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Embodying MexicoTourism, Nationalism & Performance$

Ruth Hellier-Tinoco

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195340365

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195340365.001.0001

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Films, Visual Images, and Folklórico

Films, Visual Images, and Folklórico

Belonging, Difference, and Bodies

(p.120) Chapter 7 Films, Visual Images, and Folklórico
Embodying Mexico

Ruth Hellier-Tinoco

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter Seven deals with the period known as the Golden Age (1940 to 1968), contextualizing this with an overview of state policies regarding indigenismo, folklore and folklórico, and the role of government institutions such as INAH and INI. Two films, The Three Caballeros (Disney) and Maclovia, and the book A Treasury of Mexican Folkways are the focus of analysis in considering national and international dissemination. Discussion of the Lake Pátzcuaro region encompasses the burgeoning array of events using the Dance of the Old Men for local, private and political occasions; the initiation of hotel performances; the Festival of Music and Dance for Night of the Dead; and the role of the pedagogical institute CREFAL Finally, didactic and pedagogical regional dance publications and events, and the influence of the Ballet Folklórico de México are discussed.

Keywords:   Golden Age, Ballet Folklórico de México, The Three Caballeros, Disney, A Treasury of Mexican Folkways, hotel performances, CREFAL, Festival of Music and Dance

OUT OF THE chaos and struggle of the revolution, through the immediate postrevolutionary decades, a newly formulated nationalism and a burgeoning tourist industry provided a shape and framework for a developing nation. From the incipient uses of The Old Men and Night of the Dead as public spectacles—efficacious for generating notions of a shared community through remembering a pre-Conquest past and for incorporating so-called backward indigenous peoples into a capitalist modernizing environment—multiple representational contexts were developed. Both The Old Men and Night of the Dead continued to be woven into the multifaceted tapestry of the Mexican nation through complex performism processes, and the peoples of Lake Pátzcuaro remained the focus of attention for government policy, research projects, films, and photographs. On a national scale, The Old Men continued on its path of ever-widening national and international usage, through publication and through enactment in educational and folkloric contexts. Disseminated and taught in schools as an essential element in the repertoire of regional dances, it became an indispensable component in the repertoire of the Ballet Folklórico company in Mexico City.

In this chapter I discuss a selection of salient peoples, events, and practices of the period from 1940 to 1968, beginning with an overview of state policies regarding indigenismo, indigenous peoples, and assimilation; the role of government institutions; and the development of notions of folklore. Secondly, I turn to national and international dissemination of images of Lake Pátzcuaro, Night of the Dead, and The Old Men in books and films. Thirdly, I focus on the transmission of The Old Men in the Lake Pátzcuaro region, notably: the burgeoning array of performances for local, private, and political occasions; the initiation of hotel performances; and the Festival of Music and Dance for Night of the Dead. Fourthly, I give an overview of didactic and pedagogical regional dance publications and events, and finally, rounding off the chapter, I describe the founding and influence of the Ballet Folklórico de México.

(p.121) Being Mexican, “Our Mexico,” and “Our Indigenous”

The 1940s and 1950s are considered to be a Golden Age, characterized by a sense of development, modernization, urbanization, and industrialization, as well as by the dual movements of mass migration north of the border to the United States, and the influx of U.S. tourists south of the border (Joseph et al. 2001). This period led to unrest in the 1960s and ended with the massacre of students and workers in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, in 1968, just prior to the staging of the Olympic Games in Mexico. Throughout this time Mexico continued as a one-party state under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).1 In general political terms there was a shift from radical redistribution of wealth to a policy of capital accumulation, which required a heightened sense of patriotism in order to enable political stability. Therefore, maintaining a sense of a shared community, national identity, and nationalistic sensibilities continued with vigor into the 1940s and 1950s. Imaging and imagining lo mexicano was of primary importance for evoking cultural belonging through a sense of shared assumptions, and by the 1950s there was a generalized sense of pride in the historical act of being Mexican.2 Cultural production, reception, and consumption were inculcated and disseminated through a range of media and institutions, notably public education and schooling, new governmental institutions, patriotic celebrations, monuments, print journalism and television, consumer culture, and tourism. Of particular importance was the promotion of nationally validated regional tourist sites and folkloric displays. In creating a shared community, issues of national integration and assimilation, cultural patrimony, and the role and place of indigenous peoples were central, and indigenismo remained an important element of national ideology. As before, this was a highly complex and contradictory milieu, embracing a continuing tension between the poles of integration, assimilation, and modernization at one end, and exoticism and indigenismo at the other. The lives of peoples of Lake Pátzcuaro and the activities of The Old Men and Night of the Dead were therefore enmeshed in this ongoing situation, with these practices being regarded as cultural patrimony, useful for both for national politics and touristic ends.

