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.


National Chicano Dance Theatre

Chicana/o Rebellious Dancers: The Pachuco/a Zoot Suiters

This month I am writing about our Chicana/o ancestors from 1940s who showed their rebellious ways through dance, music, dress, speech, and culture. Yes, I am talking about the Zoot Suiter or the Pachucos and Pachucas of this era. As they danced the jitterbug in their zoot suits they defiantly retaliated against assimilation. Yet, this story begins with a killing….

In Los Angeles, California in 1942 Josè Díaz attended a party near Sleepy Lagoon which was a popular place for Mexican-American or Chicano youth to hang out. He was found bleeding to death. Immediately, the police began looking for the killer. They swept through Chicano neighborhoods and rounded up six hundred youths. Twenty-two Chicanos who were members of the 38th Street Gang were charged with murder and assault. Scholars who comb through historical evidence now note that this trial was unjust. This was known as the Sleepy Lagoon Incident.

Then, on June 7, 1942, Vicente Morales who wore a zoot suit took his date to the Orpheum Theatre for a night of dancing. Sometime during this evening, a group of white sailors beat him up while shouting profanities. They stripped him of his zoot suit and his girlfriend had to cover his naked, beaten body with her own coat. The police arrested him on charges of disturbing the peace. He went to jail. So, began the Zoot Suit Riots where hundreds of Service men roamed the streets of Los Angeles targeting Chicanos wearing Zoot Suits.  The pachucos were beaten in front of a crowd, stripped of their zoot suits, and arrested by police for vagrancy, disturbing the peace and other charges. The news media added to the hype by labeling the Zoot Suiters as un-American and juvenile delinquents. Eventually the Zoot Suit riots were quelled after an outcry by the Mexican government.

Why Dress in Zoot Suits?

During this time, Americans were fighting in World War II. All citizens were expected to fight for their country and support the war. Many Chicanos fought during World War II but they were still segregated in schools, movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, etc. They were discriminated against at work and were the targets of prejudice. However, the Chicana/o youths were not powerless. Instead, of succumbing to demands that they assimilate to American society. They rebelled and created the Pachuca/o style (Alvarez 2008, 155, 15-18, 78).

Rebellious Attire

The pachucos and pachucas of the 1940s were known for wearing their rebellious attire known as the Zoot Suit. Luis Alvarez in The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance During World War II (2008) quotes a former Zoot Suiter from Los Angeles, California.

Yeah everything was brown. And the coat came down to here [pointing to the knees], right down to here. And the silver chain from the pocket, and the wide, like a pancake, hat, with a real wide brim. …And we would dress up that like that to go to the dances. All of us. All wear the same thing. With the big chain, we’d twirl the chain (Alvarez 2008, 86).

Sketches of Zoot Suit by Tailor Ramon Galindo published by Luis Alvarez

The pachuca wore a short skirt, a pompadour hair do, and “loud” make-up. Some wore pants and blazer types shirts the equivalent of the male zoot suit (Ramírez 2002, 15).

Pachucas of the 1940s from “the Pachuca and Chicana Style Politics”

Dancing Pachucos and Pachucas in the 1940s

The Zoot suiters of the 1940s danced the jitterbug (Delgado 1971, 5). This was a very difficult dance involving intricate footwork and partnering skills. They twisted, hopped in a synchronized, fast pace together with their dance partners. Oftentimes couples incorporated dance tricks involving amazing jumps and lifts.

Zoot suiters listened to jazz music. This music would later evolve into bebop (Alvarez 2008, 144). They also liked music by artists Artie Shaw & His Orchestra, Benny Goodman, & Harry James. They really loved dancing to the music of Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five especially the song Caldonia. Later on, they would dance to anything by Chubby Checkers (Delgado 1971, 5).

To listen to Caldonia by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, please see below.

Caldonia by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five

Also, new songs with pachucos as a theme became the rage. One very popular melody was the song called Pachuco Boogie by Edmundo Tostado or Don Tosti. One reason this song was so popular is because the singer uses the unique Pahcuco/a slang in a musical conversation (Alvarez 2008, 140).

