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Latin America

[ Michoacán | Sonora | Veracruz | Nayarit ]

Mexico is the northernmost country of Latin America. It shares a northern boundary with the United States, about two-thirds of which is marked by the Rio Grande. Mexico City is the capital and Mexico’s largest city.

Mexico’s first human inhabitants were the native Indians—Toltecs, Olmecs, Maya, Zapotec and Aztec—who farmed, built cities and made advances in mathematics, astronomy and the arts. The last great Indian empire, the Aztecs, were conquered by the Spanish in 1521. The Spanish colonists plundered much of Mexico’s natural resources and introduced many changes in farming, government, industry and religion. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. Today, the majority of modern Mexicans are mestizos, descendents of both Spanish and Indians ancestors.

Mexican Regional Dance
[ Maya ]

Mexican regional dance is comprised of dances from social settings in villages and cities, from 32 distinct regions of Mexico, each which have their own flavor of culture, movement and music. Over the last 40 years, dance researchers and instructors have arranged some of the most popular dances from each region for the stage. Each folkloric group is usually capable of performing dances from several regions. 


Performances in
World Arts West Programs
La Corte Maya Ceremonial - The Royal Court of the Ancient Maya
Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco
Instruments Used

The Maya were one of Mexico’s oldest pre-Hispanic civilizations. The civilization reached its peak before the rise of the Aztec culture. Artifacts such as codicies (hieroglyphic books) and temples were discovered. The artistic achievements of the Maya are startling to modern anthropologists, both for their sophistication and for their fascinating similarities to the art of the ancient eastern civilizations.

The ancient Maya site of Bonampak – Painted Wall- lies in the Mexican state of Chiapas, Mexico, close to the Guatemalan border. It houses the Temple of Murals, with frescoes painted around 790 BCE. This site was still used for worship by indeigenouts Maya when it was “uncovered” in 1946 and since then, its stunning murals have been documented, photographed and reproduced life-sized. Three rooms of paintings show us what life was like for the ancient Maya: there are images of warriors at battle; of the robbing of priests and nobles; of a ceremony to mark a child as a noble heir; of a grand orchestra of musicians and instruments; and of a ceremony with dancers in fine costumes wearing masks of god. Hieroglyphic text dates the scene and gives the names of participants.

Dance from the Maya civilization, or Pre-Columbian period was largely seen as a medium through which humans interacted with the supernatural. It is characterized by trances, depictions of gods and spirits, connections to animals and their behaviors, and the portrayal of the force of natural elements. Traditional Maya dancing represented the relationship between man and the gods, and often included sacrifices.


The State of Michoacán is part of the "Región Bajía," (lowland region) of México. Michoacán is a region of plains, lakes and mountains, which lies along the southwest coast of Mexico along the Pacific Ocean. The region of Michoacán was known as the Tarascan Empire prior to the 16th century Spanish exploration and conquest of North America.

Sones Antiguos

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Sonajas (rattle dances), Jarabes, and Diana
Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco
Instruments Used

Michoacán, a land of beautiful, sunny weather, was immediately settled by the newcomers, which explains how the dances called "Sones" are "mestizos," (mixed in origin: Spanish/Indigenous). The P'urhepecha people, who inhabit the northern region, are cradled in the mountains surrounding Lake Patzcuaro.

La pirekua (meaning "song") is the poetic expression of the P'urhepecha people, celebrating their lives and appreciating the beauty that surrounds them and sustains them. They are interpreted by the pirericha (singers), singing solo or in duet, in harmonies of thirds or sixths, and are generally accompanied by guitars playing abajeños (Fast tempo in 6/8 time). Here is an example of a pirekua translated into English, called "Nana Chuchita," which praises this giver of life, Maria Chuchita:

Good morning,
May your awakening be peaceful.
Today, your Purembe People come to sing.
Your People greet you with tender affection,
Flower, beautiful dawn of Michoacán.
You are, María Chuchita, our comfort,
Let time never separate you from us.
The instruments used for these abajeños are the Violin, the guitar or vihuela (a smaller, higher-pitched guitar) and bass, all of which demonstrate Spanish influence. It could be said that the huaraches, which are the sandals that the dancers wear, are musical instruments as well, since the footwork is an absolutely essential part of this music. However, though the musical instruments are influenced by the Spanish, the sandals, the dance, the mask, the humor and vitality are ancient, and purely P'urhepecha.


