Jarabe Tapatio. The jarabe Tapatío is a Mexican dance, often called the national dance of Mexico, and better known internationally as the Mexican hat dance.
The jarabe Tapatío is a Mexican folk dance, often called the national dance of Mexico, and better known internationally as the Mexican hat dance. Despite its rather innocent steps by today’s standards (dancers do not touch one another), early 19th century colonial authorities found the moves too sexually suggestive and even challenging to Spanish rule. They banned the dance, inspiring popular appreciation for the Jarabe Tapatío in Mexico, as the ban added an element of rebellious expression to it and provided an opportunity for dancers eager to make a statement on social freedom and political independence a chance to subtly defy the colonizers. Mexican independence in 1821 brought a new sense of cultural awareness, and the popularity of jarabe dances spread even more, along with national identity. Although other varieties of jarabe exist including jarabe de Jalisco, jarabe de atole and jarebe Moreliano, the Tapatío version, which originated in Guadalajara, is the most famous.
The dance celebrates romantic courtship. It is usually performed by a man and a woman, where the man appears to invite his partner into a world of intimate affection. At first, the woman rejects her partner’s advances, but warms up to his persistence as the two dance on, only to reject him again when her positive signals inspire excessive giddiness in her suitor. During the dance, the man’s sombrero is placed on the ground, and after lively hopping, sliding and kicking around the sombrero, the woman bends to pick up the hat, at which point the man kicks his leg over her head. Needless to say, timing and careful choreography are important. Then the performance closes when she holds the hat up and both dancers’ faces disappear behind it, leaving captivated audiences to assume that the two are finally confirming mutual romantic interest and sealing it with a kiss.
The Mexican hat dance and the dancer’s clothing have become nationally and internationally recognizable symbols of Mexican heritage. Women wear a wide, colorfully decorated skirt and blouse outfit, the style of which is called China Poblana. The origin of the name and style of the skirt has inspired curious legends including that of a beautiful 17th century princess from India named Mirra who was kidnapped, taken to the Philippines, and sent to Mexico to be sold there as a slave. Her exotic and vibrant clothing left such an impression, that woman in Mexico began copying the style and adapting and embellishing it to popular indigenous tastes. Men traditionally wear a black suit with metallic embroidery called a charro. The man’s pant legs are lined with silver buttons that highlight his flashy kick and stamp moves. The origin of the name of the dance itself has also stirred some controversy. The Arabic word Xarab means mixture of herbs. The name may refer to the mix of influences that created the dance style, which includes waltz, polka, and indigenous American dances.
The music that accompanies the dance may be performed by mariachi bands or other types of string instrument groups. Originally composed by Jesus Gonzalez Rubio in 1924, the song increases its tempo as the steps and story line of the dance intensify.
The jarabe Tapatío dance is a Mexican folk art that recalls the sense of national identity fostered by post revolutionary efforts to unify and celebrate its traditions and culture. The charm and grace of the dance along with the vivid color of its clothing, which provides viewers with a swirling collage of vibrancy and shine, have captured the hearts of folk art lovers in Mexico and around the world.