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Perks of Dancing Through Mexico

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When I started dancing I was an idiot.  Some would argue I still am.  At that time I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish nor know anything about dancing.  When learning my first choreography I honestly thought when everyone else in world heard that particular song all knew these were the steps to it.  I had no clue but I did have an abundance of tenacity and soon became presentable.

And presented I was.  Back then when a town was celebrating a saint or Virgin they’d invited groups of dancers to come perform including the ones I belonged to.  In exchange for free transportation and a post-performance meal we dancers would perform in theaters and on stages in the town square.

Now there was a reason the transportation was free.  I remember riding in buses with no lights except for green Christmas lights that made everyone in the bus look like zombies were coming to town to eat human flesh.  Or the van from a city with no seats (the driver sat on an upside down bucket) and a door that didn’t close unless I held it closed. Taking hairpin turns in the mountains became quite exciting as the door often slid back open despite my best efforts!

The food rarely fared any better though it was always an honor to be invited into someone’s home for simply having danced in their town’s square.

The big perk to these adventures was arriving in town.  We’d get off the bus to cheers and clapping implying we were rock stars.  Then after each dance we’d be cheered again.  Even when I danced alone on stage with only my partner, folks would go ape largely to see the pasty foreigner in action.  I suddenly understood completely why professional entertainers wish to die on stage, it is high like no other and I’ve only got city squares and theaters in Mexico to compare to filling up a stadium on the basis of your name alone.


Then the dance world changed.  Suddenly towns no longer provided a ride and now you were expected to pay for honor of dancing.  In exchange I would receive a “free” ticket to a gala that night.

The downside to any gala featuring dancers is that most dancing teams are romantic partners as well.  It makes sense as who else is going to read your facial cues and body language better than someone you are in love with?  Unfortunately for me, my various partners (ranging in age from 8 to 80) have never been my lady friend.  In Mexico you don’t dance with some other guy’s lady so it makes for a long night being only able to dance with the one gal who already knows all your moves and isn’t sleeping with you!

Recently came a unique opportunity when the governor of Queretaro sponsored the dancers’ gala if we simply came and danced in San Juan del Rios, just south of the capital city of Queretaro (states and capital cities often share names like Guanajuato).  Being free made the day an option to my students in Escobedo to both learn a new routine and stay for the fiesta.  Like every dance class there are more women than men so my female students were hesitant.  Who’d they dance with at the party to which I could only reply “What am I?  Chopped liver?”

So off we went.

San Juan del Rio was settled shortly before San Miguel on the feast day of St. John the Baptist which was being celebrated while we were there.  St. John the Baptist is shown in art with unruly, attractive hair and the legend is if you get up before dawn and wash your hair on his feast day your new growth will be more plentiful, healthy and luxurious.  Since I had to get up before dawn to have time to shower, here’s hoping!

My brother, the Baptist minister, named his first son John, after my rabidly Catholic father.  My father was not impressed and simply referred to his namesake as John the Baptist.

The event was the first I’d seen dedicated to a religious concept, namely the eternal light of St. Pascual, patron of cooks and legendary inventor of mole.  Probably because his last name means “to dance” and if you do some danzon or cha cha steps while cooking he’ll help make the meal you are working on taste better.  Note how his image is surrounded by female Mexican dolls.  Apparently he has ladies lined up to dance with him!

My class did great on stage and having a free event attracted a lot of dancers and their groups from around Mexico.  Again, with a shortage of men, some groups were all women, including women dressed like men (through the pony tails gave them away).  Some male dancers featured miles long cock feathers in their sombreros which, to my astonishment, the viewing crowd found sexy.

Speaking of sexy and costumes, female dancers can spend lifetimes debating their dresses and disagreements are probably the biggest reason groups disperse.  Seeing the various groups with same dresses one can quickly spot subtle differences like sewing in pink lining under your skirt that shows when twirled.

One group had five ladies with below the knee hemlines and one former party gal whose dress ended at her upper thigh.  That dress would never fool my former principal, Sister Mary Torture, who applied the rule that a hem could not be reached by the gal’s fingertips placed at her side.

Luckily for Senorita Mini-Skirt, Sr. Mary Torture is likely long dead.  Speaking of dead, if you ever tire of the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato the one tourist attraction is San Juan del Rio is a Museum of Death in a downtown cemetery.  Oddly interesting describing burial customs from pre-Hispanic times to the present.  (I had to do something between hours of danzon dancing!)

FYI – The ride home featured me sitting in a lawn chair in the back of the van clinging onto a hand handle on the side door.  As always, transportation was terrifying!



Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series.  All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays.  Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA.  Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.

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