By Cristina Sanchez Reyes
Mexico City, Aug 10 (EFE).- Outfitted with headdresses made of the feathers of various birds and wearing hand-sewn costumes with leather and colored fabric, the members of a family who perform pre-Hispanic dances are trying to conquer the hearts and the conscience of new generations at the same time that they are working to preserve this tradition.
“We’re taking on the task of ensuring that this doesn’t get lost: conquering the hearts and minds (of new generations),” Alejandro Vazquez told EFE on Tuesday, adding that for three decades he has headed the Huizachtlan dance group from the Iztapalapa district in the eastern part of Mexico City.
The sound of the drums during their performance merges with the sound of the conch shell wind instruments and the songs of the dancers or “concheros” (conch-players) – as they’re known – who are attired in short skirts, kneepads, wristbands, breastplates and headdresses, some of which are adorned with real or fake feathers from pheasants, turkeys, chickens and ostriches.
Vazquez is the leader of his “calpulli” – which is a form of pre-Hispanic social organization based on families or clans – and he has managed to involve five generations of his family in the dancing.
Marina Margarita Campos is Alejandro’s wife. When they married, she said, they didn’t participate in dances of this kind. “Only my mother-in-law danced,” she said.
However, once when they attended a local holiday celebration in the town of Chalma, in Mexico state, she saw a group of dancers and that sparked her passion for dancing.
“Now, there’s no dance we don’t do. We go to all the events to which we’re invited, because we really like to carry this tradition to other places,” she said.
She added that being part of this tradition is a source of pride for her whole family.
“It doesn’t matter if it rains, if it’s hot, if we’re tired. It’s such a nice tradition that we don’t want to let it get lost,” she said.
According to Vazquez, dancing is an age-old practice that was participated in long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico.
After the conquest five centuries ago, pre-Hispanic dances were performed only in secret but they were never forgotten, since they represent a means of thanking the powers that be and the forces of nature for providing the people with life and the understanding that they are at one with the universe.
“We dance in the churches, but we know that underneath each church there’s a ‘teocalli’ (Aztec temple), which means ‘houses of God,'” she said, adding that during the colonial epoch the native inhabitants pretended to be dancing to some Catholic saint or another to avoid reprisals from the Spanish overlords.
Over the past few decades, these groups of dancers have made innumerable efforts to preserve this tradition, and people like them have taken on the task of transmitting to new generations the ancient Mexica people’s dances and rituals.
The raison d’etre for this dance is to unite man with the cosmos and to establish harmony, and it begins with a salute to the four points of the compass and prayers in the ancient Nahuatl language.
Vazquez said that pre-Hispanic dance is a way of living, a way to show the world the dancers’ Mexican-ness and pre-Hispanic traditions with an eye toward perpetuating them.
Proudly, he displays a number of photographs showing the different places where the group has performed, not only in Mexico but also at various sites in Europe.
“(They go to) Germany, they arrived and traveled to Vienna, Austria, and to other countries, trying to bring the people there the dance and the culture to raise awareness,” he said.
Alejandro has involved not only his wife and children but also his daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and they all participate with him in each of the events where they perform.
He said that the tradition is in the family’s blood “from the time they’re kids … they feel (the dance) in the womb and the pregnant women dance and they feel it, and they hear the sound of the drum.”