Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ballet Vs. Danza? What's the Deal? - Week 17

Welcome, welcome, welcome Mexico! My first reader from Mexico checked in this week!  I love it!  Also Bulgaria and Turkey joined in on the journey!  Welcome!  It's official, Week 16's blog "Heart & Sol" has taken the #1 spot for all time most read One Big Wedo post so far.  WOW!  Thank you.  Several other postings received heavy readership as well!  Keep sharing and let's reach the 3000 page view goal together.  I received a plethora of feedback this week too.  I really enjoy hearing from everyone so keep it coming.

Ballet Vs. Danza:

Often times when words are translated from Spanish into English, much of the meaning gets watered down or lost.  From my understanding, in the Spanish language the words carry a depth to them and implied meaning that just doesn't carry over into the English language very well.  It takes a whole lot of explanation to convey the meaning behind Spanish words.  So as I study and research folklorico in the English language, I think that a lot of the information is vague because we just don't capture the understanding and differentiate between terminology very well.  Therefore, it gets challenging to gain an accurate and thorough understanding at times.  This week's post looks at one such example.

As I have been researching on the web, several terms for Mexican folk dancing have popped up.  Everything from the basic "folklorico" to "ballet folklorico", "danza folklorica", "baile folklorico", "danza folclorica", "folklorico de Mexico" and so on.  Oftentimes, the articles are the same, just one is in English and the other in Spanish, sharing the same pictures and information.  So I assume it is common practice to interchange the different terms and still mean the same thing.  Yet, I believe there are some distinguishing differences.  In the United States, however, I believe all Mexican folk dancing in general gets lumped into the classification of folklorico or ballet folklorico.  

As I starting mingling in folklorico circles, I began to hear the terminology of "ballet folklorico" and "danza folklorica."  I was asked on occasion, "Is your group ballet or danza?"  Hmmm.  What's that all about?  Time to investigate.  Wow, did that ever open a can of worms!  Let's begin with some basic literal translation.  The Spanish word baile is translated as "dance" (noun).  The Spanish word danza is translated as "dance or baile" (noun).  The Spanish term el ballet is translated as "ballet" (noun).  So el ballet is a type/style of baile or danza, yet often I see baile and ballet used the same. 

To complicate the matter further, danza folklorica or danza folclorica is translated as "folk dance".  Baile folklorico is also translated as "folk dancing".  Ballet Folklorico is defined as "folkloric ballet".  Yet in English, the terms Ballet Folklorico and Danza Folklorica, seem to be interchangeable as, while looking up specific explanations and definitions on them in English, Danza Folklorica was defined as Ballet Folklorico.  A bit confusing to say the least.  So this launched a quest for obtaining a better understanding. 

There are numerous resources on the web that give their definitions and philosophies on folklorico.  With so many opinions and interpretations it makes it difficult to come to any definitive conclusion.  There are multiple ideologies on the subject.  Here are some of the definitions of ballet folklorico I've come across.  What is ballet folklorico specifically?  Here are some answers:
  • Ballet Folklorico is the style of dance pioneered and founded by Amalia Hernandez in the 1950's.  Some believe that her style is the only true ballet folklorico.  Some resources also imply that there are only a few true ballet folklorico groups in the entire world.  These articles also state that Mexican folk dances are non-changing, although culture changes and choreography my be updated, the dances themselves do not change.  Any alteration to the original ballets gets classified as modern or interpretive dances rather than Ballet Folklorico. 
  • Wikipedia states a couple of unique characteristics of what ballet or baile folklorico is:  "A good rule of thumb is if the woman raises her hands about her head (thus showing her legs), it is folklorico."  Another is, "Baile folklorico, literally, "folkloric dance" in Spanish, is a collective term for traditional Latin American dances that emphasize local folk culture with ballet characteristics - pointed toes, exaggerated movements, highly choreographed."  and "Baile folklorico differs from danzas and regional bailes.  "Folk dances", that is, "dances that you will find in the villages, not on stage."" (More on that in the next section)  and lastly, "Folk dance of Mexico (Spanish - baile folklorico) covers a wide range of dance forms that evolved from the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire to about 1750."
  • More generalized definitions of ballet folklorico include, "Dances performed from Mexico." and "Mexican folk dancing, especially a program or repertoire of such dancing." and yet another, "stunning and culturally rich dances that display the colorful heritage of Mexico and traditionally have been a way of honoring the Mexican culture." 