To listen to Pachuco Boogie, please see below:

Pachuco Boogie

Dancing the Zoot Suit Style in Folklórico

Zoot Suit style dancing gained national attention when featured in the play Zoot Suit (1979) and film (1981) by Luis Valdez. Valdez depicted pachucos and pachucas dancing with their zoot suits. With that, folklórico groups across the country began incorporating Zoot Suit style dancing in their repertoire. Frank Trujillo of The National Chicano Dance Theater based in Denver, Colorado choreographed his own Zoot Suit dance suite based upon family research (Nájera-Ramirez 2012, 172). In their program Trujillo gives a brief history of the Sleepy Lagoon incident and the Zoot Suit riots. He choreographed an entire suite of dances depicting the Zoot Suiters. The National Chicano Dance Theater toured the United States in 1980 showcasing this suite alongside other dances. (Chronology: Cuatro Epocas Program).  

At the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos (ANGF) conference in 1982 held in Alamosa, Colorado the Bailadores del Bronce folklórico group from Seattle, Washington wowed attendees with their performed of Zoot Suit style dances (ANGF Conference IX Syllabus). Randy Robert López was a member Bailadores del Bronce and performed at the ANGF conference.  The group was directed by Elma Gonzalez Radke. He tells me that sometime between 1978 and 1979 all the dancers created these choreographies. He says that the dances were created in a collaborative effort each adding new steps and sequences (López 2019).

Lopez is pictured third from right with the Bailadores del Bronce

Also, the Grupo Folklórico Semillas de la Tierra in Alamosa, Colorado would learn these dances from Juan Rios who was a former dancer with the National Chicano Dance Theatre. They premiered their own Zoot Suit dances in the early 1980s with a poetic recitation by Abelardo Delgado. They also dedicated the Zoot Suit suite to the pachucos and pachucas of the 1940s. Nowadays as a Tejana, I have seen/heard of folklorico groups such as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Ballet Folklórico and the Round Rock Ballet Folklórico perform Zoot Suit style dances. I know that there are so many of us that remember the rebellious Pachuca/os through dance.

Round Rock Ballet Folklorico
Round Rock Ballet Folklorico 2018

My Thoughts

Many of us continue to create, innovate, and pass on the songs and jitterbug dance styles of the zoot suit era as a way to remember our ancestors who were unjustly targeted as anti-American. No longer wanting to fit into the melting pot they showed their unique individuality through dress, speech, music, and dance. We keep their rebellious spirit in our hearts as we perform our Zoot Suit dances.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

To read my latest research please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) which is written by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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

Works Cited

Alvarez, Luis. 2008. The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance During World War II. Berkeley:   University of California Press.

Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos Conference IX Syllabus. 1982.

Delgado, Abelardo B. The Chicano Movement: Some Not Too Objective Observations. El Paso: Barrio Publications.

Jordan, Louis. n.d, Caldonia. Performed by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR6pHtiNT_k (accessed March 28, 2019).

López, Randy Robert. 2019.Correspondence by author. March 28.

Nájera-Ramirez. Ballet Folklórico and Mexican Identity. In Dancing Cultures: Globalization,Tourism, and Identity in the Anthropology of Dance. ed. Héléne Neveu Kringelbach and Jonathan Skinner, 161-176. New York: Berghahn Books.

The National Chicano Dance Theater: Chronology-Cuatro Epocas Program. n.d.  Artes Chicanos.

Sanchez, Yolanda. 2019. Round Rock Ballet Folklorico Photograph.

Ramírez, Catherine S.  2002. “The Pachuca and Chicana Style Politics.” Meridians. 2(2): 1-35.

Tosti, Don. n.d. Pachuco Boogie. By Orquesta de Don Ramon.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1Lf81W0vpA (accessed March 29, 2019).


Dancing Nuevo Leon Central

Dancing Nuevo León Central and Chihuahua

When I was a folklórico dancer with the University of Texas Ballet Folklórico, I remember my teacher Michael Carmona taught us the polkas, redovas, and schottisches of Northern Mexico. He called it Norteño. This group was started in 1975 by UT students and my aunt Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter. This was one of the first regions in their repertoire. By the time I attended the University of Texas at Austin some twenty-five years later or so, we continued this dance tradition of representing the entire Northern region of Mexico in a suite of dances. Afterwards, I danced with Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklórico de Tejas which was founded in the 1980s. When I danced with Roy Lozano in the 1990s, we would perform dances representing Nuevo León and another set representing Chihuahua. Thus, no longer was the entire Northern region of Mexico depicted in a suite of dances. Today, I see folklórico groups performing the norteño dances of Durango, Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, etc., as separate and distinct states. Thinking about this, I wonder what the bodily distinctions are between the dances of Nuevo León Central and Chihuahua.

