Traditional Mexican Folk Dance: History & Types
Mexican folk dance is an integral part of Mexican history, and many of the traditional dances are still. There are many different folk dances from Mexico that you can learn to perform yourself, or just enjoy watching.
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.
The History of Mexican Folk Dancing:
Folk dances in Mexico have traditionally been a way of honoring the Mexican culture and a representation of the struggles and joys of the daily Mexican life. It is a celebration of the religious and cultural rituals and festivals, celebrated by the people of that place.
Folk dance has always been rooted in celebration, be it a party, a religious ceremony, or a festival. Dance is used for the purpose of honoring the country’s unique heritage, while also recognizing both the joy and hard times of the Mexican life. Folk dance’s origins in Mexico are found in Mesoamerican times, in which natives performed dances to appeal to the Mayan and Aztec gods. Later on, when the Spanish arrived during the 16th century, European dances like court dancing and polka were infused with the indigenous choreography.
Types of Mexican Dancing:
Within the three genres of folk dance, there are many dances that are popular and well known. Many are taught to school children in preparation for a particular holiday, while others are taught in dance studios or as part of a Mexican folk dancing team. These dances are not limited to within Mexico’s borders; many Mexican-Americans enjoy participating in such dance troupes, and Europe also embraces Mexican dancing.
You may not recognize the Spanish name, but you surely know the dance. The Jarabe Tapatio, also known as the Mexican Hat Dance, is the most popular folk dance to ever spring out of Mexico. Considered to be the nation’s official dance, many learn this as children and continue to dance it at festivals and birthday parties. The Jarabe Tapatio was historically a courting dance, with a story behind it of a young man trying to romantically pursuade a Mexican maiden.
La Danza del Venado
Created by the Yaqui Indians of Mexico, La Danza del Venado reenacts a deer hunt, complete with dancers wearing masks to represent the deer and the hunter.
This is a religious dance that portrays some of the rituals that were conducted by the pre-Columbian Aztecs. Named after a stringed instrument constructed from armadillo shell, the dance pays homage to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. The Concheros is a showy dance featuring ceremonial processions, feathered costumes, floral decorations, incense, and drums.
El Baile de Los Viejitos
El Baile de Los Viejitos, the dance of the old men, was originally written to mock the Spanish upper class. The men traditionally dance with machetes and masks, while the women move with fans.
This dance form began in Veracuz, Mexico, and its music is distinguished by a blend of African, Spanish, and native rhythms. Son Jarocho events are known as fandangos. La Bamba, a song whose popularity has spread well outside of Mexico, is a prime example of the style of music that accompanies Son Jarocho dancers.
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.