It is undeniable that Mexico has countless impressive and varying displays of culture which are rich and breathtaking in every form. One element that Mexico does not lack are traditional folk dances. For Mexicans, dance is an activity deeply rooted in its people who, from pre-Hispanic times, have formed a vast repertoire of performances that display the richness of their different regions and the cultural value that has been created from indigenous, Spanish, and African influences. Today, traditional Mexican folk dances with their colorful costumes, musical elements, and alluring choreographies are a defining element of Mexico's popular culture, recognized both nationally and internationally.
Mexican traditional folk dance is a representation of its different cultural traditions and, with them, the history of Mexico. Its historical roots combine indigenous, European, and African cultural influences that are represented in each performance. While dance has been an important part of our country's pre-Hispanic history, most of the original elements of these dances have been lost, either by Catholic evangelization or by modernization, with only a few forms of dance that survive almost intact. Some dances performed in Mexico include those brought from Europe by the Spanish, with some of these also undergoing changes. Moreover, the African influence on Mexican dance is mostly visible in the regions of Veracruz and Costa Chica areas of Guerrero and Oaxaca, where the country's Afro-Mexican population is prominent. Nonetheless, this folk dance, despite modernization and other social endeavors, has survived and even strengthened since the colonial period. One reason for this is Mexico's desire for a national identity, first after the Mexican War of Independence and again after the Mexican Revolution.
Some of you may have seen, or at least heard of, these dances at Mexican Events and or festivities, such as September 15, November 20th, or in some other civic event and patron saint festivities. However, for those of you who do not know much about the folk dances of Mexico, do not worry, keep reading as we make a brief summary of each dance’s tradition, costumes, representation, and meaning behind the most famous Mexican dances.
At Lolo, we consider ourselves fortunate to be a part of this culture and be able to witness the beautiful tradition that are folkloric dances, because in each wardrobe, hairstyle, the braids or flowers that are placed on the head, the accessories, and in general the movement of these dances we are able to witness some of the beauty Mexican culture has to offer. Let's go a little deeper into these dances as we present a small selection of these beautiful traditions:
Jarabe Tapatío, Jalisco
Jarabe Tapatío, better known internationally as the Mexican hat dance, is perhaps the most typical of all traditional Mexican dances, since it is considered “El Baile Nacional (the national dance)” of Mexico. This dance has elements that immediately allow the public to identify their country of origin with mariachis, sombreros, and flowy skirts.
The Jarabe Tapatío is a love story. During the dance, the man places his sombrero on the ground, hopping, sliding, and kicking around the sombrero, and, when the woman bends to pick up the hat, the man kicks his leg over her head. Then the performance closes when she holds the hat up and both dancers’ faces disappear behind it, confirming to their love. To perform this dance, women are dressed as China Poblanas, wearing a wide, colorfully decorated skirt and blouse outfit. Men, on the other hand, are also dressed as charros, wearing a black suit with metallic embroidery, particularly on the pant’s legs, which are lined with silver buttons that highlight the movements. The music that accompanies this dance is originally performed by mariachis and a group of dancers flirtatiously stamp their feet on stage, adding several layers to the rhythm.
Danza de los Viejitos, Michoacán
This peculiar and friendly dance is traditional from the state of Michoacán, specifically from the town of Jarácuaro, and has become one of the most representative and distinguished folkloric dances, both nationally and internationally.
The origins of this dance date back to the Purepechá region in pre-Hispanic times and are related to the dances that were part of the ritual in honor of Huehuetéotl, the so-called “God of Fire” or “Old God”.The dancers ask El Dios Viejo (The Old God) for good harvest, communication with spirits, and to learn about the past or to predict the future. This dance is danced by men to represent fire, water, earth, and air, and it is also believed to represent the four colors that make corn which is red, yellow, white, and blue. The dance consists of four men who are dressed in the costume of the Purépecha peasants, a white blanket shirt and pants, covered by a colorful serape and huaraches with wooden soles for footwork and sounds. In addition, this dance is distinguished for the use of unique wooden masks in the shape of smiling old men and a hat with long multicolored ribbons and a cane as additional accessories.
