Photo: Patrick O’Heffernan
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- Late last year The Mint, the oldest rock club in Los Angeles, took a chance on a Latino band. After all, LA is half Latino and is the second largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, so a Latino band might draw a crowd, even if the club’s usual audience was gringo. However, the promoters hedged their bets – the band they brought in was a salsasoul band, Cecelia Nöel and The Wild Clams, which happens to include her husband, Colin Hay, lead guitarist for Men at Work.
The club was packed, about half and half Mexican/Latinos here for Cecelia’s high energy salsa and half gringos for a the legendary Colin Hayes. The Latinos cleared the floor in front of the stage – usually filled with head bobbing rock fans – and danced. When Cecelia and her band appeared again a month later, the room was double packed with salsa clubs and Mexican couples who seem to never stop dancing. It is in the blood.
Dancing is also in the Mexican culture. Dancing predates the Spanish with the pre-Columbian civilizations that developed ceremonial dances. The Concheros dance was developed after the sacking of Tenochtitlan in 1522. Since then dance has developed into many regional varieties, each reflecting the nature of its area, but all embodying the fierce, independent and joyous culture of Mexico. Mexicans dance because it is prideful and it is fun.
The diversity of dance in Mexico is astonishing. sometimes blending Catholicism and history, and sometimes celebrating the aboriginal peoples of Mexico. In Ajijic and Chapala we see many of the regional styles, but one stand outs, the Jarabe Tapatio – The Mexican Hat Dance. It originated in Jalisco and named the national dance of Mexico in 1924, as part of a national push to unite the regions and culture of the country. It is basically a seduction set to mariachi music with the couple flirting closer and closer and ending with a kiss hidden behind a sombrero.
Another symbolic dance of Mexico is the Jarana Yucateca in which couples dance complex tap steps while keeping their upper bodies so still and straight that they can and do balance trays of drinks or bottles of water on their heads without spilling a drop. Originating from the state of Yucatan around the 17th and 18th centuries it shows strong Spanish influence, but like all things Mexico, was transformed into native Mexican style.
Other regional dances include to the Danza del Venado of Sonora performed by the Yaqui people telling the story of the deer hunt and honoring the deer – represented by a dancer with antlers. The Danza de los Comales is a woman’s dance from Tabasco that represents fertility, especially beans and corn. The dancers hold comales – the griddles used to cook tortillas – as they sway and step in white dresses with embroidered moons, elotes, and cacao seeds. Music is provided with flutes and drums – far more stripped down than the mariachi of the Jalisco dances.
In the parades in Ajijic and Chapala we also see the Danza de los Tlacololeros, which comes from Guerro. An all-male pre-Columbian dance that has endured because it is considered a part of ensuring crop fertility. Ironically, having originated long before the Catholic domination of Mexico, it is most often danced on Catholic holy days. The costumes represent farmers and often utilize masks and props for harvesting tools or even hunting rifles.
The list goes on – Son Jarocho from Veracruz, Ballet Folklorico, many Bailes Regionales, Mestizo, El Baile de Los Viejitos, parachicos and others. But the king of them all -as far of having fun is concerned- is salsa. As The Mint discovered, most Mexicans can and do dance salsa whenever they can, so much so that it is the most danced music in the Mexico, followed by cumbia and bachata
Ironically, salsa is not an indigenous dance and neither is cumbia or bachata. Salsa arose in New York City during the 1960s, blending Cuban musical genres like Afro-Cuban son montuno, guaracha, cha cha chá, mambo, bolero and the Puerto Rican Plena and Bomba. But, as with many other things, when the Mexicans encountered Salsa and adopted it, they made it their own. Now salsa night clubs abound in major cities in the country, salsa organizations compete, and every band knows they can get a Mexican audience on its feet with salsa.
Mexican salsa is more than just fun. Salsa dancers, especially if they are in salsa organizations, wear stylized formal clothes that exhibit the pride in their country. There is also great pride in the dance. It has been thoroughly “Mexicanized” and as such is an outward representation of the country. Further proof that Mexico is highly adept at taking pieces of culture from around the world and making them not only Mexican, but fun.
© 2016. Todos los derechos reservados. Semanario de la Ribera de Chapala