Mexican folk dance is a symbol of Mexican culture in the United States and throughout Mexico. Mexican folk dance portrays Mexican heritage and the history of certain regions in Mexico. Although there are aspects of Mexican culture such as the art, food, and music that is well known, folklorico dance is often unrecognized. Since there are so many adaptations and evolutions of Mexican folk dance, it can be hard to grasp the ethnic and national identity of this dance style. In her article “Social and Political Dimensions of Folklorico Dance,” Olga Najara Ramirez explores the political, historical, and social aspect of Mexican folk dance.
Ramirez initiates her discussion of Mexican folk dance by analyzing the historical background of Mexican development, in order to understand the factors that have shaped folklorico tradition. Dance had always been an important aspect in the lives of the indigenous people of Mexico, but with the Era of Exploration and arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, Spanish influence became incorporated into preexisting dance. The indigenous peoples utilized dancing for religious purposes and entertainment, but with the influence of the Spanish, new styles such as polka, waltz, and habanera dominated. The influence of Europeans largely shaped Mexican folk dances. Another factor that contributed to folk dance was the romantic nationalist movement in Mexico, in which folklore became a way to demonstrate national identity as a collective symbol of their culture. Folklore became a way to show the diversity of Mexico, celebrate their ancestors, and show their national strength and uniqueness. As a part of this movement, the Mexican Government began teaching folk dance in schools as a way to show Mexican diversity and patriotism.
Folk dancing was first spread through Mexico through bands of “carpas” spreading Mexican pride and political interests. Soon more companies followed suit, using folklorico to attract tourists and celebrate Mexican culture. One of the most famous companies is Ballet Folklorico. Their objective was to spread Mexican dancing, preserving the historic roots of folklore and traditions. Ballet Folklorico toured all over the world, spread Mexican folklore and stimulating the Mexican economy by creating a display for tourists. These groups typically strived to conserve Mexican culture while catering to their respective audiences.
Mexican folk dance was brought to the United States through these “carpas” in the 1920s and was sometimes taught in schools. However, the story behind this dancing was not seen as a portrayal of the beautiful Mexican culture and identity, but rather as mere entertainment. Mexican folk dance was largely undermined in the United States, and the pressure of assimilation cause the denaturing of traditional cultural values. However, in the 1960s, folk dancing reignited in the United States. Mexicans had often been subject to discrimination and stereotyping, and they utilized traditional folklorico as a way to oppose subjugation and cultural assimilation. Similarly to the nationalist movement in Mexico, folklore became a way for Mexican-Americans to show their strength and pride. Folklore was catalyst for social change, decreasing stereotypes of Mexicans. They began performing as way to preserve Mexican culture, but also as a means of gaining better access to job and education opportunities.
Overall, folklore in Mexico was originally instigated by the government to instill National identity, but in the United States it became a way to show cultural pride. Furthermore, folklore in Mexico was a way to honor the history and past indigenous people, whereas in the United States it was rebellion against assimilation efforts. Folklore has played a key role in politically and socially and has served as a means of connecting different cultures and fostering relationships.