Mexico is a country with a myriad of rich traditions, stemming from both the pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures and the influence of their European conquerors. Baile Folklorico, or folk dancing, is a prominent part of Mexican culture today. These dances come in so many forms that it would be a challenge to elucidate them all. So instead, below are four interesting styles of Mexican folk dancing, their histories and meanings. Enjoy!
Known alternately as Huehuenches, Chichimecas, Aztecas and Mexicas, the Concheros dance is one of the oldest dances in Mexico--dating back to shortly after the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the invading Spanish. The Concheros dance represents a compromise between various influences--it is meant to preserve the heritage of Mexico's indigenous pre-Hispanic population, and is based on the indigenous "mitote" dance, but was adapted during the Spanish Conquest to take on a Catholic meaning. It is typically performed by dancers in exceedingly elaborate costumes that are meant to resemble the garb of the defeated Aztecs (although influences from other indigenous cultures, including some originating in the current United States, has inevitably crept in over the centuries.)
Danza de los Voladores
The Danza de los Voladores is another indigenous dance, although its specific origins remain obscure. It is thought to have originated with Nahua, Huastec and Otomi peoples of central Mexico, but the legends and traditions of the dance in its modern form are more closely associated with the Totonac people. According to Totonac myth, the ritual was first performed in response to a severe drought hundreds of years ago. In order to please the rain god Xipe Totec, the village chose five young, chaste men to cut down the largest tree in the forest, erect it in the center of the village and climb to its peak. Four of the men then proceeded to jump from the top of the trunk, while the fifth remained, dancing and playing music. The core of this basic practice remains intact in modern times, with four young men jumping from the pole (safely fastened to its peak with ropes) while the fifth dances atop it, but the more complex religious and ritual elements of the ceremony have been lost to history.
In stark contrast to the previous two, La Conquista is decidedly NOT a dance with any indigenous origin whatsoever. It depicts the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and involves two groups of dancers--one that represents the indigenous Aztecs, and the other that represents the Spanish Conquistadors, each in distinctive forms of dress--feathers and "skins" for the Aztecs, arquebuses (rifles) and shining helmets for the Conquistadors. Some versions of the dance even include dancers who represent such key figures as Hernan Cortes and Emperor Montezuma, and end with either the slaying of the king or the baptism of his Aztec subjects. It's a fascinating, if a bit disturbing, legacy of the Spanish eradication of pre-Hispanic cultures and peoples.
Sometimes known as the "Mexican Hat Dance", the Jarabe Tapatio is probably the most widely-known and recognizable of all the Mexican folk dances. Originating in the late 18th century, the dance is meant to illustrate the courtship ritual--the man makes advances toward the woman, who rejects them at first, but is eventually swayed and accepts the man as a partner. Because of its undeniable sexual overtones, the Jarabe Tapatio was roundly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, and was originally only performed between two female partners. It was even banned outright by the Spanish colonial government, because it was considered immoral and perceived as a challenge to colonial authority. After the Mexican Revolution, however, it was adopted as the "national dance" of Mexico as a way of representing cultural unity for the fledgling nation. Since then, the dance has shifted its connotations away from the erotic and toward the patriotic, with the dancers adopting more traditional Mexican outfits.
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