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Folk dance of Mexico (ballet folklórico) covers a wide range of Mexican dance forms. Folk dance, despite modernization and other social efforts, has survived.
Mexico’s modern folk dance tradition is a blending of elements from its Indigenous, African and European heritage. Before the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous dance developed with strong ties to the religious practices.
For the Aztecs, there were two levels of dance, one for the common people, often related to the agricultural cycle and those for the elite. After the Conquest, the Spanish initially worked to eradicate indigenous dances, considering them “too pagan” and succeeded with a number of forms, especially those associated with the priest and ruling classes. However, they were unable to eradicate the more popular forms, especially in the rural and more inaccessible regions of New Spain. Instead, evangelizers worked to adapt dances to Christianity, giving them new meanings. For this reason, most of these dances have suffered at least some modification since the pre Hispanic era.
Aztec nobels dancing as depicted in the post-Conquest Tovar Codex.
Dance evolved drastically from 1520 to 1750, mostly among low class indigenous, mestizos and Afromexican descendents. One of the first adaptations was allowing the indigenous to continue dances with religious aspects but in homage to the Virgin Mary or other Catholic personage. One of the first areas to begin innovation was Tlaxcala, were dances to reenact the Conquest are traced.
In addition, a number of European dances, music and instruments were introduced including Moros y cristianos (a mock battle between Moors and Christians brought t the central states), Los Archos, Las Escadas, Los Machetes, El Paloteo, Las Cintas and Los Doce Pares. Other European dances include La Zambra, La Zarabanda, La Contradanza, seguidillas, fandangos, huapangos, jotas, boleros, zambras and zapateados.
In some cases, these dances were modified or given entirely new choreography in Mexico. Most of the traditional dances performed today took on their forms during the colonial period but they were not firmly part of Mexican identity until after the Mexican War of Independence when it received its first surge in popularity.
For example, the jarabe dance of Jalisco, became a political tool to evoke feelings of patriotism and “liberty.” In fact, this dance became intricately linked to the independence movement, causing it to be called the Jarabe Mexicano. Its popularity led to interest in other Mexican traditional dances, especially those danced to son music.
Dance as depicted in "Mexico, California and Arizona; being a new and revised edition of Old Mexico and her lost provinces" (1900).
Despite modern and foreign influences in Mexico’s culture in the 19th and 20th centuries, waves of nationalism have kept much of the country’s folk dance tradition alive to the present day. The next wave of popularity came after the Mexican Revolution, which also created new songs in folk styles such as the still popular La Adelita, La Valentina, and La Cucaracha. The years after the Revolution also sparked interest in Mexico’s indigenous heritage shifting away from the European emphasis of the Porfirian era. This was reinforced by the muralists and other artists of the 1920s and 1930s whose political aims were to forge a Mexican identity, rejecting foreign influences and politics.
In the 1930s, the popularity of the dance prompted education and more formal training in it, with educational centers all over Mexico offering classes including the Departamento de Bellas Arts (Fine Arts Department) of Mexico City. Interest in folk dance declined in the 1950s and 1960s, but the Mexican government continued to subsidize it for its aesthetic and social value. This included the support of folk dance or ballet folklórico companies, the most famous of which is the Ballet Folklórico de México founded by Amalia Hernández in 1952.
Today, traditional Mexican folk dance is a defining element of Mexico’s popular culture nationally and internationally. Preservation and promotion of dances nationally have depended on whether they are seen as part of Mexico’s national identity. It is one of the few areas where indigenous practices are conserved and promoted rather than depreciated or eliminated. One reason for this is “indigenismo” the ongoing struggles of a number of indigenous communities to resist outside influences into their cultures and Mexican government efforts to assimilate them to create a homogenous national identity. Since the 1990s, these efforts have become more political in nature and have resulted in more interest in preserving pre Hispanic cultural forms. ( The government also works to preserve and promote a number of dance forms, with folk dance mandatory in public schools. In September 2011, 457 people set a Guinness record for the largest folk dance performance at the International Mariachi and Charreria Conference in Guadalajara, accompanied by over 300 mariachi musicians from Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia and the United States.
Mexican folk dance has had an important impact on the culture of the United States, especially in Mexican American communities. This has not only included the preservation of dances that existed before the Mexican–American War in the US Southwest, but other dances, such as the Aztecas or Concheros, dance have migrated north since the 1970s.