Significantly, the First Inter-American Indigenist Congress was held in Pátzcuaro in April 1940, with the inaugural speech given by former President Cárdenas, who declared that the indigenous population was a factor for progress and should therefore be incorporated into the nation, effectively Mexicanizing them to create national citizens.3 In general, the overall goal of assimilation of indigenous peoples was not questioned, rather the strategies required to undertake such aspirations were under discussion. Organizations were set up with the aim of enabling cultural change of indigenous peoples by way of integral action in areas of education, economics, infrastructure, social and political organization, ways of life, and consumption patterns. In a continuation from the postrevolutionary period, pedagogues, artists, linguists, anthropologists, and other social science specialists working in governmental institutions were the chief performers and activists in shaping and disseminating representational and interventionist practices concerning indigenous peoples. As before, the anthropological and social (p.122) scientific focus gave a theoretical foundation to the politics of indigenous assimilation into the dominant mould of the nation.4

Universities, research institutions, and museums were also engaged with processes of study and display, and audio recordings, photographic images, musical transcriptions, and ethnographic writing were all inherently part of the ongoing processes. Publications about music and dance played vital roles in constructing and framing notions of indigenous practices and peoples. Even as peoples and practices designated as indigenous were validated through acknowledgement of their significance, they were also exhibited and analyzed. Concepts of folklore and lo folklórico were fleshed out as part of the same framework for developing a coherent form of nationalism, with folklorists, anthropologists, and other governmental researchers perpetuating a scientific and developmental approach that promoted notions of fixed and essentialized sets of practices and peoples that continued to be shaped and constructed in line with European and U.S. formulations. Two U.S. scholars were highly prominent in this area: Ralph Boggs, who founded the Folkloric Society of Mexico and whose articles on folklore were profoundly influential (1939); and Robert Redfield, whose essay entitled “La Sociedad Folk” (The Folk Society) was published in the Mexican Journal of Sociology in 1942 (see also 1947).5

As educational activities continued to be instrumental in molding a Mexican sense of belonging, so SEP was influential in providing venues for regional dance and music events, and in publishing information about these practices (Slonimsky 1946:224). SEP continued with radio broadcasts in the form of instructional and cultural programs, aiming to construct a national sensibility through a “panorama” of musical traditions and regional songs, thereby authenticating SEP's official version of national culture (Hayes 2006:250, Schmidt 2001). Similarly, films and vinyl records circulated throughout the country, promoting auditory and visual representations of rurality and nostalgia while simultaneously engaging with modernity and capitalism. In terms of musical genres, even though certain styles such as tango, swing, and mambo were being heard in urban areas, particularly Mexico City, endorsement of la cultura nacional (national culture) focused upon other forms that could be regarded as authentically Mexican, including mariachi and romantic ballads, circulated through balladeers such as Pedro Infante and Augstín Lara (Martínez 2001:379). Under the auspices of el Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA)—the National Institute of Fine Arts—labor folklórico-musical mexicana (Mexican folkloric-musical work) (Solórzano and Guerrero 1941 and Mendoza 1941) was carried out through the Section for Music Research, whose mission was to promote national artistic expression.6 In 1947 the Academy of Mexican Dance was also founded as a component of INBA. The company included two dancers who were subsequently highly influential in the course of the dissemination of The Old Men: Josefina Lavalle, who became director of the National Foundation for Dance Research (FONADAN); and Amalia Hernández, founder of the professional Ballet Folklórico de México.7

El Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH)—the National Institute of Anthropology and History—founded in 1939, was driven by the (p.123) principal objective of shaping and presenting Mexico's heritage, history, and culture for scholarly, political, and tourist purposes. Significantly, it was placed under the auspices of the Secretariat of Education and given an overtly pedagogical and didactic role. Much of INAH's work involved research projects relating to indigenous issues and locations, including the construction of concepts of pre-Hispanic Mexico, which was undertaken through rhetoric and also tangibly with stone in the form of archeological sites and artifacts.