To complicate it a bit further, one resource broke ballet folklorico into three catagories:  bailes, danzas and bailes regionales.  Several others catagorized Mexican folk dance into the three forms/catagories of danza, mestizo and bailes regionales.  So what's the distinction between them? explains:

Three Forms of Mexican Folk Dance
"The first is 'danza', which is an indigenous ritual dance, performed in religious or community settings.  The second category of Mexican folk dance forms, is 'mestizo', which showcases the western influences on the indigenous dance, in either steps or the theme.  The 'bailes regionales' or the regional dances, are a manifestation of the dance form by each community.  This is usually presented in community or theatrical performances." 

Another resource,, states this about the three forms:
"There are three major Mexican folkloric dance traditions: 
Danza:  Danzas are indigenous dances generally religious/spiritual in nature, and mostly performed in ritual and community settings.
Mestizo:  Metizos are indigenous dances that reflect European influences in steps, theme, instrumentation and costuming, or some combination of these influences.  They also are generally religious in nature.
Bailes regionales:  Bailes regionales are the type with which most people are familiar.  Most dances presented by ballet folklorico groups in the United States and Mexico are bailes regionales.  The dances, social in origin, are presented in community and theatrical performances.  They reflect the rich cultural heritage and unique characteristics of the regions they represent."

A third resource also follows the same pattern of classifications.  Here is what states:
"Danza - the native ritual dance used for religion and community.
Mestizo - Western-influenced dance that has been combined with indigenous form, which is the type of dancing usually presented at Mexican Independence Day celebrations, and other festivals and holidays.
Bailes Regionales are regional dances that are created by individual communities.  As a tourist in Mexico, you will often find these in community theater and dance studio performances."

Just from these three resources you can see that there is some variation to the definitions of the terms.  And if that isn't confusing enough, there are a plethora of dance terms that break down the dances themselves into categories such as polkas, waltzes, chostize or "schottische" and so on.  So basically, I have concluded that there are the broad general umbrella terms of "Ballet Folklorico" or "Danza Folklorica".  Then you have the sub-categories of danza, mestizo and bailes regionales.  Under the sub-categories come all the sub-sub categories of more specific dances.  OMG!  How do you see it?
One maestro stated this, "Danzas are traditional dances/movements that were executed by the native indigenous people to celebrate the day of their patron saint, the coming of the harvest, a religious offering to obtain a wish from a certain deity, or a simple way to celebrate a specific event. Danzas date back long before the Spanish conquest. Bailes in Mexican folklore are dances that were imported mostly from Europe and different parts of the world. They came to Mexico with a certain technique and rules that had to be followed in order to execute them. Danzon and the Polka being perfect example of it. Mexico has a tremendous influence from many countries around the world, however, the styles of dances that we inherited had specific steps, counts, and movements that had to be done to be considered authentic. Danzas are more of a lyrical expression of the people. It is their way to express a certain feeling through movement and dance."


So far we've explored the text book definitions and explanations.  I want to return to the question, "Are you ballet or danza?" or "Is your group ballet or danza?"  What is really meant by these questions?  What are they truly asking and wanting to know?  It's funny how the meaning of terms change in modern vernacular.  American society loves to reinvent and reassign meaning to words.  As society changes, so does its vocabulary.  What once meant one thing, now means something else.  For example, the word "gay."  Take a moment to catch your breathe.  I can hear several of you saying, "I can't believe he went there!"  Allow me to explain.  There was a time in history that gay meant "joyously happy."  However, in modern society, it needs no further explanation.  We all agree the meaning has changed.  Or has it?

