Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The History of Folklorico.

Most people in our society do not understand the history of folklorico and how it came about, especially when we do not live in the country where it started. I attempt to present the beginning of folklorico, its growth, and how it will grow in the future. The United States is known as "the melting pot" because of the many different cultures it is made of. Oddly enough, when it comes to Mexicans, it is little known that they are mostly Mestizos, or of indigenous and European bloodlines that is how folklorico came to be. I will focus on Ballet Folklorico de Mexico which is a folkloric ballet ensemble in Mexico City. For the past five decades folkloric dancers have performed dances in costumes that reflect the traditional culture of Mexico (http://www.houstonculture.org/index.html) .The most famous dance group in Mexico is, Ballet Folklorico de Amalia Hernandez, this group has been in international competitions and has won many times. Folklorico is composed of Ballet steps and musical pieces reflecting various regions and folk music genres of Mexico.
The Background of Folklorico and how it migrated to the United States is what most interests me. According to the Houston Institute of Culture, the origins of folklorico stem from ancient people, the mezcla or mixing of the races by foreign peoples and their evolution of culture and traditions. At a time before borders existed, the Aztecs viewed all the land extending from present day Mexico north to the day U.S. as Anahuac. The culture and dance traditions of these indigenous groups have remained alive through folklorico dancing. As any other race for instance, Hmong’s who migrated to the United States bringing their culture, music and food with them. Over the years, many people who have lived in the U.S. for generations, such as the Yaqui Indians in Guadalupe, Arizona, have performed their folklorico dances in the same geographical region for hundreds of years. That is exactly how folkloric travelled to the United States.
Most of the dances reflect the traditions of indigenous Mesoamerican culture, which is a region in the mid-latitudes of the Americas (Houston Institute of Culture). Anybody who has the true desire and passion about the Mexican culture can try folklorico, dancers range from the age of 2 to over 35 year olds and there are other particular dances that can be performed by older man, they are called Los viejitos . Just like any other dance, Folklorico has its own flavor and rhythm; Folklorico includes different types of movement. There are two important definitions of: Ballet and Folklorico which must be considered in order to understand what Folklorico dances are.
Ballet: A theatrical work incorporating body positions, dancing, music, and scenery to convey a thematic atmosphere. (Baile) is a festivity were many people gather to dance.
Folklorico: The traditional beliefs, legends, and customs of people.
Ballet folklorico consists of some basic set of steps called zapateados which involve percussive heel-stomping.
Just as in the U.S., where scenery and culture changes because of the different races settling here, so does Mexico. Every different region of Mexico has a different dance style. For instance there is Nuevo León, Jalisco, Veracruz, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Nayarit, Guerrero, Yucatán, San Luis Potosí, and Puebla. All this different regions of Mexico have their own customs and dance routines. (Lavelle,(1988).
One region that I really enjoy is Nuevo Leon which is a northern state that borders Texas. When the Germans came, they settled mostly in the Texas hill country and Nuevo Leon. Unlike the hill country Germans who were mostly agricultural, they later settled in Nuevo Leon to also establish breweries. Their influence in Texas country-western music and Tejano music is unmistakable but often overlooked. In the folklorico costume for Nuevo Leon, men wear the leather fringed vests or coats, boots, bandanas and cowboy hats. The women wear clothes straight out of "The Sound of Music". Their hair is braided with ribbons. The style of dance: include polkas, waltzes and chotize, or "schottische". The tuba sound in Mexican/Tejano music was improvised by base guitars and the accordion was introduced. The accordion in Tejano conjunto music was mostly used by the common labor working people; not to be confused with Tejano orchestra music which was influenced by mariachis and the big band sounds of the 40s considered to be more urbanized. Much of the original Tejano music was based on ballads or corridos from Mexican revolutions; another oral history form, such as: Adelita, Tiempos Amargos, and El Cuartelozo. (Johnston. (1982).
I would like to give a brief explanation, and history of each and every different region of México, the dance, custom and music that comes along to express the true meaning of the danza or regional dance.
Veracruz is a state that comes from the East, The Spanish influence in this eastern coast state is stark, as it was in early Tejas when Spaniards were issued large land grants as rewards. It was and still is an important trading port. The Spanish costume shows the white guayabera pants and shirts and red waist sash and straw hat. The women wear imported white lace dresses; their hair up in buns in a comb and shawls, or rebozos, accompanied by fans. The styles of dance are bambas, and huapangos, which are greatly influenced by flamenco steps. The music is mostly acoustical, violin and harp, which were influenced during the conquest and also penetrated by elements of the Arab, African, German, Dutch, and other European cultures. The African peoples who arrived during the Spanish colonization period as slaves, mainly to the coastal regions in the south of the country contributed greatly to the tropical rhythm. Finally, the secondary influence of inhabitants of the Caribbean islands, South American countries, the Southern states of the U.S., and some of the European countries also had a direct or indirect intervention in the early history of Mexico. Spanish names mostly replaced indigenous names, The rhythm is very fast, and what we would call ‘alegre’ or exciting. When you hear a song from Veracruz you get the feeling of wanting to roll your tongue and yell out a loud “grito” (scream) to get the dancers that are performing excited and to support them. (http://www.houstonculture.org/index.html)
