Amalia Hernandez and her 100th birthday

Life Lessons from Two Folkloristas

Looking back on my life so far, I can honestly say that I have had big successes but at the same time huge, heartbreaking professional failures. Personally, I feel that I still have so much more to accomplish. For this reason, I am always looking for inspiration from folkloristas to help me navigate my journey through life.  Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” and Amalia Hernández of the Ballet Folklórico de Mexico are two examples of strong women who recovered from huge personal and professional obstacles to fulfill their ambitious dreams.

Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance”

Alura Flors de Angeles Courtesy of The Society of Folk Dance Historians Collection

It was the late 1920s, Alura Flores de Angeles had graduated from the National Autonomaus University (UNAM) with a degree in Physical Education. With this degree she was taught the rules and regulations of many different types of sports plus a few Mexican folklórico dances. At that time, Physical Education instructors were also in charge of teaching folklórico in public schools. Flores de Angeles was married to Alfonso Canales who she had met when studying at the university. They had a four year old son. Flores de Angeles was teaching and coaching in the public schools. This is the late 1920s and early 1930s when women were encouraged to become wives and mothers. Teaching was an acceptable profession for women but only if they were unmarried and chaste. Once married, women were expected to abandon their careers and focus on motherhood. Flores de Angeles did not abide by these gender expectations. Instead, she continued teaching even after her marriage.

Six years after she was married, her husband was murdered. Flores de Angeles now widowed was left as sole support her young son and her mother. This could have broken anyone down. What did she do? Right away, Flores de Angeles enlisted the help of mother for the care of her son. She continued teaching Physical Education in public schools. In the early 1930s, she traveled with the Cultural Missions to rural areas such as Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas. Here, she taught Physical Education and collected the dances of the rural people. She had to leave her son and mother for months at a time when she traveled to rural areas. Flores de Angeles would later teach folklórico classes at UNAM for over fifty years. With much sacrifice, Flores de Angeles was able to provide for her family and successfully support her son’s education (Mendoza-Garcia 2013, 332-337; Houston 2017, 247-248).

Amalia Hernández, Ballet Folklórico de México

“Amalia Hernández: Tres Formas de Conocer la Vida y la Obra…”

Hernández began her teaching career in 1948 when the director of the National Institute of Fine Arts invited her to teach at the Academia de Danza Mexicana.  Here, she worked alongside her former dance teachers Nellie and Gloria Campobello, Waldeen, and others. It is during this time period that Hernández choreographed her famous work called Sonatas. She used the folk dances of Michoacan as an inspiration for this piece.  Yet, in 1951 there was a change in leadership at the Academia de Danza Mexicana. Miguel Covarrubias was the director. He thought that dance should use a modern, universal language to express the nation of Mexico as revolutionary, nationalistic, and indigenous. He believed that only modern dance could accomplish this. Hernández felt limited by these new ideas. In fact, she was specifically told to set her Sonatas choreography to contemporary music instead of folk music. So, what did she do? Hernández decided to leave the Academica de Danza Mexicana and start her own independent company. This company is now known as the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez (Tortajada Quiroz 2012, 515-516, Tortajada Qurioz n.d., 60-61).

My Thoughts: Flores de Angeles and Hernández are examples of strong, powerful folkloristas. They each faced personal and professional challenges in their lives head on. Flores de Angeles at a very young age was widowed and the sole support of her family. She traveled away from home for weeks at a time to provide for her family. She sacrificed so much. Hernández was not afraid to take professional risks. It must not have been easy to leave her teaching position at the Academica de Danza Mexicana to start her own dance company. She left the security of a monthly paycheck for the unknown. Yet, this did not stop her.

During this pandemic, it is time for all of us to reassess our goals. Many of us have had to close our studios or have opted to teach on-line. We face the challenges of paying rent at our studio with little or no income generated. We also face many personal struggles. Yet, I think we need to look back these two great folkloristas who overcame so much and allow their life stories to inspire us in our own endeavors.

To read more on Mexican dance and history, please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) as written by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available on amazon.com. For more information, please click on the link below.

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

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

Works Cited
“Amalia Hernandez: Tres Formas de Conocer la Vida y Obra del Iconico de la Danza Mexicana.” n.d. Seccion Amarilla .https://blog.seccionamarilla.com.mx/amalia-hernandez-vida-y-obra/

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

Mendoza-Garcia, Gabriela. 2016. “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico.” In The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity, edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young, 319-343. New York: Oxford University Press.

Society of Folk Dance Historians Photograph Collection. Austin, Texas.

Tortajada Quiroz, Margarita. 2012. Frutos de Mujer: Las Mujeres en la Danza Escénica. México: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.

—.—.   n.d. “Amalia Hernández: Audacia y Fuerza Creativa.”


Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Juvenil

A Note to Folkloristas–We Will Persevere

I could never have imagined the position that we are in–never in my wildest dreams. It began with me seeing all the postings on Facebook of my colleagues in California cancelling their concerts, classes, and even events. I noticed my friends in other states began to do the same. In Texas, Governor Abbot declared that all public schools would be closed until April 3rd. That is when it hit home! I suspended all my dance classes. I began to share warm-up exercises, zapateado techniques, and even host a few Facebook live on-line classes just so that we wouldn’t completely stop dancing folklórico entirely.  I had to re-think this entire situation. And these are my thoughts.

Aztec Codex Borgia
Aztec Codex Borgia

We come from a very strong people. Our people have overcome conquest, colonization, and even genocide. We adapted and survived the European colonization of the Americas, the Spanish inquisition, the War of Independence from Spain, the Reform Wars, the Mexican-American War, the Mexican Revolution, etc. In the United States, our people are both native people and immigrants to this country. We struggled and fought in many wars such as the American Revolution, American Indian Wars, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the Gulf War, etc. We protested and fought for our civil rights during the Chicano Movement. We continue this fight even today. Our music and dance traditions continuously transform. They are inspired by the political events around us. We did not stop dancing in times of hardship. During the Spanish Inquisition, our people were punished with three hundred lashes with a whip, fined, and put in jail for singing and dancing the jarabes. This did not stop us from playing our music, singing our songs, and dancing.

Jarabes during the Colonial Era
Jarabes during the Colonial Era

Our people survived small pox which killed millions of indigenous people throughout the Americas in the 1500s. In Tenochtitlán approximately 150,000 died of small pox. We are the survivors of the measles, syphilis, influenza, etc. Throughout this decimation our ancestors continued dancing. Perhaps the reason we express so much joy in our dances is because our people turned to music and dance as a survival mechanism. Think about it, for a few hours they could leave their problems behind them while they danced. We should do the same

So, we shall too overcome this pandemic. As Folkloristas we are the storytellers, the shamans, the bearers of our cultural dance traditions in the twenty-first century. We will adapt, change, and continue dancing just as our ancestors before us. We will persevere!

Written by: Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

To read more about Mexican dance history, please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and edited by myself. It is available on amazon.com

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

Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910)