Instrumental in indigenous representation was el Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI)—the National Indigenist Institute—which was created in 1948, with a base in Mexico City and with regional centers in diverse areas of the country. INI performed a crucial role in shaping formulations of, and relationships with and toward indigenous peoples, involving many of the contradictions and dichotomies inherent in discourse, ideology, and politics. These contradictions included a confused rhetoric that pronounced the desire to preserve, protect, and rescue practices (and in so doing, to reify and separate them out), yet at the same time professed the intention of integration, assimilation, and modernization, thus improving the lives of the indigenous peoples (as well as the economy of the country as a whole). Through INI and SEP, cultural policies were formulated and actioned in such as way that enabled indigenous peoples to access financial resources and to develop their sense of ethnic cultural practices, while also constructing a public image and concept of both indigenousness and folklore. A major element of INI's agenda was the involvement of anthropologists and folklorists in producing publications and recordings, all of whom adopted and projected ideological positions. In relation to music and dance practices, INI performed a complicated role, encompassing the dichotomy of supporting local activities of indigenous communities even as the practices were being appropriated and transformed into national public spectacle and cultural patrimony. Until its closure in 2003, INI funded many projects in the Lake Pátzcuaro region, particularly festivals and events involving The Old Men and Night of the Dead.

By way of an illustration, a widely disseminated INI publication of 1951, entitled Cantos indígenas de México (Indigenous songs of Mexico) (Michel 1951), delineated a clear ideological position regarding ethnicity, indigenous peoples, and music and dance. Comprising a selection of transcribed songs from various peoples throughout Mexico, including P'urhépecha, the book opened with an introductory text, authored by INI official Alfonso Pruneda, which created a framework for the whole collection. The text incorporated notions of nationality, authentic Mexicanness, folklore, indigenous culture, indigenous music and dance, and mestizaje. As with other writing concerning indigenous music and dance, a sense of romantic valorization infused the piece, alongside notions of primitive, emotional, and simple peoples. Indigenous culture was essentialized through the use of the singular “culture” to represent the diverse peoples and practices of Mexico, whose song lyrics were characterized as being “full of emotion and, not on rare occasions, also philosophy” (Pruneda 1951:7). Music and dance were given the special role of transmitter of the indigenous essence, thus “we can savor the emotion of indigenous music which, despite the primitive forms of expression, reveals (p.124) the sentiments of those who lived a long time ago and which, through a special immortality, survive through the songs and dances, out of which shines the indigenous sensibility” (ibid.).

Indigenous peoples were portrayed as Mexican national cultural heritage and classified as “our indigenous.” There was a clear delineation of us and them, such that “their music” provides the Mexican nation with “our folklore” as embodied in “our ancestors.” The idea of possession, ownership, and paternity in reference to indigenous peoples and practices permeated much of the text, and indeed, Michel's whole collection was presented as a way of understanding “OUR MEXICO” (upper case in original). Crucially, Pruneda propounds notions of authentic Mexicanness and nationality as formed from “the fruit of the union between two groups of humans, the Spanish and the indigenous,” resulting in mestizaje. Therefore, although the indigenous peoples and practices were distinguishable, valuable, and useful for providing the roots and heart of Mexicanness, the transformation toward a mestizo ethnicity was the objective. However, one purported function of the publication was to preserve indigenous customs “from disappearing through foreign influences” (Pruneda 1951:8), engaging with an overtly indigenista position of valuing indigenous practices for the good of the nation. Pruneda concluded the piece with a romantic valorization of indigenous peoples, summarizing “our folklore” as “the value of the indigenous culture, the beauty of the music, the tenderness of their traditions, the expression of their dances and fiestas and the other innumerable footprints of the soul of our ancestors, whose descendants are our contemporaries which is our good fortune” (ibid.).

As state-sanctioned pronouncements published by INI, the very institute whose primary role was to deal with indigenous issues, these concepts in Michel's book are vital in understanding how P'urhépecha dance, music, and ritual practices were framed, received, and interpreted. In general terms, state policies regarding indigenismo, indigenous peoples, assimilation, and folklore were formulated and disseminated through the work of numerous state institutions, creating the context within which the Dance of the Old Men and Night of the Dead could be further deployed by the state within nationalist and tourist agendas.

