Cinco de Mayo is one of those holidays that many people eagerly celebrate without understanding what it’s about or why they’re celebrating! As we re-visit the history of how it came to be, we’ll also have a look at some of the colorful, artistic aspects that make it so appealing to people everywhere and make us so loco for Cinco!
Many people assume that the fifth of May is a celebration of Mexican Independence Day, however Mexico’s independence from Spain had already been won 50 years prior in 1810, and has been commemorated every 16th of September since. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican Army’s 1862 unlikely triumph over the French at the Battle of Puebla during the (six year long) Franco-Mexican War. Although the poorly trained and sparsely armed Mexican soldiers were outnumbered by France’s soldiers by a staggering 3 to 1, to everyone’s surprise, they still managed to defeat them. However, it took another six years and a little support from the U.S. for Mexico to be able to force the withdrawal of France from their land and reign victorious in the war. The Battle of Puebla was inspirational to both Mexican and American citizens, and became a symbol of perseverance triumphing over insurmountable odds; hence the beginning of fervent celebration honoring this day.
Sometimes referred to as “Mexican St. Patrick’s Day,” for some, the holiday becomes an excuse to party with excessive drinking, eating Mexican food, and dancing the night away! The irony is that it is a much bigger holiday and more widely celebrated in the U.S. than it is in Mexico, where it’s primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla (where the battle took place), with fireworks, family gatherings and feasts. In Mexico it is not a federal holiday, so banks, stores and other such businesses remain open. With so much revelry throughout the U.S. over the holiday it has adopted as its own, let’s take a look at some of the traditional dances you’ll likely see, or find yourself doing, during a Cinco de Mayo party, parade or event!
We’ve all seen Mariachi musicians play on television or at our favorite Mexican restaurant, yet so few know about the dances that accompany the music. Mexico has many traditional dances, mostly folk dances, which center around topics of historical and cultural significance, such as religion, harvesting food and courting rituals. Many of these dances also show the influence that the Spanish, Indigenous, Cuban and other cultures, played in Mexico’s art and history.
Just to name a few:
A courtship dance where one partner tries to tie a ribbon into a bow (symbolizing the pairs union), while foot stomping melodically to the Son Jarocho music. Originating from Veracruz, a major trading port, the blend of African, indigenous, Cuban and Spanish cultures is evident in many Mexican dances, particularly this one. From the Spanish flamenco infused steps to the Cuban “Guayaberas” worn by the men and colorful dresses and headpieces for the women.
This ritualistic dance is symbolic of ancient Mexico, depicting Aztec symbols and designs painted on the face, and elaborate headdresses.
El Baile de Los Viejitos
Literally translated to (Dance of Old Men), this is a humorous dance meant to mock the ruling Spanish elite. Starting off with men hobbling about on their canes, coughing and falling down, it later escalates to a vigorous dance of men stopping their feet and canes while wearing pink flesh colored masks and long white hair. It is a dance of the Purepecha people occupying the lake region of Michoacán.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xplZJXXdU38
Translated to Dance of the Flyers, this ancient Mesoamerican dance ritual begins with a man sitting on a platform on top of a pole playing a flute while the other dancers fasten a rope around the waist and fall backwards to descend to the ground. The dance was intended to appease the angry gods who once brought drought to the land.