Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chihuahua, Chiapas & Baja - Week 43

Howdy folks and welcome back to One Big Wedo! Hong Kong visited the blog this week!  Thanks for checking me out!  Is everyone getting ready for Dia de Los Muertos?  I am!  In fact, I'll be blogging about my experience of it for sure! So check back to read all about it!  You can start reading up on it by going to most post on week 30 called "The Day Of The Dead".  In the mean time, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

This week I want to take a look at three regions that I've talked about in my blog but never really went into much detail.  What are they?  The states of Chihuahua, Chiapas and Baja.  Let's take a look together at these three and see what we can discover.  We danced all three of these regions recently at our LA County Fair performance.  Visit my blog for week 41 called "Herencia's 2013 L.A. County Fair Show - The Sequel" to view costumes and photos from these regions!

One of the first thing that comes to your mind when you say the word "Chihuahua" is the little dog with the big dog mentality and sharp little teeth!  This breed has received a lot of attention thanks to Taco Bell commercials and hit movies like Legally Blonde.  They have certainly become and American icon representing Mexican culture, just like the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales!  Do you remember him? You remember!  

It may come to a surprise to many that Chihuahua is not only a breed of dog but is actually a state in Mexico.  Did you know that?  I had no clue until after I started dancing and learning about my neighbors to the south.  I wrote a post on week 3 called "The United States of Mexico" that you should read that introduces all the states in Mexico.  Here is what Wikipedia states about the State  of Chihuahua:

"Chihuahua, officially Free and Sovereign State of Chihuahua, is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.  Its capital city is Chihuahua.  

It is located in Northwestern Mexico and is bordered by the states of Sonora to the west, Sinaloa to the southwest, Durango to the south, and Coahuila to the east.  To the north and northeast, it has a long line with the U.S.-Mexico border adjacent to the U.S. states of New Mexico and Texas.  

Chihuahua is the largest state in Mexico by area, with a mainland area of 247,455 square kilometers (95,543 miles), it is slightly larger than the United Kingdom.  It is consequently known under the nickname El Estado Grande ("The Big State").

Although Chihuahua is primarily identified with the Chihuahuan Desert for namesake, it has more forests than any other state in Mexico.  Due to its vibrant climate the state has a large variety of fauna and flora.  The state is mostly characterized by rugged mountainous terrain and wide river valleys. The Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, an extension of the Rocky Mountains, dominates the state's terrain and is home to the state's greatest attraction, Las Barrancas del Cobre, or Copper Canyon, a canyon system larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon.  On the slope of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains (around the regions of Casas Grandes, Cuauhtemoc and Parral), there are vast prairies of short yellow grass, the source of the bulk of the state's agricultural production. Most of the inhabitants live along the Rio Grande Valley and the Conchos River Valley."

Sure sounds like cowboy country to me!  Sign me up!  Other states of Mexico that border the United States of America include Baja California, Sonora, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.  These states all are in the Northern part of Mexico (or Norte).  The land of the cowboys and home to what we call Norteno or Nortena music which often consists of accordion instrumentation and a western sound.

While researching folk dancing from the state of Chihuahua, I found very little information in English in print.  I was disappointed as this is one of my personal favorite regions to dance. Sounds like a good opportunity for a maestro or maestra of Chihuahua folk dancing to write about it.  This is what I was talking about in my post on week 32 called "Why A Blog".  There is a need for people to write in English about the various Mexican folk dance forms and publish them for all to enjoy and learn. 

Basically, all I found about Chihuahua folk dancing is that it is often danced in couples to polka music.  Now I have often associated polka music and dances with Germany.  I have several German polka records that sound almost identical to many of the Chihuahua dance songs.  One resource states that the Chihuahua folk dances were heavily influenced by the Czech polkas.  I don't have a very discerning polka pallet so I can't explain to you the distinguishing differences between polka styles.  I have also heard that it was a common form of saloon dancing.

