Mexican Dance

One of the best ways to become acquainted with a culture is to experience the region through dance. Mexican dances are a great way to experience important aspects of Mexico. They are perfectly woven together pieces of art that combine the rhythm of the music, the vibrant colors of the clothing, and dancing accessories into an elegant performance.

Mexican dance is often a way to celebrate, whether it is a birth, a death, a religious observance, or folklore; these dances are a way to celebrate life and express your feelings. Before we discuss the different types, let’s take a brief look at the history of Mexican dance.

History of Mexican Dance

Mexican folk dancing is a symbol of a good time that is recognized internationally by the upbeat music and the striking display of distinctive, eye catching colors. Cultural influences from history are often present in the dance of an area, and Mexico is no different. Historical events, like the Mexican Revolution, helped shape Mexican dance into what it is today.

Mexican Dancers

© jpellgen - Mexican Dancers

Mexican dance is a blend of Indigenous, European, and African influences. Its roots can be traced back to a time when dance was used as a way to appease the Mayan and Aztec gods. In fact, the Concheros, also known as Aztecas or Mexicas, is the oldest dance in the history of the country. It dates back to the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs during the 16th century, and it is still widely known today.

During the Spanish Colonial Period, Mexicans incorporated other styles from dances like ballet and polka into their own. The most well known Mexican dance, Jarabe Tapatio, which is more widely known as the Mexican Hat Dance, was declared the national dance of Mexico almost a century ago, in the year 1924.

Jarabe Tapatio Dancers

© Michael Kappel - Jarabe Tapatio Dancers

Dance Attire

Mexican dance attire is a very original style that differs in each of the 32 states of Mexico. Typically, men wear black with a bright red tie and a sombrero. Women, on the other hand, are often clothed with long, bright skirts and dresses.

Young Dancers in Traditional Mexican dance attire

© Carrie Kellenberger - Young Dancers in Traditional Mexican Dance Attire

Areas that have a more indigenous background tend to have more of a simple dance garb that incorporate loincloths, body paint, or even feathered headdresses. Those areas that have a ranching heritage often sport cowboy hats and boots. Spanish and African influences in areas often add colorful sashes and stylish hats.

Indigenous Mexican Dance

© ChepeMX - Indigenous Mexican Dance

Certain Mexican dances use the theme and the history of the music to help decide upon the dance attire to be worn. For instance, dancers performing the Baile de los Viejitos, which is a dance that makes fun of the Spanish ruling class, often sport canes and masks that are meant to imitate old men.

Dance Styles

Over the centuries, Mexican dance has changed in a lot of ways as a result of various external and internal cultural influences, but three of the dance styles have remained a constant feature of the culture’s art history. These three styles can easily be seen at celebrations today.

Danza

This form of dance is a native ritualistic style that is used during religious events. It is used as a way to bring the community together and celebrate life.

Mestizo

This is a form of dance that is heavily influenced by Western cultures. It is often seen at festivals, during holiday gatherings, or at other causes for celebration. European style dress is often used and heavily incorporated into the dance structure itself. Women hold the pleats of their dresses and twirl them to the music.

Bailes Regionales

The third style is a dance that is designed by the community. It often brings the culture of the region into the style and it is often performed in small theaters or stages. In Guadalajara, the Jarabe Tapatio is a very popular courting dance. Areas like Guerrero have dance forms that incorporate more animal like dance movements.

 

Mexican Dancer

© Brendan - Mexican Dancer

 

Famous Mexican Dances

Jarabe Tapatio

This dance is more widely known as the Mexican Hat Dance. It is the country’s official dance, so it is often known by small children. Historically, this dance was a courting dance, but today, it is used as a celebration dance often seen at birthday parties.

Click here to learn more about the Mexican hat dance...
Jarabe Tapatio

© Javier Castañón - Jarabe Tapatio

La Danza del Venado

This dance was created by the Yaqui and Mayo Indians in Mexico and Southern parts of Arizona. Dancers wear masks and attire to reenact a deer hunt. Originally, this dance was performed before a hunt to ensure a good catch, but now it is used to celebrate Lent, Easter, and the renewal of spring.

Danza del Venado

© Keneth Cruz - La Danza del Venado Ensemble

Danza de Los Viejitos

This unique dance was designed to mock the Spanish upper class. The movement of the dance itself mimics the gestures of old men, with dancers wearing traditional Indigenous clothing and sporting accessories such as canes and masks. In addition, the dancers wear wooden shoes to create a livelier, more rhythmic sound when they dance.

Danza de Los Viejitos

© indigotimbre - Danza de los Viejitos

Concheros

Based on the Indigenous Mitote dance, this dance has undergone much change over the centuries. It is a ritualistic dance where the dancers take on the garb of the Aztecs, but still honor the Catholic religion. It is a religious dance that pays tribute to the four elements, which are earth, wind, fire, and water. The dance attire is often very showy; sporting colorful flowers, feathered shields and headdresses, and sometimes drums.

Concheros

© RamboXP - Concheros

Matachines

This sword dance started as a way to show the battle between the Christians and the Moors in Spain. Today, it is used to celebrate saints on Catholic holy days. Elaborate headdresses and a colorful dance attire are worn during the dance, and performers often sport swords, maracas, or drums.

Matachines

© Jorge Paez - Matachines

Tlacololeros

This dance is an agricultural dance that originates from Guerrero, where prosperous agriculture is critical. The rhythmic dance represents getting the field ready for cultivation, and stomping is used to symbolize the flattening of the soil. Masks, tunics, and whips are often part of the attire for the dancers.

Tlacololero

© Antoatl Aguirre - Tlacololero

Facts about Mexican Dance

  • These diverse cultural dances originated before Spanish occupation.
  • The Spanish intended to eradicate the dances from the culture as they were deemed “too pagan”, but indigenous populations continued to practice them, at first in secret, until today.
  • Dances vary drastically across the 32 states that make up Mexico.
  • Almost all of the modern cultural dances in Mexico utilize not just indigenous dance styles, but styles, which incorporate both European and African influences as well.
  • Most of these dances, save for the most traditional Aztec styles, are accompanied by Mariachi music.
  • Costumes for these dances range from a more European design to more Indigenous styles that use loincloths, body paint, and headdresses.