libraries all over the world to tell me where I can find my book. Then, I make a list of all the books and archival materials that I will need. Be sure to look for books, newspapers, monographs, videos, music, photographs etc. I e-mail the librarian in advance to let her know that I will be visiting and to ask for books that are in storage. You might be able to check out the books if you are part of the alumni association of the university or you belong to a library book lending program. In Texas, this is called Texshare and I signed up at my local public library. With this card, I am able to check out books from participating libraries all over Texas.

Collect Oral Histories

I know this is so difficult to do because we are often working full-time and teaching dance but when we talk to people and get to know their perspectives…the rewards are endless. Meeting with people who danced, choreographed, or taught these dances and getting their life stories is so important. Sometimes, if I am unable to meet with anyone in person, I will begin a search on google and look for articles, news clips, on the people and places of the region that I will be presenting. Better yet, go out of your way to visit museums, libraries, and attend festivals in the United States and Mexico.

Watch Folklorico Concerts

One way I get inspired is to watch folklorico concerts of dance groups in Mexico and the United States. I pay close attention to the ways in which they use lights, props, backdrop, musical cues. I even notice the choreographic formations, costumes choices etc. This gives me ideas on things that I would do differently or keep the same.

Visit Mexico  

If possible, visit the state or region that you will be presenting. While you are there, watch their dances, meet the people, soak in the culture. This is vital.

My Thoughts

These are just a few ways that I research a cuadro before I present a suite of dances. I am sure that there are many other ideas. How do you research your choreographies before presenting them on stage?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

My aunt’s book called Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) is available for purchase on Amazon. It traces the history of Mexican Dance from the Pre-Hispanic era to right before the Mexican Revolution. For more information, please click on the link below. https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia


Summer Reading for Folkloristas of all Ages

Summer Reading for Folkloristas of all Ages

Well, summer is around the corner and I decided to share a few of my favorite books for folkloristas. These books make great summer reading for children. For adults, we can read these books to expand our knowledge. The books are available at amazon.com, your local book store or your local library.

Children’s Books

Lupita’s First Dance: El Primer Baile de Lupita
  • Lupita’s First Dance: El Primer Baile de Lupita by Lupe Ruiz-Flores-This is a bilingual book which tells the story of Lupita and her first time dancing folklórico with her class. At their school concert her partner does not show up. What should she do?  I read this book to my folklórico students and they loved it.
What can you do with a Rebozo? Que Puedes hacer con un Rebozo?
  • What can you do with a Rebozo? Què Puedes Hacer con un Rebozo? By Carmen Tafolla-This bilingual book really connects with our dances because it talks about the different uses of a rebozo. A young girls tells us the many ways the different members of her family uses a rebozo. For example the rebozo is used: to accent a dress, to play hide and seek, as a hair decoration, to keep warm, etc.
Danza! Amalia Hernandez and el Ballet Folklorico de Mexico
  • Danza!: Amalia Hernández and el Ballet Folklórico de México-This book features the unique artwork of Duncan Tonatiuth which is a treasure in and of itself. It traces the life story of Amalia Hernández and her founding of the Ballet Folklórico de México. It starts with her youth, dance training, setting her company, and traveling throughout the world.
The Man Who Set the Town Dancing: El Hombre Que Puso a Bailar a Todo el Pueblo
  • The Man who set the Town Dancing: El Hombre que puso a Bailar a Todo el Pueblo by Candice Stanford-This bilingual book recounts the story of my dear friend Josè Tena of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The book begins with Josè Tena dreaming of teaching folklórico one day. Then, he begins to research the dances of New Mexico and puts them on-stage for the world to appreciate. This book ends with a brief biography of the life of this remarkable folklorista, as well as, with diagrams and explanations of four New Mexican dances. I must admit this book is a bit harder to purchase since it is out of print. I scoured amazon until someone finally sold a copy.
Todos a Celebrar! A Hispanic Customs and Traditions Alphabet Book
  • Todos a Celebrar!: Hispanic Customs and Traditions Alphabet Book by Maria Alma Gonzalez Perez-This bilingual book is perfect for our littlest of dancers who may not know how to read yet. Each alphabetic letter corresponds with a Mexican cultural tradition. It is a great way to reinforce the alphabet while learning the about the many Mexican traditions.

Adult Readers

El Baile Calabaceado: Tradicion de la Fiesta del Vaquero
  • El Baile Calabaceado: Tradición de la Fiesta del Vaquero by Raúl Valdovinos García-This book is written in Spanish. It covers the history of the calabaceado dances as performed in La Misión in Baja California. Most importantly, the author writes of how this dance which started as a regional dance became representative of the entire state of Baja California. A very important book for those of us that teach and perform calabaceados.
Dancing in the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest
  • Dancing in the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest by Paul A Scolieri-Many of us teach the Aztec dances to our dancers. This book really highlights the importance dance played in the conquest of Mexico. Included are drawings from the era, as well as documenting the ways that dance was a form of resistance, retaliation, and conquest. For more of my ideas on this subject see my blog post entitled Aztec Dance: Re-writing History
Mi Vida, Mis Viajes, Mis Vivencias: Siete Decadas de la Musica del Mariachi
  • Mi Vida, Mis Viaje, Mis Vivencias: Siete Decades de la Musica del Mariachi by Miguel Martínez-This book is written in Spanish. Here, Martínez tells of us his life and how he became a trumpet player with the famous Mariachi Vargas. You will learn how in the early 20th century mariachi musical groups did not include the trumpet. He narrates his struggles and successes as a member of the Mariachi Vargas. I purchased this book on amazon a few months ago. It might be a bit difficult to find since it is out of print.
The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II
  • The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II by Luis Alvarez-Those of us that dance the pachuco/a dances of the 1940s should purchase this book. It gives a detailed account of the various injustices, discriminatory practices, and stance against assimilation that the pachuco/as were fighting against. It is a good backdrop to understanding the pachuco/a culture and the dances that we depict. For more of my ideas on this subject, please visit my blog post entitled Chicana/o Rebellious Dancers: The Pachuca/o Zoot Suiters
Mexico’s Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and the Afro-Mestizo Mexican Woman
  • México’s Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women by Christine Arce-This book brings to light the role of the soldaderas throughout Mexico’s Revolultionary War (1910-1920). It has great historical accounts which you can use to frame your own Revolutionary Dances. Also, the author emphasizes the role of Afro-Mestizo women throughout history. Please read more of my ideas on this topic on my blog post entitled Five Historical Facts about Las Adelitas or Las Soldaderas

