Ballet Folklorico from Mexico

Fully of energy and bright pretty dresses, Ballet Folklorico is Mexican folklore music and dance. These dances consists of stomping with shoes that have nails in the bottom of the soles, women making arms movements that elegantly swing brighty-colored dress, and men holding their hands behind their backs or machetes that they clank together.

Each region having their own costume and dance, Ballet Folklorico represents the traditional regional dances that have resulted from Spanish and indigenous influences in Mexico. These include the regions of Nuevo Leon, Baja California, Tamulipas, and Veracruz.

In 1952, Amalia Hernandez Navarro, coreographer, founded Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, a dance company that worked to preserve and perform these mexican art forms. Starting with 10 women, the group grew to some 75 dancers ten years later. Traveling all over the world, ballet folklorico became recognized as a national symbol of Mexico and practiced in other countries, like the U.S. An example of this is St. Edward’s Ballet Folklorico group in Austin, Texas. The most well-known dances are from Jalisco, one called the Mexican Hat Dance or el Jarabe Tapatio.

Today, you can see the wonders of Mexican Ballet Folklorico all over. For some sweet videos of ballet folklorico groups to get a better understanding of Ballet Folklorico, click the following links.

Veracruz – La bruja

Jalisco – La negra

Tamaulipas – Querreque

Nuevo Leon – Pavido Navido

And there is many many more, too many for me to put in this blog. To see all the different versions of these dance and different regions, just go to youtube ,type in “Ballet Folklorico,” and explore!

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Cumbia

Well, its hard to explain just exactly the cumbia is in specific terms. The reality is cumbia changes drastically depending on where you are in the latin world. Each area, country, and even regions of the same country has its own variations. But, I tell you what I know below.

The cumbia originated in Colombia around the 1820s. During this time, Colombia was struggling for its independence. Sung and danced in the streets, the cumbia was an expression of national resistance. Originally, cumbia music consisted of tambor drums and gaita flutes. However, in the 1920s, Colombian bands added in horns, brass, and other instruments. The bands became so big that they couldn’t afford to send all their members abroad to perform in New York City and used local Puerto Rican groups to perform.

Today, the cumbia is extremely popular in South America, Central America, and Mexico; however, the cumbia never gained too much popularity in the United States outside those familiar with many forms latin american dance and music.

So here it is, the many variations of cumbia. Well, the ones that I know at least…I’m sure there’s more!

One version of cumbia resembles the salsa. But, instead of going back and forth, the steping leg goes behind the stationary leg, creating a side to side twist motion. The count remains 1-2-3 pause 1-2-3 pause. This is probably the most common cumbia danced in clubs, etc. Click here to see. Here is the basic.

Another version of the cumbia, danced in many Mexican cumbias, is step to the left with your left leg, drag your right leg to your left leg, step to the left again, drag your right leg to meet your left leg, and swing your hips to the left. Then, repeat using opposite legs on the right side. Each movement to the side is done on 1 beat and then the swinging of the hips takes up its own 1 beat. So, essentially, the beat is 1-2-3 and 1-2-3. To see a clip, click here.

Yet, another version, which is probably the easiest, is step to the left with your left foot on 1, bring your right leg to your left, and switch your weight to your left to repeat using opposite legs for the opposite side. The steps are on 1-2 and 1-2. Click here.

The traditional cumbia from Colombia, I cannot explain. This technique is more technical and is best taught by a dance teacher. But, here is a cool video so that you can see. To see a couple, click here and, to see a whole group with some modern cumbia songs, click here.

While this an idea of the various versions of the cumbia, there are more! Type in “cumbia dancers” on youtube.com and you’ll find all sorts of fun stuff!

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Samba

The samba is an extremely energetic and full of movement. I’ve always been fascinated, and a little shocked by some of the scanty outfits, by how quickly samba dancers move their feet and hips. While listening to Brazilian drummers at San Telmo’s weekly fair, a friendly stander-bys would try to teach me. Trust me! It’s a workout!

The samba is an old Brazilian dance of African origin that has a number of variations. For almost 100 years, the samba has been danced on the street for the pre-Lenten celebration. Up until 1914, the samba was known as the “Maxixe.” Using the musical instruments called tamborim, chocalho, reco-reco, and cabaca, the samba came from daily like if Rio. One of the most famous sambas is “Pelo Telefone” by Donga. Ballroom samba, also known as Carioca Samba, came from the rural “Rocking Samba.”

The rise in popularity of the Samba, especially in France, began to take notice in the 1920s. In 1933, the Samba was danced by Fred Astaire and Dolores Del Rio in “Flying Down to Rio. A few years later, Carmen Miranda danced the samba in “That Night in Rio.” When the samba was presented at the Brazilian Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939, interest in the samba was stimulated. Today, many versions of the samba are very popular in both Rio, around the world, and in professional dance competitions.

To fully display the personality of the samba, the dancer must achieve a happy and flirtatious character. While there are many variations of the dance, the main characteristic is the quick movement of the steps on a quarter of a beat. Once you get your feet moving (a challenge in itself), then you have get the hips swinging fast in accordance with your steps. This is a trick I am still trying to master.

For a beginners guide to learn the samba, click here.

To see a performance with both carnival dancers and profession competition dancers, click here.

To witness the great variety of the samba as well as more professional dancers in performance and competition, click here and here.