I wonder if the terms ballet and danza might also be taking on new meaning or implication in dance terminology.  As I was doing my text book research, I came across two interesting pieces of information.  One was an article, another was a classification.  The article was about some ballet photos that had been apparently tagged or labelled as danza in the media.  The tone of the article seem to suggest that this was potentially offensive.  It carried an air of disgust.  As if danza is somehow beneath ballet.  The article expressed that the dancers were good sports about it and were not offended; however, they had every right to be!

The second piece of information I came across was a classification.  One resource listed ballet folklorico as [fine] "art."  The same resource listed danca folklorica as [dance] "sport."  So is danza folklorica like Mexican  "Zumba" now?  I realize that competitive ballroom dancing is classified as a sport and can be seen time to time on sports television network channels.  Also, The International Olympic Committee recognizes competitive ballroom dancing now.  But the classification of "sport" seems to separate it from being "art".

This whole idea of "ballet vs. danza" and "art vs. sport" reminds me of my days in college.  While I was shopping around for colleges to study music, during my senior year of high school, I became aware that a music conservatory would be a better option.  A music conservatory is completely dedicated to music rather than a college that is dedicated to multiple areas of study.  I was accepted into Wheaton Conservatory of Music in Illinois.  I was also accepted into Wheaton College, a partnering institution, to get the general education classes and pursue a liberal arts degree.  The Conservatory itself had students of all ages. 

Shortly after arrival on campus, the "attitude" of the Conservatory became quite evident.  Conservatory students were classically and "properly" trained musicians.  I went there to study Vocal Performance.  Therefore much of what I studied was opera music, German Lieder, Italian & French classics, etc - all the great composers.  A very sophisticated and proper education.  Pop music wasn't acknowledged as music, it was noise.  Musical Theater was snubbed too.  If you wanted to study musical theater then you had to go to the college and enter into a Communications program.  So operatic studies were fine art and musical theater was considered communication.  Sounds like the same thing in the dancing world.  Ballet is classically trained dancers whereas danza is something else - sport.

On a side note, I find it interesting that there is classic opera and modern opera.  Modern opera tends to be more theatrical in my opinion.  Many of the musical theater productions I have seen recently are very operatic in style.  More and more opera singers are crossing over and I feel the lines are blurring a little.  If there is truly a difference between ballet folklorico and danza folklorica, then perhaps what's happening is similar to the blurring in opera and musical theater as dancers from both sides are crossing over and infusing their technique into the dances.  Just a thought.

Anyways, let's run with this whole idea of modern vernacular.  Here are some of the definitions I use to define the terms ballet and danza based on this argument:

Ballet = traditional, Danza = modern/interpretive
Ballet = Academy Trained, Danza = Street Trained
Ballet = Fine Art, Danza = Sport
Ballet = Theatrical & Staged, Danza = Local & Common
Ballet = Accomplished/Professional, Danza = Amateur
Ballet = Authentic/True, Danza = Counterfeit
Ballet = Graceful Movement, Danza = Rapid Footwork
Ballet = Classic, Danza = Contemporary & Popular
Ballet = Old School, Danza = New School
Ballet = Refined, Danza = Impure
Ballet = Enduring, Danza = The Latest Dance Fad

How far should we run with it?  We could go on and on, but I think you get my point.  So when someone asks me the question of whether I'm "ballet or danza?", they are really asking me what training and background I come from.  That's how I see it. 

I frequently come across the terms "danza ballet" and "baile ballet" in my web searching as well.  Baile ballet is associated with traditional ballet.  Danza ballet is associated with contemporary ballet.  All folklorico dancing is an adaption of the original, true and authentic folk dances from Mexico.  All the original folk dances have been altered and modified to some degree.  Even the ballet folklorico developed by Amalia Hernadez.  It's all modern.  This would lend to the thinking that the "ballet" would only imply to the nature/styling of the folklorico.  I would also argue that if folk dancing originally was an expression that followed no set rules, then danza folklorica would be more of an original, authentic and true form.  The explosive use of ballet came afterwards in the 1950's.  So might I suggest "ballet danza folklorico" is a more accurate term.

