Reflection on Celebration of Day of the Dead: Opinion Essay

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On Saturday November 2nd, I went back home to celebrate Dia de los Muertos with my family. That weekend, my ballet folklorico dance instructor hosted the 12th annual Dia de los Muertos event at the Conejo Mountain Memorial Park, located in the city of Camarillo. This community event was free of charge and open to all to support local businesses and food vendors, view the impressive altars made for those who have passed, and of course, enjoy live entertainment. The entertainment consisted of many local music groups like Mariachi Inlakech, and a variety of dance groups that each performed their own style of dance. There was one ballet folklorico group that stood out because they performed the Mexican regions of Oaxaca, Sinaloa, and Jalisco. I decided to analyze their performance because I thought it would be interesting if I took the information learned in class to interpret ballet folklorico differently than I did prior to gaining this knowledge. While watching the performance with a different point of view, I concluded that ballet folklorico dancers tell stories through their performances with help from their costumes and emotions expressed. Furthermore, everything serves a purpose in ballet folklorico, whether it be to tell a story, demonstrate Mexican traditions, or represent something in particular to the Mexican culture.

When the dancers were first introduced, the audience was informed what region of Mexico the dance was from, as well as a little bit of history to understand the dance better. In this case, I focused mainly on the region of Jalisco because it is the state most people associate with ballet folklorico. When performing dances from this region, the dancers are accompanied by mariachi music because the state of Jalisco is known as the birthplace of mariachi music. The females were dressed in long, flowy, colorful dresses that had bright, multicolored pieces of ribbon sewn towards the end of the skirt and the top, so that when they turned, the audience’s attention was drawn to it. Their hair was slicked up in a tight bun, which was surrounded with a headpiece made of yarn and many vibrant ribbons intertwined in a braid. They also wore bright colored eyeshadow that combined with their dresses, and radiant red lipstick to enhance their lips. The males were dressed as charros, wearing black botines, a sombrero, and a colorful bowtie that stood out from their white long sleeve shirt. The bright colors that went with their attire served to highlight the beauty in the culture of Mexico, while representing Jalisciences as lively human beings.

The first song the group danced to was El Son de la Negra, the most well known song identified with Jalisco and mariachis. The song begins with a train like tune that starts slowly and speeds up quickly, sounding similar to a gallop. The dancers emphasized this galloping sound with a shuffle step, which was demonstrated effectively in their choreography. They did not enter the stage until the music started playing. The males lined up on one side of the stage and females on the other. Once the music started, they did their shuffle step towards the center of the stage and met their partner. The entire time, each individual had their eyes on their partner, foreshadowing who they would end up with. Immediately it appeared to be a romantic encounter because of their intense eye contact that never gets broken, unless facing the audience.

Another action I noted that made it seem like a romantic dance is seen in their emotions and gestures. They consistently portrayed a happy emotion since they did not stop smiling once, indicating they were glad to see each other. Similarly, their heads moved slightly from left to right throughout the dance in accordance to each other. For example, if the male moved his head to the right, the women did too, without losing eye contact and facing each other at all times. The distance between them was so small and their tilting actions were performed in unison and with balanced energy. It almost seemed as if they went in for a private peck every now and then, since their faces were so close and the guy’s sombrero covered both their faces. This was done purposely to embody a teasing and playful couple, hence the belief that the dance was charming.

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Following the introduction and throughout the dance, the couples faced each other and did a side shuffle step, in which the females swung their arms in front of their body with each corresponding leg. For instance, when their right leg would start the step, their right arm would start the skirt work and so on with the left. The girls used their muscles to lift up the heavy skirts and moved them in a circular motion, forwards and backwards, always raising their arms high up. The movements they made with their arms as they bent their elbows front and back made the skirt look amazing because of the ribbons and colorful colors that attract the audience's attention. As they moved around their partner and did independent turns, I noticed they kept their arms wide open at all times. Doing so, they symbolized a star because their skirts would open and flow freely; however, I constructed a much deeper meaning to this gesture. Since they did singular turns and always had their arms wide open, I took it as a sign of freedom and independence. Therefore, I thought all these females were strong, independent women, not only because they clearly did more arm work than the men, but also because of the way they expressed themselves through their skirt work.

Unlike the females, the males had their hands tied behind their backs at all times, with their chin up always. Their posture was perfect; chest up, back curved, and shoulders back. I am aware that posture is very important when it comes to dance, but seeing it as an audience member, I saw it as a sign of power, especially coming from a male. Similarly, their steps were more exaggerated and included extravagant high kicks, compared to the women’s. This made me think about machismo and the social expectation of men presenting themselves as powerful people, like so. Only sometimes did they place their hands behind their female partner during the dance to indicate she was his partner, which I also took as a sign of power. In the end, they also used their hands to turn the female towards themselves and lean in for a “kiss.”

The following day, after viewing ballet folklorico in a different way, I went to practice with a new group and immediately recognized the difference in space. I used to dance with a non-profit organization that taught mariachi music and ballet folklorico dance lessons to the community for free. We practiced at a small location that looks a lot like an empty house before one moves in. The place where the new group practices is at a dance studio, way bigger than what I’m used to. Another difference I saw was that at the studio they practiced with their socks on or flat ballet shows. I was not used to this because I always practiced with my heels on. The main difference I noticed was in the way they presented themselves and danced. Obviously the choreography was gonna be different, but I did not expect the foot work to be different. I’m used to accentuating my zapateado and focusing on my foot work, while this new group was more ballet style, similar to the group I had seen perform the day before. They focused more on their presentation and ability to pose delicately. For instance, they concentrated on the bending of their sides in correlation with the movement of their bodies, to emphasize the movement. This was eye opening to me, because I realized how different people are taught and was exposed to the two styles of ballet folklorico.

After years of dancing and watching other groups dance ballet folklorico, I had never truly analyzed the style of dance until seeing this performance at the Dia de los Muertos event. As I analyzed the dance, I focused on the elements of dance introduced in class and imagined myself in their place. Because I have experience I was able to understand what muscles and parts of their bodies they were exercising, as it could’ve been difficult to determine this because of the females long skirts. I choose to analyze ballet folklorico because I attended a Ballet Folklorico practice with a new group the next day and wanted to include my experience and what I noted in this analytical paper. As a result, I was able to interpret the dance differently and analyzed it with more detail.

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Reflection on Celebration of Day of the Dead: Opinion Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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