Jalisco (West), The Spanish colonized this area for an extended time. The men wore the big sombreros and the traditional Spanish charro suit with the silver studs on the pants and a big bow. The women wear a ranchero design dress with unmistakable Indian influenced bright colored ribbons. This is the national representation for Mexican dance as is the Mexican hat dance which comes from this state. Jarabes, which means "sweet syrup," are best known as many of the dances are those of courtship and very flirtatious. This is also the birthplace of los mariachis -- the orchestras with trumpets, acoustics, and violins. Most folklorico dancers will always have Jalisco as their number one region, because it is a very loud, hard stomping zapateados, and exciting region. When performers dance to live mariachi it is the best feeling
and performance you can ever witness and dance. The music transmits so much energy and happiness to each and every dancer that has a passion for Mexican dancing.
Nayarit, this is a small southwestern state which was once a part of Jalisco. The men wear the traditional white shirt under a colored shirt that is tied in the front and white pants with bandanas on their heads. The women dress in a small flower print ranchero style outfit and use a Huichol fan instead of a rebozo or shawl like the Jalisco women wear. Interesting to this state is the dance of the machetes, where men dance clanging and tossing their machetes to the point of making sparks. This is done while women dance through and arch of clanging machetes. This dance is originally of Moorish influenced, originating when Spain was conquered by the Moors. The Moors influenced not only the music (compare Spanish falsetto to Arab falsetto) but also the appearance of Spaniards as they introduced the olive skin and dark hair and eyes into the European bloodlines. The women dance in the flamenco style with their arms held high, arched upper back, low side bends and twists, coy shoulder shrugs and saucy head tilts. There is also a Mexican folk dance honoring St. James that is in reference to a battle with Moors.
Guerrero is a tropical state on the Pacific coast. It was not only a haven to Asian influences that strayed and landed on its coast, but also a haven for run-away black slaves. In a presentation coordinated by the state of Guerrero, from this region you can witness a dance that looks like an old cliché about Africans dancing around a fire and being chased by a tiger. This is one of the folk dances archived by African slaves. The Africans also brought the drum rhythms of cumbias and salsas. The Spanish slave trade distributed the sound in all of the Latin countries. In this region the women wear very simple white skirts with huaraches, and the males wear white pants with a simple long sleeve shirt.
Michoacán, is largely inhabited by indigenous people. Unlike many of the Mexican Indian tribes, women are allowed to dance. The men wear the Muslim white pants and shirts embroidered at the legs and arms with a sash, a poncho, and huaraches. The women wear a black skirt and multi-colored apron with a white embroidered shirt. They wear a long black head wrap tied behind their head with a straw hat sometimes adorned with multi-colored flowers. Most famous to that region is El Baile de Los Viejitos or Dance of the Little Old Men. This was a chance to mock the Spanish ruling class by doing a dance hunched over like old men with canes. They wear a mask looking like an old European (pink face with white hair).
The dance of the Little Old Men is characterized by Mexicans as a “scream” usually when asked if they know Danza de Los Viejitos their eyes sparkle and their white teeth gleam as their smiles of amusement break into broad grins and finally end in laughter. The Danza of Los Viejitos is always danced by strong young men as the steps require not only muscular control but great endurance, and men only disguise themselves as old by wearing masks resembling old men, and by leaning forward heavily upon their canes so as to appear feeble and shrunken in stature. Without doubt Los Viejitos is one of the most unique dances of the State of Michoacán, where it originated.
The costumes are as amusing and original as the dance itself. Wide-brimmed, low-crowned hats made of exceedingly fine palm are worn. Ribbons of emerald green, purple, and red cross and recross on the crown, the ends hanging just a few inches over the edge of the hat brim. The faces of the dancers are covered with clay masks, these masks represent very old men they are given an expression of laughter which, together with warm clay color, lends a unique young-old appearance. The hair is a white fibrous material called ixtle; this is hanged in long strands from beneath the wide hats. They also wear a red or pale blue shirt and a bright colored handkerchief loosely knotted. They wear a zarape over their pants and shirts which sit low in their body since they are bending their knees the whole time. And lastly they carry a cane with them throughout the whole dance. (Schwendener, Norma. (1890).