Gazing on Lake Pátzcuaro

In the Lake Pátzcuaro region large-scale, centralized official government research and educational projects were maintained. The objective of such projects was the development and integration of the local people into national society through intervention. The tone of much of the documentation and the titles of projects refer to “developing” the indigenous communities so that they could progress.8 “The Tarascan Project,” begun in 1936 (and interrupted during World War II ), was continued in 1945 under the joint auspices of the Institute of Social Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, D.C. in the United States, and the National School of Anthropology in Mexico (Reyes Rocha 1991:33). The project included a series of ethnological, economic, and historical studies in the Lake (p.125) Pátzcuaro region. One of the team, U.S. anthropologist George M. Foster, who carried out fieldwork in the Lake Pátzcuaro region between 1944 and 1946, referred to both The Old Men and Night of the Dead in his seminal 1948 publication on Tzintzuntzan. As I noted previously, in reference to Night of the Dead on Janitzio, Foster observed that this ceremony “has become one of the most famous spectacles of Mexican indigenous life…Great crowds of tourists have come, and the Tarascan women show no hesitancy in talking with them” (1948:220–21).9

Of great significance for the dissemination of The Old Men and Night of the Dead, and for the development of the Lake Pátzcuaro region as a focus of study, was the founding, in 1951, of el Centro Regional de Educación Fundamental para la América Latina (CREFAL)—the Regional Center for Basic Education in Latin America (Medina 1986). Located in the home of former president Lázaro Cárdenas on the edge of Lake Pátzcuaro, this influential continent-wide educational institute attracted governmental representatives, pedagogues, and students from many Latin American countries, all of whom converged on the Lake Pátzcuaro area to study and carry out research. As a result the Lake Pátzcuaro region became a “zone of experimentation,” incorporating many development programs, including an initiative in Jarácuaro to “better the school” (Vargas Tentori 1952:140) and ethnographic studies of the islands (Ballesteros 1958). There were also collaborations between the Cultural Missions, CREFAL, and INI involving pedagogical and indigenista transformation programs (Zantwijk 1974). Inherent in all the research and development activities and programs was an objectification of the peoples, practices, and locations of Lake Pátzcuaro. A spotlight was constantly on them as the subjects and objects of ethnological, pedagogical, sociological, and archeological research. Crucially, the research and development projects in the Lake Pátzcuaro area coincided and merged with the increased tourist activities in the region and with nationalist folkloric promotion.

Tourist activity in the Lake Pátzcuaro region continued to increase substantially, particularly as there was a surge nationally in tourist numbers from 1940 onward, due to the low price of Mexican currency and the “virtual closure of European countries” during the years of World War II (Caso 1942:25). In 1941, the government undertook a large-scale campaign to market Mexico to U.S. tourists, and subsequently, under the aegis of President Alemán (1946–1952), the tourist policy was further consolidated. In 1948 the National Tourism Commission was set up followed by the creation of the Secretariat of Tourism. Cultural and ethnic tourism were identified as particularly lucrative and efficacious resources, and a representation of Mexico created from the past continued to be promoted through official institutions, even though President Alemán attempted to refashion the image to a more modern, metropolitan, and businesslike one. Contemporary advertisements presented impressions of a romantic, mystical, and traditional Mexico, with “colorful” folkloric practices. During this time the draw of the folkloric was an essential aspect that was unabashedly utilized in advertising (Zolov 2001). Imaging Mexico for mid-century tourists engaged sets of binary concepts and images: indigenous, premodern, and backwardness with modern; the past with the present; and the folkloric and rural with the cosmopolitan. From the end (p.126) of the 1950s onward, after the formation of the Ballet Folklórico company in Mexico City, dance was used in advertising campaigns, with images of the dance ensemble in colorful costumes featured prominently in promotional material. In this era, there was an important shift in the U.S. reception of Mexican nationalism that regarded Mexico as no longer barbaric but instead relied upon a more romanticized and nostalgic view (Delpar 1992).

During the 1950s and 1960s, by means of government initiatives, Acapulco grew from a small town into a major international resort, and Cancún was selected to become the ultimate in government-formed tourist locations. As I discussed in previous chapters, the Lake Pátzcuaro region had already been singled out for governmental attention back in the postrevolutionary era, marked through the constructing of the huge statue of Morelos in the center of the diminutive island of Janitzio. From the initial promotion of Lake Pátzcuaro and Janitzio as tourist attractions in the 1930s, the subsequent decades saw the island of Janitzio develop into an international tourist destination, principally through the actions of official governmental organizations and media (including INI and SEP), often in collaboration with local P'urhépecha initiatives. Images of Lake Pátzcuaro, Janitzio, Night of the Dead, The Old Men, and local P'urhépecha people undertaking quotidian activities were reproduced and circulated through major films and publications. In particular, men fishing with butterfly nets on Lake Pátzcuaro formed an important recurring image. As an example, in 1943 advertisements for the English-language magazine Mexican Life, produced for U.S. tourists, deployed black-and-white line drawings of fishermen in their canoes on Lake Pátzcuaro, specified with the words “Lake Pátzcuaro,” juxtaposed with illustrations of: the snow-capped volcano Popocatéptl; the pyramid of Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán peninsula; and the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. In an overt exhortation to U.S. tourists to buy a subscription to the magazine, the advertisement declared “Visitors in Mexico, carry back with you the most memorable souvenir of your Mexican Visit. Subscribe to Mexican Life, Mexico's Monthly Review in English” (1943, Vol. 19).