I have taken folklorico workshops where maestros point out various elements of the dances they are teaching.  Often they point out the infusion of ballet movement in the dance.  So regardless of whether I am aware of it, or "properly" trained and educated about it, I am doing the ballet aspect of the dance because it's built into it.  I also want to point out that some people with high society and/or fine art mindsets tend to respect the dancing more when performed in theaters and "proper" settings.  You can do the same dances in a theater and suddenly they're art.  Perform them on the street and they are a cute self expression of  folkloric dance.  Likewise, singers that perform opera outside on the street are labelled "street musicians" and opera singers on stage are considered "Divas, Stars & Artists."  Give me a break. 

Perhaps I am over doing it here.  I am being dramatic for the purpose of making my point.  Exaggerating.  I just find it awkward that someone would ask "Ballet or Danza?" and I am trying to make sense of it all.  Perhaps it was just an anomaly that I was asked this question.  Anomalies happen!  A wedo doing Mexican folk dance is another one!  It's fun to think about nonetheless. 


Whew, that was exhausting!  I hope you enjoyed it.  Exploring all the details, analyzing and theorizing is fun.  There's plenty to learn if you want to.  All depends on how deep you want to go.  Being informed and educated can really develop and enhance the appreciation of it.  However, it doesn't necessarily make you a better dancer in technique.  That only comes with discipline and practice.  Someone can enjoy dancing and/or observing it without knowing all the specifics.  Connoisseurs and impassioned students often desire a deeper knowledge of it. 

There are obviously many different schools of thought on folklorico and sometimes the terminology and meanings get confusing.  They don't always agree.  I believe if I were to be studying this in Mexico and in Spanish it would be much more clear and precise.  Regardless of the grey areas and different contexts of thinking, I enjoy it.  At the end of the day, I just want to dance all of it whether it be ballet, danza, baile, folclorica, folklorico or whatever you want to call it. 


All this talk about my days in music conservatory brought several memories to surface.  Another interesting thing about my experience there was I had to choose a specific instrument of focus.  I played french horn and sang.  I was told that I had to choose my instrument, either the horn or my voice.  I couldn't do both.  One area of focus only.  They wanted you to be specific.  I went to conservatory for voice and that's what I auditioned for during the application process.  I thought it would be fun to play my horn in the orchestra on the side.  But that was against the rules.  So I dropped playing the horn and focused all my attention on voice.  Yet, all vocal students had to be piano proficient and pass a test.  So I studied piano for a bit until I passed my piano proficiency examination.

The ultimate goal was to achieve a level of perfection in your chosen instrument thus creating a demand for your skill and the opportunity of making a career of it.  I suppose that if I were to solely focus on polkas, I would learn a whole lot of them and do them well, which I think would be a lot of fun personally.  However, my audience would be limited because who wants to watch 45 minutes if straight polkas?  Boring!  Folklorico dance groups really have to be diversified in the various regions in order to put together a show that appeals to the masses.  I suppose I could be part of a show and just do my polka segment.  "Call Mike!  He's the polka man!" 

As I mentioned earlier I received a lot of feedback this week.  I encourage everyone to check out my Facebook page:  One Big Wedo (Guero) and read the comment left on my timeline status announcing last week's blog.  Multicultural California shared some of the experience of the El Mitote show with Sol de Mexico Ballet Folklorico and I believe that many of my readers would find it interesting to read.  Check it out! 

