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Mexican Dancing

Have you ever experienced Mexican dancing?

Mexican Dancing mexican folk dancing mexican traditional dancing

Mexican dancing stretches back to Mesoamerican days when the Mayans and Aztecs performed ritual and religious dances that were designed to entertain and appease the gods. When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica in the early 16th century, and then as other nationalities landed in later years, European-style dances such as the waltz, ballet, polka and schottische were introduced. As the customs and traditions of these pre-Columbian, German, French, Spanish and Italian dances mingled, new Mexican dances emerged.

Today, traditional Mexican dancing is performed by folkloricos (literally “folk dance” in Spanish), groups whose theatrical works pay homage to the history of Mexico and its people. Folkloricos are found in each of Mexico’s 31 states, and each one performs traditional Mexican folk dancing that is unique to that region. These dances are a way to honor the Mexican culture and represent the struggles and joys of daily Mexican life.

The most famous of the folkloricos is the Ballet Folklórico de México, based in Mexico City. Founded 1n 1952 by dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández as a way to save Mexican dance, this group performs folk dances dating from the pre-Columbian period, the Hispanic Viceroy period and the Revolutionary War period. Known for its use of colorful and elaborate costumes, Ballet Folklórico de México performances are staged primarily at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts, the country’s foremost cultural center. With more than 200 artistic awards and 5,000 performances under its belt, Ballet Folklórico de México continues to ensure that traditional Mexican folk dancing will endure.

Of all the Mexican folk dances, perhaps the most beloved is the Jarabe Tapatío, also known as the Mexican Hat Dance. Originated in the state of Jalisco, this traditional Mexican dancing is often called the national dance of Mexico and is a current version of older regional dances first performed in Guadalajara in the 1920s. A flirtatious courting dance, the Jarabe Tapatío first gained popularity when the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova incorporated it into her repertoire after visiting Mexico in 1919, and the dance remains a favorite with Mexican audiences today. The female costume worn during this dance is the china poblana, an early traditional style of women’s dress that includes a white fringed blouse, a skirt and a shawl. The male costume is an ornate charro (cowboy) suit decorated with silver buttons. It the same apparel worn by mariachi band members.

Another state with a traditional folk dance is Veracruz, where the popular song “La Bamba” originated. Mexican dancing here is characterized by a combination of Spanish, African and Caribbean rhythms as well as by a flurry of steps called “zapateados” that have flamenco characteristics. The male costume in this dance is influenced by Cuban fashion and includes a shirt called a guayabera with four large pockets. The female costume has a combination of Spanish and Cuban influences such as Spanish shoes, flowers in the headpiece, a lace top and an apron.

In Nuevo Leon, a Mexican state that borders Texas, traditional Mexican folk dancing is influenced by the polka, originally from the Czech lands, and by Tejano (Tex Mex) music. These dances are often loud, lively and intense. The folklorico costumes in Nuevo Leon include leather-fringed vests, boots, bandanas and cowboy hats for the men and Czech-influenced polka-like costumes for the women.

Some of the most dangerous Mexican traditional dancing is found in the state of Nayarit and is known as the Dance of the Matchetes. In this exercise, men loudly bang together matchetes, sending sparks flying, and form matchete arches under which the women dance and hold their arms high, twist and bend and slyly shrug their shoulders. This Mexican dancing dates from the 8th century when the Moors conquered the Spanish and also incorporates flamenco influences. The men in the matchete dance wear white pants, a bandana and a traditional white shirt under a colored shirt. The women wear a small flower print ranchera style outfit and employ a colorful Huichol fan.

In the state of Michoacan the most well-known folklorico is the El Baile de Los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men), a performance that originated as a way to mock the Spanish ruling elite. Performed primarily during festivals such as El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), this Mexican dancing is still popular today.

Traditional Mexican folk dancing takes many forms, but one constant is that it is the dance of the common people, a time-tested way to celebrate the rich and colorful heritage of the Mexican people and their zest for life. Whether it is the fun Jarabe Tapatío, the thrilling Dance of the Matchetes or the Moorish-inspired El Baile de Los Viejitos, Mexico’s traditional dancing ensures that the spirit and history of this beautiful country will continue to thrive.


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