Capulli Mexican Dance Fiesta

BettyJo Roby

On Friday evening, the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company performed at the Palace Theatre. The group performed a combination of popular, as well as lesser known, traditional Mexican music and dance.

This well-attended and colorful event was sponsored by ArtsMix, the African, Latin, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center, the Africana and Latin American Studies Program and the Music Department.

The dances were divided into nine sections, each representing a different Mexican state. Each of these sections included three or four dances, which were linked through their presentation of a particular aspect of Mexican culture or type of dance unique to that region.

Most dances portrayed some sort of celebration. Many told stories. In the opening pieces, grouped under the heading “Fiesta en Yucatan,” the dancers acted out a wedding ceremony. The bridge and groom stood around a pole, while female dancers held ribbons that extended from the pole and danced in a circle.

“Los viejitos de Michoacán,” or “Little Old Men from Michoacán” was a comical rendition of elderly men dancing. The dancers wore masks and walked and danced with canes.

Many dances were more organized and traditional, relying on columns, squares or circles for organization. Some dances used the whole room; dancers often entered from the back of the room, and in one case, moved off of the stage, swirling their colorful skirts just inches away from audience members.

Another common feature of several dances was displays of balance: dancers moved smoothly, balancing trays, bottles of alcohol or candles on their heads. During one of the wedding dances, the bride balanced a tray containing glasses and a bottle of alcohol on her head, while the groom balanced a single, larger bottle of alcohol. Both continued to dance, while the other dancers stood watching and clapping.

With a few exceptions, the dancers were accompanied by six musicians who played a variety of instruments, including guitars, violin, percussion, trumpet and harp. The musicians sang during a few songs as well, adding elaborate harmonies to the mix.

However, during one group of songs, called “Caminos a Aztlán,” or “Roads to Aztlán,” the musicians sat down. The dancers played simple drums and shakers on stage, blew into conch shells and stomped in time with the music, shells around their ankles emphasizing the pulsing tribal beat. These dances featured elaborate costumes, including dramatic feathery headpieces. The blue lighted stage and eerie percussion music contributed to the tone of the dance.

The dancers’ colorful costumes and boisterous, well choreographed movements made the performance entertaining for all ages. Children even practiced dance moves they had witnessed during the intermission.

The concert concluded with a group of more well known, Mariachi-style songs under the title “Sones jalicienses,” or “Rhythms and Songs from Jalisco.” These dances were some of the most vibrant, as female dancers wearing full, traditional skirts and male dancers wearing traditional outfits, with the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company’s symbol on their backs twirled around the stage in pairs. The whole audience was clapping along by the end of the evening, when the group performed the familiar “El Jarabe Tapatio.”

The Calpulli Mexican Dance Company was founded in 2003 and is based out of Jackson Heights, NY. Through both performing and teaching, the group tries to preserve Mexican culture in song and dance.