From the pre-Columbian ritual ceremonies of its ancient Mayan and Aztec ancestors to the lively festival performances of modern day, Mexico prides itself on its multiple dance styles as a celebration of the nation’s distinctive, historically-rich culture. Mexican dances not only serve to preserve long-held traditions or to flaunt the highly-skilled movements, they also tell stories which captivate spectators with their variety of characters and vibrantly-colored costumes.
Although boasting an array of incredibly-diverse folk dances, Mexico is particularly famous for the Jarabe Tapatío and Danza del Venado. Although, its origins allegedly date back to the late 18th Century, the much-loved Jarabe Tapatío, or the Mexican Hat Dance as it is more widely known, did not gain the widespread popularity it enjoys today until the visit of renowned Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, to Mexico in 1919.
Absolutely fascinated by Mexico's multifaceted culture, Pavlova included the dance style in her permanent repertoire. Bringing the courtship ritual to the stage, the Jarabe Tapatío revolves around the efforts of the male dancer to court his female partner who, although firmly refusing his advances at first, is eventually persuaded to accept them and even treats him to a kiss behind his sombrero in the dance’s finale. Often danced in groups of couples, the traditional costumes from the woman's dress to the man's charro outfit are entrancing.
The vibrant skirts of the women’s traditional China Poblana, or Chinese Pueblan, costumes (which originated from an immigrant Chinese woman's dress) truly mesmerizes admiring spectators as the dancers ceaselessly spin across the stage.Remarkably still almost identical to the version executed by the Yaqui region’s pre-Hispanic indigenous inhabitants, the Danza del Venado, literally translating to the Deer Dance, is a Pre-Hispanic dance which depicts a highly-tense deer hunt. The lead dancer’s elaborate antlered headdress and the supporting dancers’ pascolame masks offer the viewer a look into the culture of the Yaqui and Mayo tribes.
This dance reflects the strong ties and respect that the Yaqui and Mayo people have with the land. The deer is a one of the most respected symbols in these cultures and the dance is full of meaning and symbolism. The song that is sung in the Yaqui language also reflects this solemn respect for the deer and its importance.These are just two dances of the many regional and national dances that are passed down from generation to generation.
Thankfully there is a national dance company that preserves this rich cultural heritage, Ballet Folklórico de México. This national dance company performs regularly in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and tours internationally throughout the year. If you have the opportunity to see them perform, it is well worth it.