A central element of the attraction of Janitzio involved Night of the Dead, which was endorsed as a fundamental aspect of the character of the island and its inhabitants. In conjunction with this, The Old Men was promoted as an authentic local dance. Processes of site sacralization continued to reify Janitzio, Night of the Dead, and the Dance of the Old Men, particularly through visual imagery in guide books. Numerous marketing and promotional strategies and activities continued to perform roles in presenting Janitzio to national and increasingly international audiences, through leaflets, songs, films, magazines, newspapers, journal articles, and photojournalism, all of which were instrumental in developing a network of concepts and attributes associated with Janitzio, Night of the Dead, The Old Men, Lake Pátzcuaro, and the P'urhépecha people of the region. The perceived uniqueness and backwardness of the traditional way of life was an attraction in ethnographic and touristic terms, even as it was regarded as an obstacle in nationalist modernization terms. In the 1940s, two films—The Three Caballeros and Maclovia—and a book—A Treasury of Mexican Folkways—were particularly influential in circulating (p.127) and disseminating images of the Lake Pátzcuaro region and P'urhépecha peoples to national and international audiences.

Donald Duck and Disney Adventures in Lake Pátzcuaro

The Disney film The Three Caballeros was released in 1944 and included explicit representations of the Lake Pátzcuaro region, depicting images of the island of Janitzio, men fishing with butterfly nets, and supposedly Janitzio islanders dancing in their village.10 The film was produced by the Disney Corporation at the behest of the U.S. Department of State, and the motivation for making the film came within the context of World War II, which was becoming an increasingly global war. South America was drawn into the theater-of-war through a Nazi presence in Paraguay and through U.S. military links with Brazil. As unlikely as it may seem with a film staring an animated duck, The Three Caballeros was actually conceived primarily as a teaching tool, for an English-speaking U.S. audience, aimed at familiarizing military forces and the general public with aspects of the land, life, and peoples of South America and Mexico.

The film uses a deliberate touristic and journeying theme, with many “bird's eye views.” The premise of the movie is that Donald Duck is given the gift of visiting various Latin American countries, including Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Donald takes a “fantastic journey through these colorful lands with his friends, Joe Carioca and Panchito…With lighthearted dance and lively music, it's a celebration the whole family will enjoy!” (The Three Caballeros DVD cover: 2008). Viewers are exhorted to “say ‘Adios!’ to the U.S. to explore the heart and soul of Latin America” (ibid.). In these brief phrases, ideas of Mexicans as exotic Others, and Mexico as a land in which music and dance are the heart and soul of life frame the reception. Throughout the film, cartoon animation and live sequences are blended together, with underscoring of music and explicitly musical “numbers” (both diegetic and non-diegetic) that serve to embed visual images of Mexico in sonic environments.

Pátzcuaro is one of four specific locations in Mexico chosen for depiction. The other three are: the seaside resort of Acapulco (where a beach full of young bathing-suit-clad women play ball with one of the animated cartoon characters); the seaport of Veracruz (famous for jarocho music, represented with live footage of a dance troupe performing in an obviously staged setting); and Mexico City (depicting the central plaza or Zócalo, and Xochimilco, the “floating gardens” to the south of Mexico City). The section focusing on Pátzcuaro is preceded by a series of vivid-colored animated drawings of romanticized scenes of Mexico, accompanied by a rendition in English of the song “México,” in the crooning-style typical of the period. The penultimate image of the sequence depicts men in canoes fishing with butterfly nets, with the iconic conical form of the island of Janitzio silhouetted in the background.

In the Pátzcuaro section, three modes are intermingled: cartoon animation, live footage of places and people as ethnographic subjects, and live footage of a folkloric (p.128) ensemble performing music and dance.11 The third element is blended and edited with the “real” material to create a continuation of subjectivity, generating a framing of the scene as “real” and not “staged by actors” for the film, engaging a blurring of boundaries between real people and enactors, which leads to a reading of authenticity. The sequence starts with the animated figures of Donald and his two companions climbing aboard the colorful “magic sarape (poncho)” and flying away from Mexico City, over mountains, towns, and villages, until they reach Lake Pátzcuaro, identified simply as “Pátzcuaro” in the voice-over narration. Just prior to the views of Lake Pátzcuaro, 1940s black cars are depicted traveling along country roads, surrounded by green fields and wooded hills, endorsing and promoting Mexico as eminently suitable for road trips for U.S. visitors.