Dancing the Polka, Redova, and Shotis

In folklórico, Nuevo León Central is characterized by dances that include the polka, redova, and shotis (Guerrero Hernández 2003, 35). In contrast, only the polkas characterize the folklórico dances of Chihuahua. However, according to Rito Ortega Posada, he says that if you every travel to Chihuahua all you have to do is say “Let’s dance a few dances of Northern Mexico” and everyone will dance the redova, shotis, etc. with with you on the dance floor (Ortega Posada 2001, 73).

A Final Bow . Photograph courtesy of Jesse Solis.
A Final Bow after Dancing Chihuahua

New Choreographies

Many of the dances and music that we perform to today are derived from choreographies and compositions created in the twentieth century. In my blog post, Folklórico Dance as an Invented Tradition, I wrote about Antonio Tanguma and his famous compositions that we now dance to that represent Nuevo León. He composed the songs entitled:  El Cerro de la Silla, Evangelina, El Naranjo, Polka Alegre among others. In fact, his very first composition was composed in 1938. It was entitled De China a Bravo (Houston 2017, 107; Quiroz 2003, 88-89).

It was during the 1970s that a new style of dancing the polkas from Chihuahua emerged. This type of style is similar to what we perform today. During the 1970s composers created new songs which included: De Chihuahua a Concordia, Cierro Prieto, El Huarachazo to name a few. New dance moves with new choreographies accompanied the music (Ortega Posada 2001, 73).

Stylistic Interpretations

There are stylistic interpretations that characterize the dances of Nuevo León Central and Chihuahua.

The polkas of Nuevo León Central use the punta y talón or toe/heel combinations, carretillas accentuate the footwork when wearing boots, pespunteados y entrecruces and are marked with rapid turns that resemble the European style of dancing (Guerrero Hernández 2003, 35).

According to Vicky Barriga of the Rarajipame Ballet Folklorico Infantil, there are five different stylistic versions of dancing the polkas of Chihuahua. Maestro/as who created their own stylistic versions of Chihuahua include: Prof. Antonio Rubio of the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua, Leonor Avalos (considered by Barriga to be one of the great choreographer of the polkas), husband and wife duo Victor Barriga and Rita Cobos Lugo of the Rarajipame Ballet Folklórico, and Profesor Chava who choreographed dances to represent Ciudad Juárez. Barriga also mentions that we can’t forget all those dancers who participate in competitions. This is also a specific style in which they incorporate new footwork and movements to win.  Also, she mentions that Leonor Avalos revolutionized these dances by making them synonymous with the state of Chihuahua. Before Avalos the dances of Chihuahua were lumped together as dances of the norteño region. She describes Chihuahua as having distinct polkas with rapid turns that requires much agility and elegance.  Each of the maestro/as listed above put their own touch to the polkas of Chihuahua (Barriga 2019).

My Thoughts

Writing this piece, makes me realize that I still have so much to learn. I feel that I am always learning something new. How does your folklórico group embody the norteño dances?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

To read more about Mexican Dance History please read
the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) which is written by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

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

Also, my blog posts entitled: How do Folklorico Dancers Embody the Son?, Dancing Mexico: As Seen through the Eyes of Luis Covarrubias,  cover a bit of the findings from the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) .

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

Works Cited

Barriga,Vicky. 2019. Correspondence by author. January 31.

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

Garza Quiros, Fernando. 2003. “Artisticas Destacados de Nuevo León: Antonio Tanguma.” Nuevo León: Textos del Folklore. Monterrey: Asociación Nacional de Maestros de Danza Popular Mexicana A.C.

Guerrero Hernández, Jaime. ed. 2003. “Bailes y Ritmos de la Región Central.” In Nuevo León: Textos del Folklore. Monterrey: Asociación Nacional de Maestros de Danza Popular Mexicana A.C.


Five Historical Facts about Las Adelitas or Las Soldaderas

Adelita is a nickname given to women soldiers or soldaderas who fought along side men in battle during Mexico’s Revolutionary War (1910-1920). Many of us depict these brave women when we perform the dances of La Revolución. I first learned La Revolución as a dancer with Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklórico de Tejas in the 1990s. Roy Lozano, my teacher, passed on the choreographies that he learned from performing with the Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández in the late 1970s. Following this dance tradition, I have taught these dances to my own company which have been in our own repertoire since 2003. Yet, I feel that our folklórico practice encourages a romanticized view of the las adelitas. Quite recently, I began to deep deeper into historical accounts and realized that there was so much that I didn’t know.  

