Dance Tidbits – Dances of Mexico, Part 1

Since we live in California, so close to Mexico, by rite of passage, we should know a lot more about dances of Mexico then we probably do. As with many other cultures, Europe and Africa were an integral part of Mexico’s dance heritage. Mexican folk dance is surely a blend of different cultural traditions. They say, before the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous dance had developed with strong ties to religion. What the Spanish brought was a more European like court dancing and polkas, which were infused into the indigenous choreography. For the Aztec people, (Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of Central Mexico in the 14th to 16th centuries) dance was broken down into two categories, one for the common people and those of the elite class. The Spanish tried to eradicate indigenous dances, considering them “too pagan” and succeeded with a number of forms, especially those associated with priests and the ruling class. But they were unsuccessful at getting rid of the more popular forms. And many evangelizers worked to adapt dances to Christianity, trying to give the dances more meaning. This is the reason most of the dances of Mexico have at least some form of modification since the pre Hispanic era.

Mexican folk dance has always revolved around celebration. Dancing is always popular at parties, religious ceremonies and festivals. Mexican dance is also used to honor the country’s heritage, which includes the good and hard times of Mexican life. For the most part, folk dance is popular and well supported by various government efforts. Dances considered representative of the country and popular outside their home region, such as the Jarocho or Jarabe receive regional and federal support. While support is geared to preserving traditional dance forms, modern dances such as Salsa, Merengue and Hip Hop are also taught in various schools and cultural centers throughout Mexico.

Traditional dance usually involves the history of the people who perform it. Many of the folk dances in Mexico share common elements. There are literally dozens of dances in every region and almost all cities of Mexico. An interesting aspect of Mexican dance is their use of animals that appear in their dances. It usually is a religious custom of the indigenous people. Animals can include deer, serpents, eagles and jaguars. After the Conquest, dancers added horses, bulls and roosters. Also masks are used in various ways in Mexican dance. They are used to transform the dancer into a character either metaphorically or religiously. Masks are popular at festivals such as Carnival, where masks can be worn for pranks or for more serious, social commentary.  An example of social commentary for a person wearing a mocking mask and costume could mean he or she is protesting police corruption.

Here are some of the (many) traditional dances of Mexico and a little bit about them:

Danza – The native ritual dance is used for religion and community. It was the ritual dance of the Azteca people. This dance was a way to engage in prayer with the deities of the sun, earth, sky and water.

Mestizo – A Western influenced dance that has been combined with indigenous form, which is the type of dancing usually presented at Mexican Independence Day celebrations and other festivals and holidays.

Bailes Regionales – The regional dances that are created by individual communities. As a tourist in Mexico, you will often find these in community theater and dance studio performances.

The Chineolos Dance – This dance is derived from carnival celebrations south of Mexico City and is now danced in the State of Mexico.   Chineolos dancers wear masks (chineolos means disguised).

Jalisco – Jalisco is known as the land of mariachis. The dances of Jalisco express the characteristics of the Mexican culture and evoke the heart and soul of Mexico.

Jarabe – This is Mexico’s “national dance” and often called the “Mexican Hat Dance.” This dance represents courtship of a woman by a man, who at first is rejected but then is accepted in the end. The man wears a Charro suit and the woman wears a “China Poblana” outfit. I will talk about these costumes more in Part 2, so stay tuned for some fascinating history about costumes in Mexico.

I visited Mexico City at Christmas time. It was a wonderful trip I will never forget. But two things stood out for me more than anything else: (1) The Mexican people were by far the nicest, warmest people I had ever met in any country I had traveled to and (2) Why didn’t I take Spanish in high school (I took French) so I could have been able to communicate better.  We Californians live right next door to Mexico, it makes so much more sense to learn Spanish!  Oh well, live and learn.

Thought Of The Week:

The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling       –   Fabienne Fredrickson


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website