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.
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.
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.
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.
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