As far as costuming, I have seen many folklorico groups use Norteno suits for the men and cute polka style dresses for the women.  Although I have seen some groups dance it in western wear as well.  I have also seen several groups dance songs similar to line dancing, not in couples.  Often common is the long trenza braid for the women and cowboy hats for the men.  The men hold their belt buckles when they are not dancing and/or holding their partner.

One resource I found,, lumped the Northern States all into one category and states this:

"Norte:  The northern part of Mexico, also known as Norte, is recognized for its energetic and joyful dances.  These dances, the polkas, chotis, and redovas became popular during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 with some dances evolving as recently as the 1970's.  The music and dance forms are highly influenced by Central European countries, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, mother of the accordion sound that is now symbolic of "Norteno" music."

So what exactly is polka music?  Wikipedia explains: 

"The polka is a Central European dance and also a genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas.  It originated in the mid 19th century in Bohemia.  Polka is still a popular genre of folk music in many European countries and is performed by folk artists in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Slovakia.  Local varieties of this dance are also found in the Nordic countries, United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Latin America (especially Mexico), and in the United States.".

Recently, I took an adult beginners class/workshop at the Steps of Gold Dance Studio in Whittier, California hosted by Paso de Oro Dance Company.  Much to my surprise they taught Chihuahua!  I really enjoyed the class.  It was so much fun.  I would definitely go back if I lived closer to that area. It was a bit much to get there on a Friday in rush hour traffic.  I would highly recommend it to anyone in that area.  Check out Paso de Oro Dance Company on Facebook and look for upcoming events for more information.  If you want to dance, this would be a great place to go.

Other Northern states in Mexico also do polkas, including Tamaulipas.  I wrote about Tamaulipas back in week 22 in a post called "The World of Workshops."  Here are some of my personal favorite videos clip links from YouTube of various polkas:
Tamaulipas Polka Video:
Chihuahua Polka Video:
Now before we move on to Chiapas, I need to share an event that I have been completely avoiding in my blog.  I have made it a priority to be as transparent as possible and share my folklorico experience completely - even if it has been embarrassing, shameful or unpleasant at times.  So allow me to tarnish my good image some more!  I was contemplating writing a whole post called "Tiffs & Tantrums" or "All The Ugly Stuff" but I've decided not to give it that much attention and just address it here. So here you have it!  I have to own up the fact that I have had some pretty rotten attitudes at times. One such "attitude" resulted during Richard's first attempt to show me a Chihuahua dance, hence the reason I bring it up here.

In one of our final dress rehearsals for a show that was happening the next day, Richard wanted to add a Chihuahua dance.  We were in the last few minutes of practice and he wanted to show me the dance so I could perform it the next day.  Now you know how I stress over shows, so it may come as no surprise the panic and the lack of desire that arose.  He started showing me the dance  and I wasn't open to it.  It didn't help that the dance was one where the men fight each other over the girl.  So you can see where this was headed.  "Houston we have a problem!"  Things flared up and got heated under the pressure and the Wedo snapped.  I'm ashamed, embarrassed and continue to beat myself up over it still to this day.  To make a long story shorter, the dance didn't happen for that show.  I wish I could say this is the only time this has happened.  Some people just like to test my high blood pressure!

I like to be prepared and ready.  I hate things at the last minute.  These episodes of ugliness have always resulted from last minute, under pressure situations.  I obviously need to manage them better. I read a quote just today that said, "Amazing things rarely happen in your comfort zone." Other times this occurred from a partner not cooperating and/or not wanting to be handled and led, from a partner not being prepared or a song version changed to another with a much faster tempo. So that's it, folklorico people can have an attitude, myself included.  The circumstances may make it understandable why, but it doesn't excuse or justify the nasty reaction and make it right.  So I take ownership for my actions and publicly apologize to Richard and anyone who saw it happen, ever. No one is more disappointed than I.  Thank goodness that has't happened often.  Moving on.