This concludes my list of top ten favorite summer reading for folkloristas. If you’d like to increase your knowledge of Mexican history , please read my aunt Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter’s book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910). It is available for purchase on Amazon. I have number of different blog posts related to this book. Please see below: Dancing Mexico as seen through the Eyes of Luis Covarrubias and How do Folklorico Dancers Embody the Son?

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

By Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.


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.


Aztec Dancing

Aztec Dance: Re-writing History

One time my two dear friends fought with each other. Of course, I was stuck in the middle. Each one told me their side of the story. All I could do was sit and listen to them tell me their perspectives on what happened to cause this disagreement. Have you ever been in this situation?

Well, this reminds me of how we think of history. Believe it or not, our ideas about history are always changing. When I was growing up, I was taught to think of history as searching for the “truth.” Now, I know that history is more like listening to different perspectives—not necessarily finding the “truth” as in this case with my two friends arguing with each other.

Our understanding about Aztec people and their dancing is constantly changing. Scholars still debate among each other, offer up different perspectives, and discover new finding even in the 21st century. Here are a few new ideas that I find fascinating.

  1. The Aztecs Never Thought of Cortès as a God

When I was growing up, I remember learning in my history class that part of the reason that Cortès was able to defeat the Aztecs is that they thought of him as the god Quetzalcoatl who was supposed to return to rule them. Matthew Restall in When Moctezuma Met Cortès (2018) argues that this a myth designed to justify the conquest of the Aztec people. Restall states that Cortès never mentions in any of his writings that the Aztecs thought of him as Quetzalcoatl. In fact, this idea surfaced in a poem written by a Spaniard in 1798 and continued from there (Restall 43-44). Think about it, if you position the Aztecs as simple minded people who believe that the Spaniards are gods, then these are people who need the guidance and help of the Spanish.  They must be conquered, guided, and converted to Christianity.

Aztec Music and Dancing
Aztec Music and Dancing

2. Aztec Dancing Used to Justify the Conquest

  • As I read through the book Dancing in the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest by Paul A. Scolieri (2013), I vividly imagine the Aztecs dancing for their social and religious ceremonies. Yet, what is remarkable to me are the ways in which Scolieri notes that the Spaniards justified the conquest of Mexico by referencing Aztec dancing. For example, He writes of the Noche Triste in which thousands of unarmed Aztecs were massacred by the Spanish conquistadors as they danced to celebrate the Toxcatl ceremony. The dancers were nobles and warriors. All were deliberately killed by the Spanish because they thought it was a ruse to overthrow them. He notes how some Spanish chroniclers lamented the massacre of the Aztec people and others romanticized Cortès’ involvement as a rescuer. Furthermore, he describes so many dances involving human sacrifice. These dances involving human sacrifice allowed the Spaniards to have even more reasons to convert them to Christianity (92, 101-102, 70-72).  Scolieri shows us the interconnections of Aztec dancing with history, politics, and religion.
Human Sacrifice
Human Sacrifice

3. Concheros Dancing has Many Interpretations

  • In her writings, Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” and other scholars argue that conchero dances do not have a direct indigenous lineage to pre-hispanic dance. Thus, I couldn’t understand why practitioners would tell me that the dances do have an unbroken indigenous lineage. That is until I read The Role of Interpretation in Determining Continuity in Danza Aztec History by Kristina Nielson (2018). This writing is from a blog taken from Nielson’s dissertation. As she explains it scholars interpret the move from indigenous worship to Christian worship and vice versa of the conchero dances over time as a break in lineage. Yet, practitioners see these changes as transformations of the dances which are a continuous cycle and not a break at all. Here, she argues that scholars and practitioners have different ways of interpreting the history of the concheros dancing. So, this explains this disconnect that I experienced.

My Thoughts

As I debunk the idea of history as a “truth,” I wonder how this idea affects our own understanding of folklórico dance traditions. What happens when we think of folklórico dancing as a perspective and not a “truth?”  What do you think?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)
Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

To read more of Mexican dance history, please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available for purchase on Amazon.

Works Cited

Nielson, Kristina. The Role of Interpretation in Determining Continuity in Danza Azteca History. Mexica Resistance (blog). June 12, 2018. Accessed February 20, 2019. https://mexika.org/.

Restall, Matthew. (2018). When Moctezuma Met Cortès. New York: HarperCollins.

Scolieri, Paul A. (2013). Dancing in the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography    of Conquest. Austin: The University of Texas Press.