I also wanted to share this Peanuts cartoon that one of my followers sent me:

Check out this Facebook status someone else shared with me:

In closing, I wanted to clarify some things regarding my Week 15 post called "Commitment Failures & Uncertainty."  I anticipated feedback and back lash from people and I got it.  Some felt I came across too cold and acute.  I've always been a direct person.  Others felt that I over emphasized technique and failed to acknowledge a person's heart and passion for dancing.  A recent Facebook quote I read moved me to respond.  Here's the statement:
"Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with your heart is another.
~author unknown"

I apologize if I have failed to mention and address people's motivations for dancing.  I will agree that I have focused strongly on the perfection and technique aspect and downplayed the heart.  I suppose I'm focusing so much on technique because I am new to all this.  Allow me to share two experiences I've had in my life.  One was at a Karaoke bar.  A gentleman got up and sang "New York, New York"!  His voice was nothing much and he couldn't carry a tune to save his life, but he had passion.  He radiated energy.  He sang his heart out that night and he was so entertaining to watch that people were out of their seats and on their feet cheering him on.  His heart was in it and no one cared if he was technically good or not.  His energy, passion, enthusiasm and heart superseded everything that night which carried him through and resulted in a stellar performance that was uplifting and entertaining.

The other experience was one that occurred over 20 years ago while studying electronic music for a research paper I was writing on the subject.  Part of that research included a NOVA television show episode that was on PBS that explored electronic music.  NOVA was a weekly documentary series that probed into educational subjects.  During the program they played some opera performed by an amazing coloratura soprano.  She sang an aria.  She was absolutely astounding.  Beautiful voice.  However, she didn't actually exist.  It was a completely computer generated voice.  Certainly albums and recordings of this "singer" could be sold and no one would ever know that she didn't actually exist.  I bring up this example because I want to articulate that there is a passion and "heart" that only a living human can bring to the stage.  It may be recreated technically, but in live performance - only the genuine human factor can bring it to life on the stage.

I have no doubt that there are many people that have a heart for folklorico dancing.  I have no doubt that there are people who truly love to dance folklorico.  I believe that if your heart is in it, then it will also reflect in your attitude and the atmosphere that you bring into a group.  You can teach people technique, but you can't teach them heart.  You can show them what it looks like, but they have to choose to have it and let it show.  People with heart and passion strive to be technically proficient.  They practice and are driven people.  In my week 13 post, "Competition Movie Time" I shared about my experience at a folklorico competition.  The group that took first place in the adult competition were the underdogs in a sense because they were a newer group on the scene.  There were several well known, strong and technically better groups that competed that day.  What set this group apart?  Heart!  They were truly winners and brought heart, soul, enthusiasm, passion and technique in a balanced way that set them apart from the others.  They didn't solely depend on heart to "sell it", they had technique too. 

Lastly, to those who question my "heart" and think that I am disqualified from having it in my folklorico dancing because I am not Mexican and do not personally have the cultural heritage and upbringing.  Perhaps they are right that I will never "own it" in that personal sort of way.  I understand that there is a pride of the Mexican heritage and something deeper involved.  All I can say is that I can relate in that there have been times I have felt a sense of Patriotism to the United States.  I imagine it is the same feeling Mexican people have toward their homeland as well. 

We all have a rich cultural heritage that is unique and special to us.  An interesting fact in my family bloodline is that I had relatives that came over on the Mayflower.  I'm sure we can relate to one another in that we all have a heritage and embrace it in out own ways.  I was not born in Mexico, true.  I will never know what it was like first hand to be raised living in Mexico, speaking the language and experiencing the life there.  However, I did live with a Mexican family for ten years and learned much from them about their way of life and culture.  I have had the privilege of experiencing Mexico during my early years in California and my trips south.  I have also experienced Mexico through the folklorico.  No, that doesn't make me Mexican.  But it has given me an understanding and respect for the people, heritage and the culture.  And I am going to give as much heart in my dancing as I've got.

At the end of the day, critics will be critics.  I will always have my critics as I am not true and authentic to the region.  I get to enjoy being the critic of my critics!  One Big Wedo is just my sole experience of folklorico.  I'm just one person.  A different wedo may have a completely different experience and perspective all together.  This one is mine.  So there you have it - wedo out!     

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Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one! Herencia Mexicana practices in Duarte, California.  Folklorico lessons and performances are both available. Herencia Mexicana performs for private & public events of all kinds. Book your event today! Herencia Mexicana welcomes new students. No previous folklorico or dance experience required. All are welcome.

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