The next region I want to introduce is Chiapas!  Let's head south together for a visit!  Here is what Wikipedia says about Chiapas:

"Chiapas, officially Free and Sovereign State of Chiapas, is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, make up the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.  It is divided into 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez.  Other important population centers in Chiapas include San Cristobal de las Cases, Comitan, and Tapachula.  Located in Southwestern Mexico, it is the southernmost State of Mexico.  It is bordered by the states of Tabasco to the north, Veracruz to the northwest and Oaxaca to the west.  To the east Chiapas borders Guatemala, and to the south the Pacific Ocean.

In general, Chiapas has a humid, tropical climate.  In the north, in the area bordering Tabasco, near Teapa, rainfall can average more than 3,000 mm (120 in) per year.  In the past, natural vegetation at this region was lowland, tall perennial rainforest, but this vegetation has been destroyed almost completely to give way to agriculture and ranching.  Rainfall decreases moving towards the Pacific Ocean, but it is still abundant enough to allow the farming of bananas and many other tropical crops near Tepachula.  On the several parallel "sierras" or mountain ranges running along the center of Chiapas, climate can be quite temperate and foggy, allowing the development of cloud forests like those of the Reserva de la Biosfera el Triunfo, home to a handful of Resplendent Quetzals and Horned Guans.

Chiapas is home to the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque, Yaxchilan, Bonampak, and Chinkultic.  It is home to one of the largest indigenous populations in the country with twelve federally recognized ethnicities.  Much of the state's history is centered on the subjugation of these peoples with occasional rebellions.  The last of these rebellions was the 1994 Zapatista uprising, which not only succeeded in obtaining new rights for indigenous people, but also constructed a world in which they have realized their own vision of freedom and autonomy, and continue to fight for a world in which other worlds are possible."

As far as regional folklorico dancing from Chiapas, states this:

"Chiapas:  The music and traditional dances of Chiapas are very cheerful and come from both indigenous and Spanish roots.  The Marimba, which is the most represented instrument of this state, also owes its roots to African rhythms.  To the company of the sounds from the wood instrument, these dances are simple but carry rhythmical steps that can become frenetic with complex footwork. The Danzon has become a signature dance of the region, performed in such dances as "Las Chiapanecas" and "El Alcaravan""

The Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago and Jose Luis Ovalle states this about Chiapas:

"State of Chiapas:

Echo of the Southeast:  Chiapas is located in the southeastern region and is the "other" frontier of Mexico.  Its name comes from the Nahuatl:  Chiapan of the river of Chia.  Most of this state is embedded in a semi-tropical forest full of vegetation and wild life and is the home to various indigenous groups, direct descendants of the Mayan civilization that inhabited the area before the Spanish conquest.  

Chiapas is sub-divided into several regions, each demarked by the most predominant indigenous group.  Because of this regional and ethnic division, the state's folklore is extensive and varied.  It includes several styles, most of which are reminiscent of ancient Maya rituals that have managed to survive to the present.  These dances either include mocking animal moves or sounds or are still extremely religious in their themes.  

The dance style follows the "son" style found in the rest of Mexico:  Intricate foot stomping, partner choreography or soft, waltz-like tempos.

Costuming:  It would take a complete, web site to describe the immense and rich variety of daily use costuming of Chiapas' ethnic diversity, not including the celebration and religious outfits.  However, what has become the traditional "Chiapas" costume is a modern creation that has captured the vivid colors of local flora against the darkness of the jungle. [Hence the black]

Listen to the Mirimba:  Music for indigenous dancing is also varied, it is played on harps, flutes, wind orchestras, violins, marimbas, or plain percussion.  Typical music for the Chiapas "son" is mostly played on marimbas of local manufacture. 

