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 they also display the vital colors woven into Mexican clothing and decoration, as well as themes important to the region, such as Catholicism and communion with nature. While these traditional dances each have very different roots and styles, they bring various aspects of Mexican culture to audiences.
The Mexican Hat Dance originated in Jalisco, Mexico. In 1924, it was named the national dance of Mexico in an effort to bring together several different cultures together as one national identity. Since then, it became the national dance, and it has also become a symbol of Mexico around the world, especially in the United States.
Getting That Kiss
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.
Charro Suits and Showy Dresses
Dancers of the Jarabe Tapatio wear a theatrical interpretation of the traditional outfit of Jalisco. Women wear a two-piece dress with a flowing skirt in vibrant colors adorned with ribbons, specially at waist and hem. The matching blouse is also adorned with ribbons both at the neck and at the sleeves. Thick, lustrous braids are tied into luscious buns and dressed with ribbons to match the dress.
Men wear a traditional charro suit with silver buttons lined down the outer side of the legs and the front of the jacket. A white shirt is worn with the suit, and a bowtie is added to match the woman's ensemble. Men wear the traditional charro hat, which is not only famous worldwide but also a part of the dance. Both wear black or brown low-heeled boots.
Fun and Showy With a Touch of Tradition
The Jarabe Tapatio is danced to the accompaniment of traditional Mariachi music. The tapping of the feet is rhythmic and matches that of the tune. The flowing skirt and the handsome hat steal the show but of course without dancers, there are no moves to showcase them. The moves are flirty, fun, and showy. It is, after all, a courtship dance.
Danza del Venado
La Danza del Venado, known as the Deer Dance, hails from Sonora, Mexico. With pre-Hispanic origins, this is a ritualistic dance performed primarily by the Yaqui people of Mexico. The dance illustrates a deer hunt, with dancers playing the roles of the hunters and the dying deer itself. The choreography of this dance has remained pretty much untouched since its origin. Even if it may have been stylized a bit as professional dancers took to interpreting it, the performance style and music remains.
Honoring the Deer's Death
La Danza del Venado is performed with the intention of honoring the deer that has been hunted or will be hunted for the subsistence of the people. Deer are considered noble animals, and their spirit is widely revered among native Mexicans including the Yaqui, the Huichol, and other peoples. Even when hunting deer, prayers are said and thank you offerings are made in appreciation for the deer's sacrifice. This dance is performed as a way to honor the life and beauty of the deer. It is usually performed by three people. One dancer plays the deer and the other two play the hunters. The human hunters are called pascolas. Sometimes there is only one pascola, and the other hunter is a coyote.
The Beauty Belongs to the Deer
The performer playing the deer wears minimal costuming except for a headdress. The headdress is in the shape of a deer head (traditionally a real deer head preserved by taxidermy), and it rests over a white cloth tied to the head of the dancer. In addition to the headdress, the deer dancer may also wear colorful ribbons stemming from the head, necklaces made of seeds, a leather loincloth, and wooden rattles tied to his ankles. He will also carry two big hand rattles that will add to the drama of the chase and death of the deer. The pascolas, or hunting dancers, often wear wooden masks with exaggerated human features. They carry rattles to represent their weapons and to heighten the tension of the chase. In some cases, they may also carry bow props. Their hair is tied by a ribbon, and they wear big necklaces in white and black. The outfit is simple cotton wear, sometimes in the form of a white loincloth, sometimes more like pants and a shirt. The coyote dancer wears the same pants as the hunters but also wears a sarape and a colorful headdress adorned with feathers or ribbons. Dancers may have bare feet or wear huaraches.
Timeless Dramatic Beauty
Various instruments are used to accompany La Danza del Venado, including a flute, drum, and rattle. The traditional music is simple yet emotional as it hails from long ago. Even now, music continues to be simple yet dramatic. The composition clearly reflects the chase and eventual demise of the deer. This performance is truly an homage to the deer and the vital role it has played among the Yaqui since time immemorial.
Danza de los Comales
La Danza de los Comales is a fun feminine dance performed only by women. It originated in Tabasco, presumably from a township called Comalcalco long before the Spanish conquest. This dance represents the fertility of the land and its fruits, particularly honoring corn and cacao beans, which are staples in this area of Mexico.
Simple yet Meaningful
This dance is composed of simple steps that reflect gratitude for the harvest. The women's dance steps are not only an homage to the land and its fruit, but also reflect the joy of preparing and offering tasty treats to the people they love. The main feature of this dance are the comales (circular clay griddles that are used to cook tortillas and roast seeds) that are held in their hands. These comales are an intrinsic part of the dance; the women carry them and sway them in all directions as if showing off the delights they have prepared.
The women wear simple outfits made from manta or natural cotton. A two-piece outfit consists of a simple blouse with a square neckline and a straight skirt with slits on both sides. A one-piece dress is a tunic type dress with a square neckline and slits of both sides. The simple dress may or may not be adorned with a big new moon right in the center of the dress, and corn and cacao motifs may be added in patterns meant to represent abundant and healthy crops. The women's hair is worn up in a bun and is adorned with bright flowers.
Peppy Music, Joyful Dance
In a very Tabascan style, La Danza de los Comales is danced to the peppy rhythm of flute and drums. The women offer reverence to the four cardinal points, make turns, draw crosses with their feet, and hop here and there as they represent the joy of having plenty of food to share with their loved ones, featuring, of course, the comales.
