Jalisco

Nationalization of Folklórico Dance

Imagine this….you are the President of Mexico, Álvaro Obregón (1920-1923), your country survived a bloody revolution. In fact, you still have to quell a few up-risings here and there. Your countrymen and women identify more with their region than with the nation. You realize that your people need to unite culturally and politically. They must identify with the nation of Mexico. What do you do?

A Bit of History

To solve this dilemma, Obregón appointed José Vasconcelos to serve as the Secretary of Public Education (1920-1924). Not only was Vasconcelos instrumental in helping combat illiteracy, he also began the Cultural Nationalist Movement. What better way to unite the country than through music and dance? Vasconcelos wanted to be sure that every child enrolled in public school was taught folkloric dances. So, he started programs to train Physical Education teachers to teach Mexican folklórico dances. Vasconcelos even developed the Cultural Missions whereby a team of teachers including a Physical Education teacher would travel to a rural area in Mexico to teach. They were also instructed to document and collect the dances of the rural people (Mendoza-Garcia 324-329). What happened as a result of this emphasis?

The result was an officially sanctioned vision of Mexico that was supported by folklórico music and dances designated to represent the nation. Ricardo Pérez Montfort in Avatares del Nacionalismo Cultural: Cinco Ensayos (2000) argues that the national culture defined “Mexicanness” as coming from the pueblo. In the 1920s, the pueblo was thought of as being rural, provincial, poor, marginalized, yet experienced by the majority. Education was the key to consolidate and modernize the pueblo, and thus the nation itself. In addition, Pérez Montfort suggests that the use of the image of the pueblo became synonymous with the stereotyped image of “Mexicanness” which was invoked by the political leaders of Mexico to legitimize public policy (Avatares 35-45; Estampas 113). Rural Mexico was invoked in the music of the Mariachi band, as well as in the popular songs such as huapangos, corridos, and sones that are accompanied by the indigenous and folkloric dances (Sáenz 20-23). Folklórico flourished under this romanticized, idealized vision of Mexico.

china poblana in 1920s and 1930s
China Poblana in 1931 in Mexico City

Picking the Dances to Represent

Pablo Parga in Cuerpo Vestido de un Nación. Danza Folklorica y Nacionalismo Mexicano (1921-1939) (2004) argues the elites specifically chose which dances were to represent the regions of Mexico. In fact, they designated the Jarochos to represent Veracruz, the huapangos to represent the huasteca region, as well as, the charro and china poblana to represent the nation. Thus, many of our beloved folklórico dances that we perform to were actually hand-picked to represent the nation. In fact, Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance” (1905-2000) indicated to folklorist Ron Houston that in 1924 the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) established a committee to standardize the Jarabe Tapatío. The committee chose the steps, music, and sequence of motifs of the Jarabe Tapatío which would be taught to school children. Furthermore, in her accounts of the history of the Jarabe Tapatío, Flores de Angeles states that in 1924 the Mexican government commissioned the SEP to synthesize the much shorter two and a half minute Jarabe Tapatío from the six minute version of the Jarabe Largo Ranchero. She indicated that she was a part of this committee (Mendoza-Garcia 323). Thus, much of what we know as folklórico today was born out of these ideas of what dances should represent the nation.

China Poblana
China Poblana in 2020 in the United States

Parga notes that an unofficial version of Mexican music and dance remained within the pueblo. This unofficial version stands in opposition to the official sanctified ideas promoted by the state. He suggests that when the nation began to nationalize the folklórico dances of Mexico, a “it has to be this way” kind of thinking developed. Parga remarks that believing that the dances ” has to be this way” developed from the elites who picked the dances to represent Mexico. He argues it is very centralistic and patriarchal way of thought.

My Ideas

I am very intrigued by the ways in which folklórico dance was nationalized by the state. I ask the following questions. What dances were chosen and why? Who gets left out of this official narrative? What gets erased?  What is the political reason behind this? Montfort argues that it is time to re-envision what dances belong to the nation (Breves Comentarios 192). What do you think?

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, Ph.D.

For additional readings please purchase the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself.

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

Works Cited

Mendoza-Garcia, Gabriela. 2016. “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico.” edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young, 319-342. Oxford University Press.

Parga, Pablo. 2004. Cuerpo Vestido de un Nación. Danza Folklorica y Nacionalismo Mexicano (1921-1939).  Mexico: Conalculta/fonca.

Pérez Montfort, Ricardo. 2005. “Breves Comentarios al Libro Cuerpo Vestido de Nación.” Desacatos. 19: 189-192.

—.—. 2000. Avatares Del Nacionalismo Cultural: Cinco Ensayos. Mexico, D.F.: CIDHEM.

 —. —. 1994. Estampas Del Nacionalismo Popular Mexicano: Ensayos Sobre Cultura Popular Y Nacionalismo.” Mexico,D.F.: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios.

Sáenz, Moisés. 1939. Mexico Integro. Peru: Imprenta Torres Aguirre.


charro and china poblana of the 1930s

The Love Story behind the Jarabe Tapatío

The Love Story behind the Jarabe Tapatío: as told by Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance”

I always tell my dancers “we tell our histories through our zapateados.” I feel that we need to pay close attention to our body movements because they make meanings on many different levels. This idea is evident in the writings and teachings of Alura Flores de Angeles “Godmother of Mexican Dance.” When I spoke to her former students and colleagues, they told me that Flores de Angeles would teach the footwork of the Jarabe Tapatío alongside the love story that surrounded it. Wanting to learn more, I researched her writings. I discovered that Flores de Angeles had written a series of articles on various dances of Mexico in the Real Mexico publication in the 1930s. The article on the Jarabe Tapatío was one in particular that really caught my attention. In this article, she described the love story behind the Jarabe Tapatío. Analyzing these findings, I noticed that the footwork sequences of the Jarabe Tapatío told the story. By knowing the footwork and by paying close attention to the dance steps, the love story of the Jarabe Tapatío unfolds. Here, I share with you this love story as written by Alura Flores de Angeles and documented by Folklorist Ron Houston.