The marimba is a percussion instrument similar to the xylophone that came from Africa into Mexico during the colonial period by the African slaves.  The original instrument created the resonance with tuned water filled gourds.  But the abundance of precious woods in the Chiapas and Guatemala jungles have provided the resonance bars that to the present characterize this masterful instrument. Marimbas have been the source of inspiration for many Mexican musicians, while most of Guatemala's folklore is played on them.  The destiny of both locations lived a converging history some time ago."

For my readers that would like to explore more of Chiapas and have some fun, I recommend you visit's site for Mexican Folkloric Dance.  On their site, under Example 2, they have a dance from Chiapas you can learn!  Complete with steps and videos.  Go check it out and give it a try!  They even write out the steps, kind of like I use to.  Check out my blog from week 14 called "Breaking the Language Barrier" to learn how I write out steps!

One thing I want to mention about the women's Chiapas dresses is the intricate colorful floral designs.  These are embroidered floral prints that I would compare to needlepoint canvases.  The strings composing the flowers can snag easily, so it is important to avoid anything that may cause damage!  For example, you don't want to collide with another dancer wearing a sequined China dress That would be disastrous!  Trust me, I've seen it happen!  Read more about China dresses on week 12's post "A Tale of Two Chinas".

Recently we went to a church fair in San Bernardino at Our Lady Of The Rosary Catholic Church. The fair had plenty to offer:  games, food, car show, mariachi and, you guessed it, folklorico!  Both Resplandor de Mexico and Ballet Folklorico Tierra Flor y Canto performed.  Mariachi Infantil-Juvenil Corona de Angeles also performed.  Tierra Flor y Canto presented an interesting Chiapas dance about a boar.  One young boy represented the boar, complete with boars head on top of his own.  I really enjoyed the dance, even as hunters came and killed the boar, carry him off on a stick! Boars are common to the jungle and this dance makes much more sense now that I know a little history of Chiapas.  Here are some pictures of the days event at the fair:




Tierra Flor y Canto also presented Baja and did an amazing job.  This leads us right into the next region, Baja!

Baja California Peninsula:

The Baja California peninsula is located in northwestern Mexico and separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. The peninsula is home to two states, Baja California and Baja California Sur.  Here is a little information on them from Wikipedia:

"Baja California, officially Free and Sovereign State of Baja California, is the northernmost and westernmost of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.  Before becoming a state in 1953, the area was known as the Northern Territory of Baja California.  The state is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by Sonora, the United States of Arizona, and the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez), and on the south by Baja California Sur.  Its northern limit is the U.S. state of California.  Over 75% of the population of the state lives in the capital city of Mexicali, in Ensenada, or in Tijuana."

"Baja California Sur, lit. "Lower California South", officially Free and Sovereign State of Baja California Sur, is the second smallest Mexican state by population and  the 31st admitted state of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, make up the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.  Before becoming a state on October 8, 1974, the area was known as the South Territory of Baja California.  It is bordered to the north by the state of Baja California, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Gulf of California, also known as the "Sea of Cortez."  Also, the state has maritime borders with Sonora and Sinaloa to the east across the Gulf of California.  The state is home to the tourist resorts of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.  Its largest city and capital is La Paz, a tourist resort and historic landmark."

As far a regional folkloric dancing from Baja, Texas A&M University states:

"The "cowboy dances" of Mexican folkloric dance, Baja California was born in the late 1950's as the Nortena style began to gain popularity.  The dancers interpret various jumps, turns, and kicking movements from the animals and how the cowboys handled them."

Often you will see men and women in plaid shirts, vests, bandannas and western hats.  Women typically where denim pencil shirts and cowboy boots.  Men wear tight denim jeans with cowboy boots.  These dances are very energetic and highly recognizable by the rolling circular leg movements.  This is one region I have not danced yet, but I'm down to give it a shot sometime.

Wow!  That's a lot of info!  And just think, I typed it all on my cell phone!  Before I check out, go like my One Big Wedo page on Facebook.  I almost have 200 likes already!  Join the fun!  Have a great week, Wedo out!  

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Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

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Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one!  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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