Danza de los Tlacololeros
The Tlacololeros dance originated in the state of Guerrero. It is a pre-Hispanic dance that has persisted through changing times. It is danced several times a year, particularly in the festivities of Holy Week, Holy Cross Day, St. Matthew's Day, the Day of the Dead, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and on Christmas Eve. It is considered a Mexican agricultural dance, and perhaps it is for this reason that it has endured.
Defending the Crops
The Tlacololeros dance is performed by a group of 16 dancers, traditionally male. From these, one will play the role of the jaguar or tiger and another the role of the armadillo. The 14 remaining dancers represent farmers of the Tlacololes (land on the side of the mountain used for farming). The dance depicts the struggle of farming on the mountainside. Dealing with the local wildlife that threatens to ruin the crops is specially highlighted. The dancers representing the farmers line up in two groups of seven. Each of these men may be holding a whip, a chain, or even a shotgun prop. Between dance moves, they chase after the jaguar and the armadillo, finally submitting them by the crack of their whips and manly power.
Attire Is Particular to Each Area
In general, the Tlacololeros wear a version of farmer's clothing. Jeans, leather chaps, boots, and an airy simple shirt made out of natural plant fibers are the basic gear. Additionally, they wear big palm hats that may or may not be covered in marigolds. The dancers also wear masks made out of wood and carry chains and whips to teach the wild animals a few lessons. Of course, each area has its own say on the matter so every area's outfit differs a bit.
The Tlacololeros dance to the rhythm of a flute and a small drum. The whips or chains they carry are used to accentuate the rhythm of the music. Like most Mexican dancing, a lot of foot stomping is part of this dance. The men that are lined up in two lines in front of each other switch places while stomping the ground. The stomping is said to represent the beating down of bushes, in tandem with burning the bushes, so the ground is ready for crops to be planted.
The Jarana Yucateca also known as Jarana Mestiza is one of the most famous dances of Mexico. It was originated in the state of Yucatan around the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spanish influence is clear in terms of music, while the native Mexican flavor is present in the style. It is the combination of cultures that makes this dance so special.
It's All About Posture
The Jarana is danced in couples over rhythmic fun music. It is a fun, flirty dance where couples dance as if to see how well they match. The dance is characteristic in that while the feet are tapping away in all sorts of directions, the upper body of the dancer stays erect. The best dancers can dance to the rhythm with bottles of water over their head or even trays filled with glasses without dripping a single drop.
Colorful Outfits Showcase Native Flavor
The dancers of the Jarana Mestiza wear the typical outfit of Yucatan. The women wear a three-piece dress called terno made up by an under skirt, a squared tunic-like dress, and a huipil (native Mexican blouse). The three pieces are white with copious amounts of embroidery all in festive flowery motifs. The women also wear white heels that may be embroidered, a matching shawl, and jewelry to dress the neck and ears. Hair is worn up in a bun and dressed with colorful flowers and ribbons. The men wear a guayabera, white pants, a white hat, and leather sandals. Both outfits are cool and breezy to match the hot and humid weather of Yucatan.
Fun Music and Cheeky Rhymes
It's almost impossible not to tap along a Jarana dance simply because the music is so vibrant. Particular to this region is the use of cheeky rhymes throughout the song. The rhymes may be geared towards convincing the girl to say yes to her suitor, to complain about life's woes with humor, or simply to draw smiles on everyone's faces. Regardless, a good Jarana involves lots of humor and fun, easy music to lift the spirit.
The Son Jarocho is native from the state of Veracruz. This state was the arrival gate of sorts for many of the Spanish colonizers so it is not surprising to see a dance with heavy Spanish influences both in the outfit and in the music. However, like every other import, the music and style Spain brought was quickly assimilated and transformed. From this mixing of culture, many wonderful things came to be. The Son Jarocho is one of those. One of the most famously recognized dances of this genre is "La Bamba." This dance is known worldwide for its infectious rhythm, the fun lyrics, and of course the successful courtship that ends with the couple tying a red bow with their feet to symbolize their union.
The Son Jarocho is danced by beautiful couples all dressed in white. The women wear a two-piece outfit made up by a long, flowing, ample skirt and a sleeveless blouse. Both pieces are made with beautiful, light lace that ruffles with the wind. Women accentuate their waist with a black velvet apron embroidered with flowers and a red kerchief to the side. Women wear their hair up in a bun adorned to the side with flowers, ribbons, and a hair comb. A shawl, a fan, and gold jewelry serve to accessorize. Men, on the other hand, wear a simple attire including white pants, white long sleeve guayabera, and red kerchief tied around the neck. White boots and a hat complete the look.
Complex Music With a Touch of Fun
Harp, guitar, marimba, and a host of other instruments create the unique sound of the Son Jarocho. Unlike simple pre-Hispanic tunes, the son is far more elaborate, and it requires an ensemble. There are also special ways to sing the songs and speak the rhymes. As is the case in Yucatan, rhymes are not only meant as lyrics, but as a way to narrate stories creatively or get the lady in question to finally say yes.
Mexican Dance Performances
In the United States, traditional dances from Mexico have made their way into popular dance culture. There are many classical Mexican dance groups rehearsing and performing in America. Whether you want to learn some of the dances, 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.