Mexican Regional Dance

Introduction

Mexico is a large country with many regions, most of which have distinct characteristics due to the influence of various cultural forces. Before the arrival of Spaniards in the early 1500s, numerous indigenous cultures existed throughout Mexico for millenia. These societies were complex and wildly diverse. The arrival of the Spaniards introduced European culture. Therefore the mestizaje—the mixing of races—that resulted was dominated in large part by European influence. However, the strength of remaining indigenous cultural characteristics, languages and religions created distinctly Mexican musical and dance styles. In years following, people from all over the world including Africans, Asians and other Europeans, came to Mexico adding to the complexity of race and culture. As a result, each region in Mexico has its own food specialties, traditional dress, and unique music, dance and art forms.

There are many regions of Mexico. Los Cenzontles have studied a few of them in depth. The following information is not meant to be comprehensive – but rather an introduction to Mexico’s rich cultures.

Sones – a danced music

Los Cenzontles specialize in the practice of sones from certain Mexican states. Sones were popularly danced in the early and mid 20th century. One may still find sones danced with bandas (brass bands) in many Mexican regions and among Mexican immigrants in the U.S., however the practice of this dance has diminished greatly. Because of their beauty and value, we are dedicated to learning, preserving and passing on the performance of sones.

The son generally accompanies zapateado dance, a percussive dance where the dancer strikes his shoe, boot or huarache against the tarima (wooden platform) or even the ground in certain styles. Sones are often danced by couples who alternate on the tarima. The dances are improvised within rhythmic themes of the particular song. Dancers follow each other’s rhythms and movements as well as those of the instrumentalists.

There are many varieties of the son throughout Mexico. Each regional son has a distinct flavor and instrumentation. There are sones from Veracruz, Michoacan, Huasteca mountains, Jalisco, Chiapas and other regions.

Son Jarocho

Sones jarochos are African-influenced songs from southern Veracruz with syncopated rhythmic patterns. There are a few basic styles of sones Jarochos. One of them is son de monton that is danced by two or four women. Another are couple dances such as La Bamba and El Zapateado. Each son has its unique rhythmic pattern that all instrumentalists and dancers play off of. Traditionally these sones are danced at social events called fandangos where musicians gather around the tarima while dancers take turns dancing. Sones can last from minutes to hours, depending on the mood of the crowd.

Son Abajeño

Sones abajeños of Southern Jalisco comes from the tradition of ‘lowland son’ from the cradle of the mariachi in Western Mexico. This is a local name for the dance and so it does not distinguish itself from other son styles in other Mexican lowland areas.

Los Cenzontles also dance Sones Abajenos from the Purepecha tradition of Michoacan. These have a feel that is different from the Son Abajeno of the mariachi, although they certainly share many characteristics.

Fandangos also occurred in other regions of Mexico including Jalisco in the 19th Century and early 20th century.

Danza

Polkas are 2/4 danced pieces that are generally instrumental. Valses (Waltzes) are ¾ rhythms. They were brought to Mexico in the 19th Century from Europe and can be performed in many instrumentations, although accordion conjuntos and mariachi versions are probably most popular.

Son

Of the many wonderful styles of music from Mexico, the son is unique. There are many varieties of the son throughout the regions. Each regional son has a distinct flavor and instrumentation. There are sones from Veracruz, Michoacan, Huasteca mountains, Jalisco, Chiapas and other regions. Many of the musical elements and movements imitate or reflect sounds and movements that are found in nature, reflecting the style’s rural origin. Dancers, instrumentalists and singers communicate through rhythmic patterns and gestures.

Son Jarocho

Sones jarochos are African-influenced songs from southern Veracruz with syncopated rhythmic patterns. The most popular example of a son jarochois La Bamba, a son danced by a couple. Sones jarochos are played on regional guitars called jaranas and guitarras de son, accompanied by hand percussion and percussive dance called zapateado.

Son Abajeño

Sones abajeños of Southern Jalisco comes from the tradition of ‘lowland son’ from the cradle of the mariachi in Western Mexico. This is a local name for the dance and so it does not distinguish itself from other son styles in other Mexican lowland areas. Before the mariachi became an international symbol of Mexico, it was a small improvisatory ensemble. This pre-commercial mariachi was taught to Los Cenzontles by mariachi maestro Julian Gonzalez. The large size of the contemporary mariachi has changed the nature of the music toward a more orchestral sound

Los Cenzontles also dance Sones Abajenos from the Purepecha tradition of Michoacan. These have a feel that is different from the Son Abajeno of the mariachi, although they certainly share many characteristics.

Danza

Danzas are reverential dances that are found throughout Mexico. The dancers are traditionally male and often organized in two rows of dancers. The music generally comprised of various instrumental movements and are clearly Baroque in origin. Although they have strong Indigenous roots, they are traditionally practiced by both Indigenous and Mestizo. In 2002 Maestro Julian Gonzalez taught Los Cenzontles the Danza de los Copetones from his region of Southern Jalisco.

Note: There are many genres of traditional Mexican music including cancion ranchera, sones (of a variety of styles), valses, polkas and pirekuas among many others. There are also many different instrumentations throughout Mexico. Many people confuse the instrumentation with the genre. For example a cancion ranchera (country song) can be played by a banda—that has trumpets, trombones, clarinets, tuba and drums — and can be played by a mariachi group—that has violins, trumpets, and folk guitars—as well as a conjunto norteno—that has accordion, bajo sexto, string bass and drums.