A remarkable succession of aerial shots captures Lake Pátzcuaro, the islands in the lake, the surrounding hills, a close-up of the statue of Morelos on Janitzio, and adobe houses perched on the sides of the island with their red-tiled roofs. In the foreground, fishermen paddle across the lake in their wooden canoes, clothed in straw hats and linen shirts, using butterfly nets. The live shots are overlaid with images of the animated characters on their magic flying sarape. As the ethnographic shot of the fishermen fills the whole screen, so then it is shrunk to the center of the image and enclosed within a cartoon animation of a photograph album standing upright on a shelf, reminding viewers that this is just a travelogue to fantastic lands. The three cartoon characters view the “photograph” in the album. The moving photograph depicts the live and moving fishermen paddling across the lake, in what might be described as a living diorama. For film viewers this shot creates a double-gaze through the framing of the photo in the album, which is inside the frame of the film. Then once again the narrative moves toward an ethnographic portrayal of purportedly traditional life on the island of Janitzio, in a close-up of a scene outside a house, which is actually a set inside a studio. The “traditional scene” includes: a cut-off wooden canoe with a fisherman seated inside (complete with paddle); the patio of a house with a red-tiled roof; a woman sitting on the ground cooking tortillas on a comal (a large pottery plate) over an open fire; and a butterfly fishing net leaning against an adobe wall. In this setting an ensemble of musicians (two violinists and guitarist) accompanies a group of men and women dressed in “typical” P'urhépecha and even pan-indigenous clothes (of linen shirt and trousers with poncho for men, and long skirt, apron, embroidered blouse, and blue-striped rebozo for the women) who are dancing. The whole context presents an impression that this takes place at the end of a normal working day, as villagers gather round to dance and make music together. (In actuality, communal dancing on Janitzio, and other Lake Pátzcuaro villages, only took place within the context of a fiesta, and the dance depicted was not part of a P'urhépecha repertoire, nor was it danced on Janitzio or any other Lake Pátzcuaro islands or villages.)

The scene closes with a shot of a map of Mexico, on which just a few locations in the whole country have been specified. A blue shape representing Lake Pátzcuaro is clearly marked. However, it is identified not in English but Spanish: “lago de Pátzcuaro.” The only other identified places in the region are “Pátzcuaro” (p.129) and “Morelia.” In juxtaposition with the scenes of Acapulco and Mexico City, the Pátzcuaro section demarcates the place and peoples as traditional, folkloric, in the past, and indigenous, where music and dance are part of everyday life. Despite the fictionalization, the ethnographic framing and footage of genuine locations creates a seal of authenticity on the setting, displaying a romanticization and quaintness of Lake Pátzcuaro island life and creating a gaze on the real. When screened in the 1940s these images contributed to the dissemination and circulation of the network of associations at the heart of this study: Lake Pátzcuaro, Janitzio, local indigenous peoples, music and dance, and fishing with butterfly nets.

Maclovia and A Treasury of Mexican Folkways

From the 1930s onward Mexican cinema played an important role in disseminating images and concepts of rurality and indigeneity to both national and international audiences. Following the highly localized images of Lake Pátzcuaro and P'urhépecha peoples presented in the film Janitzio (1935), similar scenes were disseminated to a wider audience with Maclovia (1948), which made Janitzio an international spectacle (García Canclini 1985:58–59). In Maclovia romantic images of Lake Pátzcuaro depicted a traditional and indigenous way of life, which included fishing and, most importantly, the ceremony of Night of the Dead. Set on the island of Janitzio, the film tells the story of two young lovers, the beautiful Maclovia, played by top Mexican actress María Félix, and the poverty-stricken José María, who educates himself in order to earn enough money to buy his own fishing boat, which, he hopes, will win Maclovia's father's consent for marriage. An indigenous and traditional way of life is thoroughly embedded in the narrative, presented as a life in which outsiders are disdained and regarded with suspicion. In the final climax, the dramatic events take place during the Night of the Dead, thus constructing the intrinsic correlation between Janitzio and Night of the Dead, and propagating the network of images and concepts fundamental to both the touristic attraction and to the folkloric, nationalist imaging of lo mexicano.12