This dance is customarily done during festivals like El Dia de los Muertos. This is a missionary influenced holiday in which the padres allowed the Indians to celebrate their Indian rituals of honoring the dead by combining it with All Souls Day. Indians believed that it would be a day when their dead souls would come back to earth to savor earthly delights. Therefore, they would (and still practice) bring some of the dead's favorite munchies, meals, and drinks; and they wait at the cemetery for their loved ones. This has also become a day for family to customarily gather, pray, reminisce and bond.
San Luis Potosi, While the majority of the Mexican population is now mestizo, one must not forget that there are still several different Mexican Indian tribes. The more famous are the Aztec and the Mayan, but there are numerous others like the Huichol, and the Chichimeca Jonazj. Though Spanish is the official language of the country, in Mexico there are 62 living indigenous languages/dialects. The centrally located silver mine state of San Luis Potosi is one which has a large percentage of Huastec Indians. It is well known for its silver mines and textiles. Women wear the colored ponchos with the yarn woven headpiece. Marital status of women is known by the length of the ribbons that dangle in the back of the headpiece. If she is available, the ribbons are long and worn cut short when married, in my opinion that’s a very interesting and fun tradition to live.
Puebla, Another well-known costume for women is La China Poblana; a silk/satin skirt with an embroidered or sequined Mexican eagle that pays homage to a woman whose legend tells of a Euro-Indian princess. Although not actually Chinese, the princess was rumored to have been born in Mongolia. She was said to have been attacked by Pacific pirates and sold to a marquis in Mexico as a slave. Legend notes that he paid a high price for her and although originally bought her as a "trinket" to decorate his palace, he grew to treat her as a daughter. Originally of Hindu faith, she embraced the local customs. According to the story, she would
always wear a head scarf and covered her face, thus gaining the respect through her loyalty, modesty and beauty both from the pueblo and the clerics.
Puebla is also known for the beginning of the Cinco de Mayo celebration in which the Mexican patriots overthrew the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The dance style in this region is very calm region.
So now the question is how has this culture and dance start in the United States? First of all, there are a lot of Mexicans and Chicanos that have kept the tradition and dances alive through generations and generations. Now, I find myself dancing folklorico and I have gained so much knowledge about the country and its beginning of folklorico. Folklorico has become a passion; I have learned to love my culture even more, and to value it. Many kids in the United States are part of a folklorico group at their school. There are major groups that actually compete and travel to different places for competitions. Folklorico is also a kind of sport, because it takes a lot of input from every member in order to win any performance. Before anyone starts to dance they must stretch and exercise in order to warm up and be flexible enough to dance. There are many stereotypes out there about folklorico dancers that all they do is move their skirts around and try to look pretty, that is not the case.
Folklorico takes a lot of dedication, responsibility and passion. If you do not like or enjoy what you are dancing you will not transmit the energy needed to make the audience satisfied. There is a saying my folklorico instructor would always tell me and I quote, “A dancer is not classified by the beauty of the dress but by the way she performs on stage.” He would always tell his group of female dancers that it did not matter what dress we had on, it could be the most gorgeous dress but if you heart was not feeling the music you would not triumph, but on the other hand if you were wearing the most humble dress but danced your soul out you would certainly look stupendous.
The growth of folklorico is tremendous and it is expanding faster than ever before. This is one of the Universities that has s folklorico group that was organized by students because they had the pure desire and passion of Mexican dancing. While doing my research I found that Princeton University has a folklorico group, it is a student organization dedicated to performing the traditional folk dances f Mexico. Officially founded as a dance group by Isela Ocegueda in 1991, folklorico dancing has been a vibrant part of Princeton University since the early 1980’s. The current members of Ballet Folklorico de Princeton seek to enrich Princeton University’s cultural community by spreading an appreciation for Mexico’s unique folk dancing heritage.


Johnston, Edith. Regional Dances of Mexico. Illustrations by Louise Remund. Illinois: Passport Books, 58 p.

Lavelle, Josefina. (1988). El jarabe ranchero. México City: Dirección General de Promoción Cultural.

McFeaters, Bea. Mexico: The other Melting Pot. Web site: (http://www.houstonculture.org/index.html)

Schwendener, Norma. (1890). How to perform dances of Old Mexico.—A manual f their Origins, Legends, Costumes, Steps, Patterns, and Music. New York: Blaine Ethridge—Books.



Miranda said...

You have a great start on your paper...with good points and sources. I did however lose focus a couple of times because your words and sentences were a little unorganized...maybe you should read your paper again to yourself and think about where some sentences should be put in different places. :) but it was still good.

Ballet Barre said...

Great article about dancing history. I have fun reading it and I get well informed about the facts.

Irene Garcia said...

Loved it...very informative...it's so hard to find in depth historical info like this. I have a greater appreciation for folklorico now and find it beautiful and rich in history

Nikita said...


http://kurta.co.in/embroidered-straight-skirt/ can be good here.