Spreading Mexican culture through dance

Nahualli Folklore Society performs at their annual fundraiser at the Scotiabank Dance Center in November | Photo by Diyah Pera

Nahualli Folklore Society performs at their annual fundraiser at the Scotiabank Dance Center in November | Photo by Diyah Pera

The Nahualli Folklore Society will be one of many groups performing at the Richmond World Festival to showcase Mexican culture. 

Lily Cazares is one of the founders of the non-profit organization. She says that the society started after she met several other dancers who wanted to create a group to perform dances from the more well-known regions of Mexico as well as regions that foreigners may not have heard of.

“Our goal is to showcase Mexican culture and dance and to share our culture and heritage with others,” says Cazares.

Rich dance displays

Cazares, who is a nurse by day, says that all children in Mexico are taught some form of Mexican dance in elementary school and dance classes are also offered in some high schools. The children usually perform for holidays or events.

Mexico has 31 states and one federal district (Mexico City), and the dance styles performed vary depending on the region. Cazares, who is from Sinaloa state, explains that Mexico has a large Indigenous population and was also colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century.

“Our native music and costumes mixed with the different music and costumes of the European settlers make a very rich display. We have 32 states and each state has musical diversity according to their native population,” says Cazares. “The regions include different instruments that make them distinct and when you add the diversity of the actual dresses and accessories; it’s pretty special.”

“One dance that we have to put into the program every year is the jarabe tapatío,” says Cazares. “This is very iconic and what everyone recognizes as Mexican.”

This dance is more commonly known as the Mexican hat dance and originates from the region of Jalisco. According to Cazares, the dance is characterized by a male dancer flirtatiously courting the female dancer while she rejects his advances; however, she eventually accepts his advances. Traditionally, the woman wears a colourful “China poblana” dress with a heavy full skirt, usually embroidered and adorned with lace and ribbons. The men wear a “charro” (horseman outfit), usually decorated with silver accents.

Rooted to her history through dance

Blanca Zapata arrived in Canada to study English six years ago and shortly thereafter joined the Nahualli Folklore Society. Now she is the choreographer for the group and also helps with social media marketing.

“It [Mexican folklore dance] connects me to my roots, to my history, to Mexico, and to my passion for dance,” says Zapata, who is from the state of Nuevo León.

In addition to dances about courtship, Zapata says that there are also dances with themes around nature, such as asking for rain or a good harvest that year. She explains that some dances are “mestizo,” which means they are derived from a mix of Indigenous and European influences.

“Even though there are a few steps that are considered a base in most regions, the technical differences in form and style make each dance unique,” says Cazares.

In addition to performing at cultural events, the group also performs at various special occasions throughout the year such as Canada Day events, the PNE and at night markets. When they are not attending events, they are practising with their 15 or so members.

Cazares also hopes that they will be able to travel to other regions to perform in the future. They have received invitations to perform at the Calgary Stampede, but do not have the funds to travel. They would also like to have more male dancers to balance out the group.

“Every year our goals get bigger,” says Cazares. “We want to increase the number of members, find new venues to perform at, and to be recognized for Mexican dance.”

The Nahualli Folklore Society will be performing at the Richmond World Festival on Sept. 3.

For more information, please visit www.richmondworldfestival.com.