The Yaqui and Mayo tribes are native to the Northwest Mexican highlands of the Sonora region, and are the creators of some of the most beautiful and spectacular Mexican folk dances. Under the generic title of "Pascolas," these dances are performed in Sonora, the Bacatete Sierra, and in a town called Tehueco in Sinaloa.

Yaqui Deer Dance

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Danza del Venado - Dance of the Deer
Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco

This elegant and profound dance symbolizes the struggle between good and evil, through a confrontation between a sacred deer and aggressive coyotes and hunters, bringing to mind parallels of cultural, philosophical, and spiritual struggles as well.

The deer dancer wears a tall mask / headpiece with large antlers, and the movements of the graceful and noble deer are beautiful and poignant in the expression of freedom. With elegant jumps, turns of the head, and proud body movement, the life of the deer is recounted; traveling through the forest, jumping into the air, grazing in the meadows and meeting the hunter.

The deer soon senses danger as the coyotes draw near, and the dancer's movements and rhythm suddenly change. The sounds made by the rattles and objects trimming the deer dancer's garments, and musical instruments, suggest the noises of the forest. The course of this performance is traditionally accompanied by a metaphoric commentary, chanted by an old man of the tribe.

Two coyotes enter the scene wearing masks covering one side of their faces. Around the waist is a thick leather belt with bells attached; the legs are wrapped in a rebozo, sarape or robe secured with leather straps, and the trouser legs are edged with strings of tiny rattles made of butterfly cocoons filled with pebbles. To accompany the coyotes, the musicians traditionally used string instruments of European origin, violins and a harp. The musicians were saluted by the coyote characters as beings of superior social standing. By contrast, the instruments that accompany the deer are purely indigenous drums and a five-tone reed flute. The musicians receive no special respect from the deer who is the holy animal of the people.


Veracruz is the name of a state, a large city and a major port along Mexico's eastern shore. The state of Veracruz boasts a temperate climate, warm and humid along the coast and cool in the foothills and mountains. The city of Veracruz is a major port and a producer and exporter of cacao (an ingredient in chocolate), textiles and cigars. The people of Veracruz are known as jarochos.

Today, the city is known for its music, including marimba bands, danzonera and comparsa. An equally rich dance tradition parallels Veracruz's unique musical styles. The yearly Carnaval festival in Veracruz, a nine-day party in February or March illustrates the region’s strong cultural ties to the Caribbean.

Image courtesy of

Veracruz Dance and Music

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Son Jarocho
Cascada de Flores
Instruments Used

Jarocho is a term that refers to the people and culture of southern Veracruz, along Mexico's eastern coast.  Son jarocho describes one unqiue style of music and dance from that region, noted for its emphasis on improvisation and variations in rhythm. Noted son jarocho artist and scholar Timothy Harding writes that many of the dance styles in Veracruz have their origins in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the influence of dances like the Fandago that migrated from Spain. Spanish influences can also be noted in the music’s structure, verse forms, and stringed instruments. Also, because African slaves were used in plantation agriculture until the early 19th century, the region bears the influence of the music developed by both slaves and free blacks. Dr. Harding notes that much of the music of the region has African singing characteristics, such as call and response, slurring notes in intervals in the scale, and an "irreverent attitude" developed among a people who were on the margins of Indian and Spanish society. For more information, visit



Nayarit Dance and Music

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
San Pedreño, Son del Buey, Los Bules
Esperanza del Valle

Nayarit was part of the State of Jalisco until the turn of the century. The music and dances of the Mestiza culture (Indigenous, African, and Spanish) still predominate in the region of Nayarit.  The music and dances of Nayarit show the spirit of the fiesta and the excitement of coming of age. In some cases, the dances are competitions for the men and women to show their bravado.


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