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.


Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Dancing Veracruz

Transformations of Folkloric Dance

In the book Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity (1995), Néster García Canclini argues that traditional practices that identify us as a nation or people are highly valued. They are thought of as a treasure from the past and are so valuable that we imagine them as beyond question. We are so intent on preserving, restoring, and disseminating these traditions that we fail to see the ways in which these traditions interact, contradict, and respond to modern day influences. Canclini continues by stating that some people believe that folklore should remain unchanged, and that progress as well as modern communication alters and destroys it and makes it lose its identity. Instead, he argues that modern influences do not erase folklore but instead transform it (108, 148-149). I have noticed this same line of thought amongst folkloristas. We love our dances so much that we fail to realize just how much these dances continue to be transformed by history, politics, and modern day influences. I argue that these dance influences are part of a circular pattern where the communities are influenced by modern day politics, trends and vice versa. Plus, as Canclini mentions it is so important is to think through the contradictions expressed within these dance practices.

Folkloric Dance Transforms throughout History

Thinking through Canclini’s ideas, let’s use a historic example from the book Dancing Throughout Mexican History 1325-1910 (2018) as written by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by myself to show the ways in which folkloric dance is transformed based upon political upheavals. The following is an excerpt.

The Spanish conquistadors came to forcefully impose their way of life and morality on the Aztec people. The conquerors saw no value in the Indigenous culture or religion…..[1]

However, the Spanish conquerors faced the problem that many thousands of their Indigenous subjects worshipped through dance. Desiring at all cost to save the souls of the newly conquered people, the conquistadors incorporated polytheistic festivities and dance into their sacramental rites. In their eyes, substituting the symbols and deity of Christianity for the polytheistic motifs and deities while preserving the pomp and color of polytheistic ceremonies helped actualize the transition from the sinful life of certain damnation to the holy life of eternal joy.[2]

As the acculturation progressed, the religious fiestas changed in form. Ancient deities who had presided over the festive rituals were replaced by the patron saints of Christianity. Dance included themes such as the struggle between Christianity and atheism, the medieval Crusades, and even the Spanish Conquest (43).[3]

In her writings, Martínez-Hunter continues to describe the ways in which the indigenous people also changed their dances using new dance movements, musical instruments, and themes of the time period. In other words, the indigenous people and the colonizers were influenced by each other and made changes to the dances to transform them. They did not stay the same during times of political unrest, uncertainty, or peace. Instead, Canclini urges us to examine the many contradictions that these dances express.

Folklorico is Constantly Changing Even Today

Now, let’s thinks of a more contemporary example which shows the ways in which Mexican Folkloric dances are influenced by and react to contemporary dance trends.  Folkloric dance companies are known for their staged presentations of dances as performed by a community of people. Anthony Shay in “Choreographing Identities: Folk Dance, Ethnicity, and Festival in the United States and Canada” (2006) argues that dance communities borrow styles and ideas from folkloric dance companies. He quotes an interview in which Amalia Hernández of the Ballet Folklórico de México recounted the following story:

With only a small trace of irony, Hernandez describes being invited to judge a contest of traditional dancing in culturally conservative Veracruz. Watching the competition, Hernandez discovered that the participants were openly incorporating steps she had invented for her classic Ballet Folklórico de México suite. “I didn’t say a thing” she recalls with a big smile. “The tradition is like a river of style that goes on (Segal 1997, 67).”

This is yet another example showing the ways in which Dance influences are two-fold and form a circular pattern. In other words, just as we are influenced by the dances of the community of people they are influenced by the folkloric dances presented by companies on stage, on television, via the internet etc. Both examples reveal this circular effect, where communities inspire the staging of the dances and vice versa. By carefully analyzing the dances, we can start thinking about the contradictions expressed.

My Thoughts

I argue that Folkloric dances are influenced by their historic and political surroundings, as well as, modern day influences. In addition, they are dynamic, fluid and travel across communities in a circular manner.  It’s time we start analyzing the dances to think about the many contradictions they express. What do you think?

Announcement: The book Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910) by Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter and edited by Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia is scheduled to be released in October 2018. It will be available for purchase through amazon. I will post more details at a later date.

Works Cited

Martínez-Hunter, Sanjuanita. Dancing Throughout Mexican History (1325-1910). South Carolina: Mexico Lindo Press, 2018.

Shay, Anthony. Choreographing Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation, and Power. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

Footnotes

[1] Anne Schley Duggan, et.al., Folk Dances of the United States and Mexico (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1948), p. 103.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luis Covarrubias, Regional Dances of Mexico (México: Fischgrund Litographia Record, n.d.), p. 34.


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


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.
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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.