Mexico has a long and rich tradition of dance. This includes the dances performed by the indigenous groups, as well as dances brought by the Spanish and other Europeans beginning as early as the fifteenth century. The early Amerindian dances included ritual and secular dances. The many European dance influences included ballroom styles such as the waltz, the shottishe, and the polka.
El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico is the best-known dance company in Mexico and is largely responsible for the international exposure that Mexican Folkdance has received. Amalia Hernandez created the dances for the company based on anthropological and historical research of Mexican people and traditions. Yet, some have criticized Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico as misrepresenting themselves as being “authentic” tradition bearers of Mexican folk dance.
These critics note that Amalia Hernandez may research a vibrant community tradition of dance, music, and clothing, but that she then creates from her research her own dance program that incorporates certain parts of the studied tradition, as well as an aesthetic that she observed, but not exactly replicating it. However, in creating flashy spectacle through crafted dances and colorful costumes, El Ballet Folklorico is a successful attraction for tourists and has generated a large amount of public appeal. It has also generated a great deal of interest in Mexican culture and dance.
DIVERSITY IN DANCE
Today, Mexican Folk Dance groups, or grupos folkloricos, often performs dances from many states of Mexico, and these dances become a symbol of national cultural heritage and identity. Like the United States, Mexico is made up of different states that have distinct identities. Mexico is a very diverse country that includes 31 states and the federal district where the national capital, Mexico City, is located. A ballet folklorico represents dances from a variety of these states and regions of Mexico and the dances and costumes reflect the unique expressions and aesthetics of the state where they originated.
Jalisco is the fourth largest state of Mexico, with over six million people counted in the 2003 census. The capital of Guadalajara is the second largest city after Mexico City. Also known as “la perla tapatía,” Guadalajara is home of the national dance of Mexico, the Jarabe tapatía. “Jarabe” is a term refers generally to a type of Mexican traditional music that uses multiple meters, and “tapatía” is a term that indicates that something is from Guadalajara. This dance tells the romantic story of a man who is flirting with a woman who he is in love with. There exist different variations of the dance and many involve a hat, thus the popular name it has acquired in the United States “The Mexican Hat Dance.”
Traje de charro, Spanish for “cowboy clothing”, refers to the special clothing worn by a man in traditional costume from Jalisco. It is worn in traditional dances of Jalisco, and also it is often the clothing of Mariachi Musicians—a musical form typical in Jalisco. Traje de charro includes a large hat (or sombrero), a coat with silver buttons and other adornments, and long pants that have the same silver buttons that go down the length of the pant leg on the side. Women in traditional Jalisco dress wear colorful blouses and full skirts made from large amounts of colorful fabric. You can see examples of this on the exhibit panel.
The state of Veracruz is the third most populous state of Mexico and located on the Eastern side of the country on the Gulf of Mexico. Xalapa is the capital, but the biggest city in the state is Veracruz. The style of Veracruz’s traditional music is well known due to the popularity of a song that originated in this region, “La Bamba.” An instrument that is particularly heard in the music of Veracruz is that of the harp. The clothing worn by women to traditionally represent Veracruz in folk dances includes a white dress, accented with a fan, jewelry, and often a black apron. The women of Veracruz wear a flower in their hair on the right-hand side if they are single, on the left if they are married. Men often wear white as well, accented with a red handkerchief (pañuelo rojo) and belt.
When dancing to “La Bamba,” a couple will often attempt to tie the man’s red belt into a bow with their feet. The man’s shirt is often what is called a guayabera—a shirt that is not only worn for a costume, but is commonly worn in warmer climates daily. Originally, the Guayabera shirts had four pockets, two lower pockets and two upper pockets, each with its own button. Another characteristic of the Guayabera are the two rows of alforzas (vertical pleats) which run on the front of the shirt, over the pockets and on the back of it.
The dance most associated with the state of Michoacán is the dance of the ancients, or baile de los viejos. Dancers wear large hats and masks to disguise themselves as old men as they perform this dance.
Nuevo León is a state located in the Northeastern region of Mexico. With music influenced by the polka and the emerging tradition of Tejano, the dances of Nuevo León are often lively and accompanied by music with a contagious beat. The full skirt of Veracruz and Tamaulipas look similar in form (although not in color), but that the gentle moves of Veracruz are very different from the aggressive steps found in these northern states.
One definition of traditional arts are those artistic traditions characteristic of specific ethnic, religious, linguistic, occupational, or regional groups. They are passed down from one generation to another and learned through on-going participation in community-based activities and through observation or imitation or master practitioners. Traditional artists, through their creativity, excellence, and dedication, reflect each community’s history, practices, beliefs, and values and for Mexico, Mexican Folk Dance is helping to preserve the culture.
This article was written by Company of Folk, a partnership of folklorists and humanities experts interested in researching, preserving and presenting local and folk culture of the Chicago region. The article has been edited and republished under a creative commons license.