Whereas The Three Caballeros and Maclovia circulated moving photographic images, the populist book A Treasury of Mexican Folkways used still photography to disseminate visual representations of folkloric Mexico. As a result of the success of the bilingual magazine Mexican Folkways, editor Frances Toor produced A Treasury of Mexican Folkways in 1947 to provide an overview of “The Customs, Myths, Folklore, Traditions, Beliefs, Fiestas, Dances and Songs of the Mexican People” in the English language, aimed specifically at a U.S. readership.13 With the postwar tourist boom, this publication presented enticing images of rural and indigenous Mexico that would appeal to those wishing to escape a modern, capitalist country in search of a traditional and indigenous past. A photo of The Old Men of Lake Pátzcuaro and of Night of the Dead on Janitzio were placed together on the same page, generating an associative reading of these two practices as indigenous and authentic P'urhépecha ritual activities (figure 1.14).14 This (p.130) publication contributed to framing and affirming the role and significance of The Old Men and Night of the Dead as important attractions of Michoacán and Lake Pátzcuaro. Placing these photographic images within the context of a selection of national practices and artifacts further constructed the notion of “most representative” within the nation of Mexico.

Tellingly, Toor's description of Night of the Dead on Janitzio contained a revealing reference to the practice and use of photography, perpetuating and confirming the activity of photographing the peoples and practices of Janitzio and Lake Pátzcuaro. Toor observed that “before dawn so many candles are lit that it is possible to take pictures” (1947:244). “Taking pictures” was therefore presented as a viable and acceptable activity for visitors to the ceremony and the cemetery. Through the action of capturing the P'urhépecha women in photographic images, notions of cultural heritage, patrimony of the state, and public tourist attraction were further validated as acceptable and intrinsic elements of the occasion as a tourist spectacle, and moved on from earlier experiences when tourists with cameras were at risk of being thrown into the lake. In her depiction of the dance of “the little old men” Toor placed it within a P'urhépecha framework, stating that it was danced in many villages “on secular occasions but chiefly during religious fiestas” (1947:356–57). Through this account Toor presented The Old Men as a form of religious ritual, even though the published photograph portrayed a political and state organized enactment. She also made an unambiguous link with pre-Hispanic origins by including the description of sixteenth-century priest Father Durán (cited at the opening of Chapter 1). As a contextualizing factor, it is also valuable to note Toor's formulation of ethnic identity: “It has been customary to speak of the population living in a folkloric way as ‘Indian,’ but that is no longer possible because many of the so-called Indians have adopted modern ways of living. Since there are no exclusive terms with which to designate folkloric peoples, I am using racial names, ‘native’ and ‘folk,’ to distinguish them from the modernized ones, to whom I refer as ‘mestizo,’ ‘ladino,’ or ‘citified’” (1947: viii). The correlation between premodern, folk, and native (with an implication of “rural”) is striking when placed in opposition to modernized, mestizo, and urban, and fitted entirely with placing the peoples and practices of Lake Pátzcuaro “in the past.”

Transitory Tourism and Dancing in Hotels

Guided and enticed by photographic images and narrative descriptions in films, books, tourist guides and magazines, both Mexican middle-class tourists and foreign visitors, particularly from the United States, were attracted to the Lake Pátzcuaro region by the lure of authentic indigenous practices and lifestyles. For Mexican sightseers, the visit to Janitzio and Pátzcuaro enabled confirmation of their sense of a pre-Hispanic and rural element of their own modernizing Mexicanness. For most middle-class urban Mexicans, rural lifestyles were alien and “different” to their own. A visit to Lake Pátzcuaro to see the P'urhépecha peo (p.131) ples and their way of life therefore fitted the touristic notion of difference, even if the Mexican visitors lived as close to the area as Morelia. Lake Pátzcuaro also catered for the two “types” of U.S. tourists who were attracted to Mexico: official tourists who sought after the folkloric; and the beatniks and hippies (“unofficial tourism”) (Zolov 2001). In both mainstream and hippy tourism, notions of authenticity and indigenousness were central to the success of the travel experiences, although in differing ways. From the late 1950s mainstream U.S. tourists visiting Mexico City were able to have certain expectations satisfied by attending performances of the Ballet Folklórico in the Palace of Fine Arts, where they could view “Mexico” in a comfortable and dioramic manner, through representational staged events that placed rural, indigenous, and traditional Mexico in a theater, purportedly capturing the essential qualities of the nation. Meanwhile, U.S. hippie travelers who sought a more “authentic” experience were able to go in search of the “real Mexico” in the villages and rural areas.

