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


Aztec Dance as Humorous?

Today, in the twenty-first century I have seen many, many Aztec dances as performed by different folklorico groups[1]. Usually, when we perform the Aztec dances they are depicted as very solemn and part of a ritual ceremony. It is true that the Aztecs did dance as part of religious celebrations.  They also danced war and victory dances. Yet, not all the Aztec dances were serious.  Some of these dances were humorous and meant to entertain. The following is an excerpt from the book Dancing Throughout Mexico (1325-1910) as written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself. Read More


Embodying the Nation–China Poblanas of 1920s and 1930s Mexico City

As I pour through stacks and stacks of newspapers from 1920s and 1930s Mexico City, I notice that in print are all types of photographs of young women dressed in their China Poblana costumes. These photos chronicle women as competing for the Reina de fiestas patrias, as part of charriadas, actresses, etc. Nowadays newspapers are no longer filled with images of China Poblanas. I wonder aloud, what was happening in 1920s and 1930s Mexico City to make this so popular? Read More


Creation, Growth, and Inspiration: The Beginnings of the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos (1974-1976)

This article was written specifically for the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos in 2016. This blog post includes an excerpt. To read the article in its entirety please click on the link below

Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos

As I write this account, I note that it has been forty-one years since the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos or ANGF first began as a non-profit organization. The purpose of ANGF is “to serve as a voice for the promotion and preservation of Mexican folklore traditions…”  This is accomplished by organizing an annual conference whereby participants meet to learn regional dances, music, and traditions of Mexico and Latin America countries by renown teachers. Read More


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

Alura Flores de Angeles was a woman who was ahead of her times. She was born in 1905 the daughter of an indigenous man from Xochimilco and an American born Protestant missionary. At a time in Mexico when more than 50 percent of the population was illiterate, Flores de Angeles graduated from the National Preparatory School in San Ildelfonso in 1924. She was a star athlete who participated in the swim, volleyball, and basketball teams. She graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) majoring in Physical Education. Flores de Angeles stated that as part of her Physical Education training she learned Mexican folkloric dances. Read More


Folkloric Dance as an Ever-Changing Tradition

I am amazed at how many Mexican folkloric dances were cataloged and recorded by teachers of the Secretaria de Educacion Publica by 1934. In his writings, Carlos Merida, Director of Mexico’s School of Dance during the early 1930s, listed so many dances that are now well beloved. For example, a few of the dances that he listed included the danza de los viejitos, danza de los negritos, sones huastecos, sones costenos, jarabe tapatio, etc. Then, in the 1970s there was another government led movement by Mexican President Luis Echevarria (1970-1976) to collect and document the folkloric dances of Mexico. Many of these dances are performed in the repertoire of folkloric dance groups today. Of course, we also have the many dances that were specifically created for the stage such as the dances of Sinaloa, Nayarit Costa, Flor de Piňa from Oaxaca and the list continues. I argue that all of these dances have evolved and changed with time. No matter how hard we try to “preserve” dances so that they remain the same, dance and music traditions do not stay static but are fluid. As folkloristas we are involved in this movement to continue dance traditions that have been passed on from one generation to another.

These two photos show how dances continue to evolve and change.

This photo on the left  was taken of Jarochas v1933jarochasisiting Mexico City in 1933.
mexico lindo30023

The second photo on the right was taken of my group the Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico in 2014 at our concert on stage.

These photos taken almost one hundred years apart attest to the ever-changing dynamic of the folkloric dance movement as it travels throughout the world.