Mexicans are encouraged to dance from the moment they can stand. Dancing has been part of Mexican tradition since the country’s pre-Hispanic history and is an integral part of their history and culture. Every year in July the city of Oaxaca holds the immensely popular 2 week festival Guelaguetza, celebrating traditional costumed dance and music of local towns.
I took a colectivo home last week, and as we waited at the traffic lights, I could see through open dance studio windows, where couples were pressed against each other, learning new routines. Dancing is considered a skill everyone should know and both men and women pride themselves on their abilities. Having listened to a couple of wedding parties celebrate in the local jardín botánico I think that wedding DJ’s in Mexico have without a doubt the best dance music collection, guaranteed to get everyone up and moving.
I can see this enthusiasm for dance on a daily basis walking around central Oaxaca. There is an aerobics studio next to my local Pitico (small supermarket) which holds probably the most enthusiastic Zumba classes I have ever seen. Walking past the studio’s glass wall, everyone is singly focused, sweaty and having a ball. The women (and some men) are giving the routine their all – gyrating and executing complex footwork with what seems like a complete disconnect of their bodies – their upper torsos doing something while they effortlessly also manage to remain synchronised with the rest of the class.
Every Wednesday in the zócalo (zo-ca-lo) a crowd favourite is Miércoles de Danzón (Wednesdays of dance). Very popular with Oaxaca’s senior citizens, the Danzón starts around 5:30pm and carries on until around 9pm. Entire families come down to dance or to watch, and it is a regular date night event for many couples. The women put on their high heels, (admittedly carried down to the venue) – the only time they can actually be worn without fear of broken ankles as the zócalo has smooth paving rather than the cobblestoned streets that populate Oaxaca.
Miércoles de Danzón has its own live band and people congregate to watch the dancers hold hands and gracefully glide through a series of steps and twirls in what could be described as ballroom dancing; or just to enjoy the music as an added ambience to their meals eaten in cafes on the edges of the zócalo.
Watching the Danzon, you may also be asked to dance… but not if you are over 5 foot 5 inches. One night whilst watching the dancers with my (shorter) friend, she was asked to dance by a very smart-looking older gentleman, who stood about 5 foot 6 inches. When she mentioned I might like to dance as well, he said I was too tall and the aesthetic would be all wrong. Dancing should also look correct…