  • 1. The word soldaderas refers to women who followed men in camp and those who fought in battles. During Mexico’s Revolutionary War, soldiers paid women to work on their behalf as servants. These women purchased supplies, cleaned clothes, cooked, cared for the sick, buried the dead, and some were prostitutes. Many women were expected to follow their husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers, etc. into the military. Yet, others fought in battle as soldiers, generals and colonels. They lead militias of men and women troops to fight during the Revolution (Salas 1990, xii, 44; Monsiváis 2006, 5).
Soldaderas as Camp Followers
Soldaderas as Camp Followers
  • 2. Not all women willingly followed men in battle. Some were abducted and raped. There are stories of young girls been taken from their homes and forced to follow the troops while their mothers cried at home. Newspaper accounts tell of women kidnapped on trains and even one reports that forty women, almost the entire female population from the village of Jojutla, were abducted by Zapatistas. Nuns were taken from their convent and forced to accompany the Carrancistas. After the war, many of these nuns were pregnant or had children of their own. Parents fought back by hiding their children in the fields, posting look outs for revolutionaries, disguising their daughters etc. (Salas 1990, 40-42).
Soldaderas during the Mexican Revolution
Soldaderas during the Mexican Revolution
  • 3. Women were so very brave. They lead regiments of men in battle as colonels and generals. They also led regiments comprised entirely of women in battle. Women were sent on secret spy missions, brought ammunition to men while dodging bullets during the line of fire, and some were so courageous that they were feared and respected by men (Salas 1990, 41-43).
Soldadera on Horse
Soldadera on Horse
  • 4. As we dance Las Adelitas we wear cartridge belts around our torso, carry rifles and use a serious expression to portray these tough, courageous women. We wear skirts and blouses typical of the time period. Yet, some soldaderas dressed as men. They wore pants, shirts, or even dressed in men’s military uniforms. See pictures below.
Soldadera posing for the camera
Soldadera  Posing
Carmen Robles, Soldadera
Carmen Robles, Soldadera
  • 5. After the Mexican Revolutionary War, women’s military contributions were devalued. Women were not called colonels or soldiers but were listed under the general term of soldaderas. The military classified soldaderas as wives. Very few women veterans received military pensions. Most did not. Women who did receive pensions could not re-marry nor officially participate in the military (Arce 2017, 65, 82). In addition, after the Revolution, images of the soldaderas were romanticized in literature, film, art, and song. Soldaderas were not depicted as diverse, independent women many of which fought in battle but instead they were cast along four main stereotypes.  Soldaderas were characterized as either self-sacrificing, sexually carefree, sweethearts, or soldiers (Salas 1990, 69, 82).
Soldadera Artwork
Artwork of Soldadera on a Mexican Calendar

My Thoughts

I have danced and taught the choreographies that represent La Revolución for years.Yet, I believe that a close study of history alongside our folklórico practice really allowed me the ability to fully appreciate the individual spirit of these brave and courageous women.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

For more writings on Mexican Dance History, please read Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter’s book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) of which I edited. It 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

Arce, Christine.2017. México’s Nobodies: The CulturalLegacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Woman. Albany: State University ofNew York.

Monsiváis, Carlos.2006. “Foreword.” In Sex in theRevolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico, ed. JocelynOlcott, Mary Kay Vaughn, and Gabriela Cano. 1-20. Durham: Duke University Press.

Salas, Elizabeth. 1990. Soldaderas in the Mexican Revolution: Myth and History. Austin: The University of Texas Press.

FurtherReading

Craske, Nikki. “Ambiguities and Ambivalences in Making the Nation: Women and Politics in 20th Century Mexico.” Feminist Review.79 (2005) 116-133.

Olcott, Jocelyn, Mary Kay Vaughn, and Gabriela Cano. 2006. Sex and the Revolution: Gender,  Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press.

Poniatowska,Elena, 2016. Hasta no verte Jesús mío.Madrid: Alianza Literaria.

Schaefer, Claudia. 1992. Textured Lives: Women, Art, and Representation in Modern Mexico. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Turner, Frederick C. 1967. “Los Efectos de la Participación Femenina en la Revolución de 1910.” Historia Mexicana. 16 no. 4 (April-June): 603-620.