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Argentine Tango

The Argentine Tango is one of the most complex Latin American dances. This dance requires lessons, practice, balance, and eloquence. The Argentine Tango is truly an emotion-filled and passionate art form.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Argentine Tango debateable beginnings were in the nineteenth century. At this time, half the population of Argentina lived in Buenos Aires and half of that population was foreigners, mainly from Western Europe. Like all aspects of Argentine society, the tango must have been influenced by these demographics as well.

The tango started in the brothels and slums. The close body contact of the opposite sexes and provocative styles were unacceptable in the mainstream and high societies at that time.  The song titles and lyrics many times consisted of vulgar double meaning phrases. However, many rich youngsters would go to tango bars, etc. to dance the tango, and later transfered their knowledge of the dance to Paris where tango became “all the rage.” Simultaneously accepted and rejected in the beginning, tango today is largely admired and danced, even in professional dance competitions. Moreover, the tango has come to represent Argentine culture.

There are three types of tango rhythms: the tango, the milonga, and the watz. The tango is an even melody with a medium paced rhythm. The milongas are fast and require the tangueros to make shorter, quicker steps. The waltz is the slowest of the three rhythms, allowing for elongated and eloquent movements.

This complex dance requires a the couple to maintain an “A” shaped embrace. The follow must follow the leaders chest to receive the directional cues. The tangueros (tango dancers) must their stomach muscles lifted and inner-thigh muscles tight to stabilize their bodies while simultaneous keeping loose legs that follow the direction of the torsos. Then, they walk, shifting weight from one foot to the next and mirroring one another. To view the basic step, please click here. To see professionals (a previous tango teacher of mine) who travel all over the world to teach tango and live in Buenos Aires, click here. And, finally, to see the passionate dancing of professionals dance to the accompaniment of a popular Argentine band, Gotan Project, click here.

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Cha-Cha

The cha-cha is a peppy, light-footed dance. If you’ve seen “Dancing with the Stars,” then you’ve seen the cha-cha. It’s one of their favorites.

Created in 1950s Havana, Cuba, this dance has always been a favorite among high class society.  During the 1940s, so close to the East coast of the United States, Havana, Cuba, became an extremely popular resort city for many North-Americans. As a result, famous Jazz bands from the U.S. and native Cuban bands who played at the casinos in the city mixed Jazz and the Rumba. This created the Mambo!

Among the Mambo dances was one called “chatch.” By the 1950s, the “chatch” developed into a basic step accompanied by variations in the steps. This became know as the “cha-cha.” Often, in old and some new movies set in Havana, you see performers in the middle of a ballroom floor performing for the tourists or classy guests sitting at tables around the floor.

The cha-cha resembles the salsa step with a little interruption in the middle. In the cha-cha, the follow mirrors the lead as the couple rocks back and forth from one foot to the other. After rocking back, the couple does a chasse, three steps, to the side and then repeats the sequence on the other foot. For a tutorial demonstration of the cha-cha,click here. To see a group of dancers in Havana, Cuba dance the cha-cha, click here.

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Bachata

Bachata maybe one of the most romantic Latin dances. This is a good dance for couples to learn together, although you do not have to be a couple to dance the bachata.

The bachata, a popular form of guitar music, originated from bolero music. The first bachata recognized as such created in 1961 by Jose Manuel Calderon. During this time, the bachata was associated with lovers and serenades.

However, as the themes of the music changed and faith in music industry went bad, the bachata began to represent prostitution, poverty, and delinquency. Allowed on only one national radio station, the bachata was confined to the brothels and barrios. As such, the themes began to revolve around that area and the underground life. In the late 1980’s, the bachata began to pick up popularity among all.  Now, you can hear the bachata around all households of Latin America and in the rest of the world.

The bachata basic is a simple three steps to the left with a hip movement in the opposite direction followed by three steps to the right with a hip movement in the opposite direction. Each step and hip movement is on one beat and the follow mirrors the lead. For a quick slide show depicting the direction and beat of the steps, please click here . Once you master this step, you can move on to more variation and stylistic moves. To see a demonstration of more advanced dancers, click here.

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Merengue

The Merengue is one of the easiest Latin dances, so easy that even a dog can do it. Click Here to watch.

A debate revolves around the origins of this dance. While the music links to Cuba, the dance belongs to Hispaniola, which is the island that has now been separated into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When the island split, the Spanish controlled the Dominican and the French controlled Haiti. The French imported mass amounts of slaves to work the sugar plantations. That was until the slaves revolted and took control of Haiti, pushing out the French. Some believe that the merengue was the result of slaves who were chained together and had to step and drag one foot to the beat of a drum. Others say the dance was created when a hero of the revolution got up to dance despite his one crippled leg. Thus, he could only step with one and drag the other. Respectfully, everyone copied him and the merengue came into existence. Whether this was a Haitian revolutionary hero or a Dominican revolutionary hero against the Spanish depends on who is telling the story. Nevertheless, today, the merengue is widely known and recognized as the nation dance of the Dominican Republic.

This fun and rhythmic dance creates an extremely enjoyable and happy atmosphere. All one you have to do is step from one foot to the next while swaying your hips like in this video demonstration. And, as in most Latin dances, the follow mirrors the lead. However, with this dance, there is also room for personal variation, much like in this video. Or, one could even dance the merengue on a bottle.

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