Danza del Venado, Sonora
La Danza del venado, or Deer Dance, is mostly performed in northwestern Mexico by the Cahita communities: oreme –yaqui- or yoreme –mayo-, who live at the confluence of the states of Sonora and Sinaloa. The dance describes the life and death of the sacred animal of the Yaquis and Mayos: the deer. He is accompanied by the Pascolas who, although they are two different dances, are danced together and are integrated in some parts.
The music in this dance plays an essential role as it sets the mood for the story. The dance begins with the music played by the reed flute and a drum, first with an uncertain and hesitant rhythm, then more firmly and regularly. The staging refers to the hunting of the deer represented by a young, agile, thin and strong dancer. Here, the dancers dress according to their character, he wears a headdress of a stuffed deer head adorned with flowers or colored ribbons, usually red. With agile movements, the dancer deer tries to avoid the dancers who represent the coyotes -pascola-, who wear a small mask and are armed with a bow and arrows. The deer when defending itself, kills one of them who reincarnates in a hunter who kills the deer with a bow and arrow, which symbolizes that the sacred animal has died.
La Bamba, Veracruz
“La Bamba” is a typical dance of Mexico that originated in the state of Veracruz, best known from a 1958 adaptation by Ritchie Valens, a Top 40 hit in the U.S. charts. It belongs to the musical genre called son jarocho and is recognized as a popular hymn of the state of Veracruz.
It is danced on a wooden platform, and the dancers wear the typical jarocho costume consisting of a guayabera, a traditional hat, and white pants, while the women wear a blouse and a white skirt that is characterized by being wide and loose. The music is performed by musicians who play the two types of guitar known as jarana and huapanguera.
Danza de los concheros
The Concheros dance, also known as Chichimecas, Aztec, and Mexica, is an important traditional dance and ceremony which has been performed in Mexico since early in the colonial period. It presents syncretic features both pre-Hispanic and Catholic influences. This dance is a form of ritual inherited from the Mexica culture, who it is believed practiced it for the first time in the XVI century as a reminder of the battle between them and the Spanish conquerors.
This dance is meant to represent the unity of man with the cosmos and establish harmony; hence it begins with the greeting to the four cardinal points and represents the four elements as ceremony. The incense burner (ceramic piece used to make smoke) symbolizes fire; the sea snail, the wind; the water is placed in a container; and the earth is the base on which the dance is performed.
The dance has strong visual markers of its pre-Hispanic roots with feathered regalia, indigenous dance steps and indigenous instruments such as drums. The clothing is characterized by colorful costumes that consist of a skirt, knee pads, wristbands, breastplate and feathers, usually brightly colored.
Concheros are descendants of the Mexica. To perform their ceremonial dance, they place tree seeds (ayoyote) around the ankles so that the sound they create as they move immitates that fo the raim. The drums mark the rhythm of their feet and the guitar, a mandolin type instrument of Spanish influence, is the one that carries the melody.Nowadays, the concheros are ritual dance groups that are not limited to any specific region, which have pre-Hispanic Mexican roots and are linked to various religious and/or spiritual festivals and ceremonies.
Nowadays traditional folk dances in Mexico are recognized as cultural heritage, gaining more and more national and international praise and recognition. In Mexico and in other places around the world there are countless schools, academies, and ballets dedicated to practicing these traditional folkloric dances. Although typical dances seem to be innumerable with thousands of representations for each, some of these have become a symbol of the country before the world—The Folkloric Ballet of Mexico, founded in 1952 by Amalia Hernández, for example, is one of the most important dance institutions in the country—while others are so old that they owe their permanence to the little publicity that was made.
Although a very short list compared to the thousands of different regional dances, we believe that this list can serve as an introduction to the breathtaking beauty behind these cultural representations. Moreover, the tradition of Mexican folk dance is not limited to Mexico, one can see these performances represented throughout the world with the same production, pride, and glamour that is present in Bellas Artes.
So, what are your thoughts? Have you ever seen any of these dances being performed? If so, we would love to hear what your experience and thoughts about them? Which traditional dance is your favorite? We would love to hear from you and look forward to suggestions on what you would like to read about next!
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