Los Santiagos, Dance of Saint James

Dancing Mexico: As Seen through the Eyes of Luis Covarrubias

In the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History 1325-1910, my aunt Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter, narrates the crucial role that Dance played in the lives of the Mexican people from the Pre-Hispanic era to the start of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. This month I have decided to honor Mexican scholar and artist Luis Covarrubias. I am selecting a few drawing that can be found in his books Mexican Native Dances and Trajes Regionales de México to bring to life my aunt’s text. (For more information on my favorite books to read see Folklorico Books for Every Folklorista’s Collection.)  The following is an excerpt from the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)  I have added  illustrations by Luis Covarrubias in this blog post. Martínez-Hunter cites Covarrubias in her analysis. Due to copyright laws these drawings could not be included in her book. Martínez-Hunter writes of the Dance Dramas during the Spanish influence after the conquest of Mexico.

Los Moros y Cristianos (The Moors and the Christians)

Los Moros y Cristianos

Los Moros y Cristianos

 The first Christian dance-drama to be introduced into Mexico was probably the dance of the “Moors and the Christians.” The earliest known record of this dance in Mexico dates from 1524, at which time Los Moros y Cristianos was presented to Cortés in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.[1] This drama symbolized the union of two cultures. The dramatization exemplified the constant struggle of the Indigenous people in deciding between their own ancient traditions and new customs the Spaniards had to offer as a means of survival.

Los Santiagos (Dance of St. James)

Los Santiagos, Dance of Saint James

Los Santiagos by Luis Covarrubias

 A variant of the “Moors and Christians” dance described above in Los Santiagueros or Santiagos. According to legend prior “to decisive battles between the Spanish and Indians, visions of Santiago appeared in the sky.”[2]

In this dance-drama, Saint James with help from no one converts the “heathens” to Christianity or vanquishes them. Hence the conquest of Mexico is itself brought about by the dance. In effect, in the introduction, the priests admonish the Indigenous people by telling them that if they do not accept the new religion they will risk God’s anger.[3]

La Danza de los Concheros (The Concheros Dance)

Concheros

La Danza de los Concheros

 A number of dances are clearly reminiscent of the Concheros, an Indigenous group of people who inhabited Central Mexico in ancient times.[4] Described in their songs as “soldiers of the Conquest of the Holy Religion,” the name of these legendary figures, “concheros,” is derived from the musical instrument associated with them, a mandolin or guitar fabricated from the shell-like protective armor, or concha, of the armadillo, an animal regarded as a symbol of the earth.[5]

Sones of Mexico

Dances of Yucatan

Jarana Yucateca

Martínez-Hunter also writes of the different types of sones of Mexico that were sung and danced from 1810-1910.  As she explains it, The jarana is a dance-type of son. The dance is named after the small guitar of the same name. The word jarana can be literally translated as “happy and vivacious.” The jarana is much like the Spanish jota, a dance popular in Aragón. Jaranas are most popular in Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, and Quintana Roo.[6]

The Spanish jota, zapateado, and seguidillas of the 1600 and 1700 became popular in the Yucatán peninsula. The locals of the  area assimilated parts of the new Spanish music into the aboriginal dances, and soon the Jarana took on a new “feel.” The Jarana depicts the mestizo spirit like the huapango and jarabe.[7] Today the Jarana dances have diminished in popularity and are interpreted mostly by folk dance performing groups to represent the dances from the Yucatán peninsula.[8]

In Yucatán the townspeople, decked in their finest clothes, come together to celebrate a vaqueria (round-up) a traditional folk festival. The yucatecas (women from Yucatán) wear gala ensembles of lovely white huipiles or embroidered tunics, silk rebozos or scarfs, starched laces, and gold filigree necklaces. The men wear distinctive, white guayaberas also called filipinas (pleated dress shirts) with a short raised collar. Linen trousers, alpargatas (thick sandals), and fine henequen or panama straw hats.[9]

My Thoughts

I find it amazing to think that many of these dances are still performed today. They continue to evolve and change with the passage of time. Yet, these dances are bodily passed down from one generation to another. Folklorico dance as an embodied practice maintains the history of our ancestors with every zapateado.

To purchase your copy of Dancing Throughout Mexican History 1325-1910 please visit Amazon at the link provided below.

