Like all folk dancing, traditional Mexican dances provide a glimpse into the culture of the region. Not only do these dances from Mexico express the rhythms of the music, but also the vital colors woven into Mexican clothing and decoration, as well as themes important to the region such as Catholicism and communion with nature.
Traditional Mexican Dances
Mexican culture shines through the traditional dances of the country. Many Mexican families are planted firmly in religious faith and the rich intricacies of generational traditions and celebrations observed year after year. Dance has long played a role in these special days, such as coming-of-age parties, religious events, and agricultural celebrations. Many American school children learn the Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance) in their classrooms, while tourists to Mexico may witness a performance of Danza del Venado (Dance of the Deer) or Tlacolorerosis (an agricultural dance). While these traditional dances each have very different roots and styles, they bring various aspects of Mexican culture to the audiences who see them performed.
The Jarabe Tapatío
The Mexican Hat Dance was named the national dance of Mexico in 1924 in an effort to bring together several different cultures together as one national identity. Since it became the national dance it has also become a symbol of Mexico around the world, especially in the United States.
The dance involves a male and a female dancer, with the male working hard to seduce the female during the dance. At first the two dancers flirt, but then the woman's attention is turned away from the man's advances. A joyous dance, the number finishes with the woman accepting the male dancer's courtship, and the two delight the audience with a kiss hidden by the male dancer's hat. Many variations show different levels of sexuality; traditional Mexican culture would have prohibited very suggestive behavior in a public performance, but culture has changed and with it this dance has become increasingly suggestive.
The accompanying music is Mexican folk that was created in the 19th century. Today, Mexicans still proudly and joyously perform the Jarabe Tapatío at various fiestas and other big events.
Famous ballerina Anna Pavlova went on to perform a version of this dance en pointe, and it brought her newfound celebrity in Mexico.
La Danza del Venado
La Danza del Venado, known as the Deer Dance, is a ritualistic dance performed primarily in the Yaqui region of Mexico, by the people of the same name as the region. The dance illustrates a deer hunt, with dancers playing the roles of the hunters and the dying deer itself. The performers, otherwise known as pascolas, often wear wooden masks and bells. The performer playing the deer wears minimal costuming except for a headdress, usually of a deer, that can be quite elaborately decorated with many colorful accents. Various instruments are used to accompany La Danza del Venado, including a flute, drum, and rattle. The Yaqui Indians still perform it almost identically to the way it was originally choreographed. While the Mexican Hat Dance has changed with the times, this dance has remained true not only to its theme, but also to its steps and rhythm.
A Mexican agricultural dance, this dance is most often performed on the Day of the Dead and has a very specific costume for performers. Wearing jeans, tunics, and boots, the dancers wear tiger masks and make rhythmic movements that represent preparation of the fields for cultivation.
The dancers have chains or whips, which they use to accent the rhythms in the music and represent the burning of the fields; like most Mexican dancing, a lot of foot stomping is part of this dance. The stomping is said to represent the beating down of bushes, in tandem with burning the bushes, so that the ground is ready for crops to be planted.
This dance hails from the Guerrero region of Mexico, where agriculture is an important aspect of daily life and critical to survival.
Mexican Dance Performances
In the United States, traditional dances of Mexico have made their way into popular dance culture. There are many classical Mexican dance groups, such as the Mexican Dance Ensemble based in Chicago, rehearsing and performing in America. Founded in 2001, the MDE started out with 22 dancers and has now grown to 100. They serve to promote and preserve Mexican folkloric dance in their local communities, maintaining joy in their performances and teaching and transmitting information and culture all at once.
Whether you want to learn some traditional dances of Mexico or you are only interested in observing this art form, going to a performance is an inspiring opportunity. The colors, rhythms, and movements of Mexico will come alive through the dancers' performances, and your experiences of Mexican dance will take on a new richness from seeing the dances in person.