Romantic Love Story

Alura and Antonio as the china poblana and charro
Alura and Antonio as the china poblana and charro

As Alura Flores de Angeles recounts,

now the explanation of the meaning of the dance. There are eight steps, quite intricate ones. The first step represents the galloping of a horse. The charro, booted and spurred, is on his way to the china’s house. In the second step he rasps briskly at the door but it is not opened to him because the china is not in. In the third step the charro walks across the corral in order to take his horse from the stable, and on the way, in the fourth step, he meets the china poblana. She coquets with him, but keeps him at arms’ length. The fifth step shows the charro drunk-probably to drown his sorrow. He is unable to guide his horse straight as the sixth step indicates (Flores de Angeles 1934, 17).

Fearing her father would see the charro drunk, the china poblana serves him hot tea to sober him up. They both perform the footwork sequence known as the hojas de té (Houston 2017, 50).

The china poblana is touched. She turns toward the charro and the two start to flirt again. The charro signifies that he is all hers by throwing his hat on the floor. The china in order to accept him takes the chic method of dancing on the broad brim of the hat (Flores de Angeles 39) or by either placing the hat on her head (Houston 2017, 51).

In the eighth and last step, both are hilariously merry and express their pleasure and happiness by dancing “La Diana” (Flores de Angeles 1934, 39).

[They] both hide behind the hat and kiss, as they are now engaged (Houston 2017, 51).

This, then, is the story of the Jarabe Tapatío, Mexico’s national dance, which …. is now known to all the world interested in dancing (Flores de Angeles 1934, 39).

Video Explanation

The video footage below was taken in the late 1970s. Performing are my aunt Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and her student Roy Lozano dancing the Jarabe Tapatio. At this time, Martinez-Hunter was a Dance faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. She founded the UT Ballet Folklorico in 1975 with her students Roy Lozano, Patsy Haynes, and Michael Carmona. Martinez-Hunter would teach at UT until retirement. Roy Lozano would audition and dance with the Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández. Later, he would start his own company called Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklorico de Tejas of which I was a part of. As they dance the Jarabe Tapatio, I narrate the love story behind the dance as Flores de Angeles did so many times. Enjoy! (Footage courtesy of Michael Carmona)

The Jarabe Tapatio with Dr. Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter and Roy Lozano

As you notice, our dance movements tell the love story of the charro and china poblana. Listen closely and you can hear the charro galloping on his horse and knocking on the door of the china poblana with our zapateados. The dancers move close to each other keeping eye contact as they flirt. Both the charro and the china poblana perform the borracho step when the charro gets drunk on a bottle of tequila. They perform the ojas de té step when the china sobers him up. Our dance movements continue the story as the charro throws his hat on the floor when asking for the love of the china. She accepts his affections by picking up the hat and placing it on her head. A military tune called La Diana is played as the charro has romantically conquered his china poblana. Notice that this is the first time the couple faces the audience. They solidify their love through a final kiss which represents their engagement to marry (Mendoza-García 2013, 51-60).

My Thoughts

Where did Flores de Angeles learn this love story behind the Jarabe Tapatío? I have found no oral accounts or written documents to answer this question. Yet, when I spoke with Folklorist Ron Houston and searched my aunt’s archival collection, I discovered that “at age twenty-one Flores de Angeles served on the committee that choreographed the National dance of Mexico, the Jarabe Tapatío (known at this time as the Jarabe Largo).” Perhaps, she learned the love story when she served on the committee so many years ago.

When I learned the Jarabe Tapatío from my dance teachers, I was not told the love story behind the dance. I feel that it is an important part of the history of this dance. Now, I always teach this dance explaining the love story as I go along. I hope you do so too.

Written by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ph.D.

Further Reading:

To read a bit more of my writings surrounding the Jarabe Tapatío, please read my article called “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico” that is published in the Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (2016).

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

Also, please read my dissertation called “Bodily Renderings of the Jarabe Tapatio in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and the Millennial United States: Race, Nation, Class, and Gender” which was submitted in 2013 at the University of California, Riverside.
http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8c47k3gm

Finally, please check out my aunt’s book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) which is edited by myself. It is available for purchase on amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/author/gabrielamendozagarcia

Works Cited

Flores Barnes and Jeanne Maisonville. 1934. “The Dances.” Mexican Folkways. 3(15): 16-17, 39.

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

—.—.. Photograph of Alura Flores de Angeles. N.d. Society of Folk Dance Scholars Collection. Austin, Texas.

—.—. Personal Interview. 14 April 2011.

Martinez, Sanjuanita. Letter to University of Texas Departments. 1979. Collection of Sanjuanita Martinez-Hunter, Austin, Texas.

Mendoza-García. “Bodily Renderings of the Jarabe Tapatío: Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in Twentieth Century Mexico and Millennial United States.” Ph.D dissertation. The University of California Riverside, 2013.

The Jarabe Tapatío. N.d. Collection of Michael Carmona. Austin Texas. Public Access.