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)

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

[1]Luis Covarrubias, Regional Dances of Mexico. México: Fischgrund- Litographia Record, n.d. p. 23.

[2] Donald Cordry. Mexican Masks. Texas: University of Texas Press, 1980 p. 232.

[3] Covarrubias, p. 25.

[4] Covarrubias, p. 14.

[5] Guillermina Dickins, Dances of Mexico (Great Britain: Billing and Sons Ltd. Guildford, n.d.),  p. 7.

[6] Dickins, p. 10.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, XII (1980), S.v. “Mexico.”

[9] Herrera Ochoa, José Rafael, 2007. “Yucatán,” in Associación Nacional

de Grupos Folklóricos Conference Syllabus, New Mexico: ANGF. n.p.

Books by Luis Covarrubias

Covarrubias, Luis. Mexican Native Costumes. Mexico D.F.: Eugenio Fischgrund, n.d.

—.—. Mexican Native Dances. Mexico D.F.: Eugenio Fischgrund, n.d.

—.—. Trajes Regionales de México.Mexico D.F.: Eugenio Fischgrund, n.d.


Dancing Throughout Mexican History (132-1910)

How do Folklorico Dancers Embody the Son?

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself has just been released. It is now available for purchase on Amazon. Please click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia                                              The Son -Mexico’s  Dance                                                                                                  Mestizo folk music was born from the blend of the Indigenous and Spanish cultures in Mexico. In the seventeenth century, a new variety of generic song and dance, the son (peasant song) appeared. (Scholars today acknowledge the son as having mestizo, Indigenous, and African influences). As the son became popular, those sones which were native to a particular locale were called sones de la tierra. By the nineteenth century, sones were identifiable as typically Mexican. Sones are popularly sung and danced throughout Mexico. The huapango, the jarana, the Chilean son, the son jarocho, and the jarabe are all sones which stem from the Spanish zapateado steps, dances, and music. Most sones developed from Spanish peasant or rural music. A son differs from other music in its “form, rhythm, choreography, and textual content.” Its characteristic “unequal triple rhythm” is based on “patterns of six beats.”

Dancing to a Son
Independent couples dance sones, many of which are distinguished by the rapid action of the feet in a zapateado. The zapateado serves as accompaniment to the music when the rhythm of the dancers’ feet produce percussion-type sounds. The zapateado’s percussive accompaniment and many of the melodic instruments, such as the violin, stop while the lyrics of the son are sung. A zapateado produces its sound by the fast stamping of the feet on hard ground or on a raised wooden platform called a tarima. As “one of the universal traits of the son,” the zapateado is also a particular kind or type of son. Many of the sones from southern Mexico which are accompanied by marimba music are generally known as zapateados. Many of these belong to the repertory of sones de marimba or sones istmeños.

Lyrics of a Son
Lyrics for sones are usually written in rhyming couplets with eight-syllables in each line. The son usually opens with a dedication of the performance either to the gracious audience, to a particular important individual in the audience, or to beauty in individuals or in nature. The couplets of the sones often weave colorful tapestries of men and women in love surrounded by the beauties of nature. Malageña, a love overture to a girl from Malaga in Spain; Petenera, a tragedy about sailors set to unusually lively rhythm; and Indita, a description for the passion of Indigenous women are three typical sones that are appropriate for singing only.
In this book, Martinez-Hunter continues to describe the different types of dances that sones are performed to. These include the chilena, huapango, son jarocho, jarana, and the jarabe.
My Thoughts                                                                                                                                      The sones and jarabes are still popular even today in the 21st century. We dance sones and jarabes from the states of Nayarit, Tamualipas, Jalisco, Veracruz to name a few.  A few of us living in the United States even create our own choreographies to the sones of Mexico.


Folklorico Books for Every Folklorista’s Collection

Part of our responsibilities as Folkloristas is to research using books, newspapers, archives, oral histories, and bodily transmissions. We need to fully engage as practitioners of our art form. Our choreographies need to be grounded in theory, text, oral/bodily accounts, and especially in history to create and/or transmit them.  Part of this process involves collecting books written by scholars/artists that we can use as a reference. Every Folklorista that I know has their own book collection that they use to inspire their choreographies and learn more about our history. So, this month I decided to share with you my favorite books that have helped me as a scholar, writer, and choreographer. So, here it goes… Read More