For both groups of U.S. tourists, a visit to Lake Pátzcuaro and Janitzio fulfilled their requirements. For hippies, the island setting was sufficiently authentic and included all the requisite elements of a real indigenous and rural lifestyle, with no perceptible elements of rehearsal, staging, and reenactment; and for mainstream travelers, the defined and framed experience of a hotel in Pátzcuaro and a short launch ride to Janitzio enabled this attraction to be adequately safe and bounded. Visiting the island of Janitzio combined experiences of culture and nature, through a journey across water in a motor launch to a small island in a lake where indigenous inhabitants went about their normal business of everyday life. On the island sightseers ate local fish and handmade tortillas in one of the small restaurants; perused the souvenir stalls; and walked to the top of the island to view the towering statue of Morelos. For those with sufficient energy, climbing up inside the statue via a winding staircase to emerge out of Morelos's wrist topped the experience, enabling a bird's eye view of the island, lake, and surrounding hills. From this vantage point, visitors could be assured of their sense of having journeyed to another place and even time. For those who visited Janitzio for Night of the Dead, both groups of tourists were similarly effectively catered for. The experience fulfilled the hippie agenda, with the visceral nature of the celebration, and the perceived mysticism of an island environment filled with the aromas of flowers and breads, and lit by the gentle glow of candles. For more mainstream tourists the event was carefully managed and later festivalized to enable an experience of controlled exoticism.

As tourism in the Lake Pátzcuaro area increased, opportunities to provide entertainment for the visitors grew, and hotels and restaurants became recognized venues for performances of The Old Men. Performances in hotels framed and confirmed The Old Men as an unambiguous spectacle for tourist entertainment, further validating this dance as the most representative of the region. The most prominent hotel in Pátzcuaro was, and remains, La Posada de Don Vasco, located on a tree-lined street that runs between the town of Pátzcuaro and the dockside where motor launches transport locals and tourists to Janitzio.15 La Posada de Don Vasco mostly hosted transitory visitors who included Pátzcuaro and Janitzio on their itinerary of important attractions on their travels through Mexico. In contrast to the type of (p.132) tourism in resorts such as Acapulco and Cancún, these tourists stayed for one or two nights to get a flavor of the region, and their experience, therefore, consisted of a “taste” of what was selected and promoted as most representative. For U.S. tourists, journeys to Mexico generally entailed very long road trips, involving huge distances by car, crossing the Mexico-U.S. border, and then traveling from the north of Mexico hundreds of miles on newly made-up roads, passing through many “destinations” and “attractions” on their route16 (14                       Films, Visual Images, and FolklóricoBelonging, Difference, and Bodies).

In the setting of the hotel La Posada de Don Vasco, one man from Jarácuaro, Gervasio López, established performances of The Old Men with his family ensemble of four dancers and three musicians. As I discuss presently, this one islander from Jarácuaro became prominent and specifically associated with The Old Men from this time onwards. In the hotel setting of La Posada de Don Vasco, performances of The Old Men took place inside the restaurant area, where tourists could eat their meal after a visit to Janitzio and take in a performance of authentic indigenous music and dance. Once the hotel became a significant venue for performances of The Old Men, ensembles from Jarácuaro continued to dance there on a twice-weekly basis right through to the twenty-first century. In the 1980s, postcards depicting The Old Men performed by López and his ensemble in the grounds of La Posada de Don Vasco were produced. In the twenty-first century, these same postcards are still being sold (figure 1.2) (08                       Films, Visual Images, and FolklóricoBelonging, Difference, and Bodies).

With the transformation of The Old Men from local activity to tourist spectacle, the notion of exchange value became an integral element of the context. Musicians and dancers were paid for their performances, undertaking to perform on a regular basis at nominated times. From the perspective of López and his family, regular performances in the hotel enabled them to earn a little extra money, in addition to their income from hat-making. Similarly, items of costume were transformed into objects for sale. The advent of teachers at the institute of CREFAL at the beginning of the 1950s had boosted the market for the sale of Old Man masks, with these artifacts becoming a commodity as the teachers regarded the masks as “art.” Prior to this, Old Man masks were mostly only sold to those participating in the dance. For the mask-maker in the Lake Pátzcuaro village of Tócuaro there was a notable change as the masks became objects with an exchange value within a much wider market (García Canclini 1985:21).

After the initial appropriation and public display of The Old Men in the postrevolutionary years, local ensembles in the Lake Pátzcuaro region continued to develop their performances of the dance. Groups from the villages of Santa Fe and Cucuchucho and the islands of Jarácuaro and Urandén participated in local competitions and festivals, and performed for private local fiestas and for the burgeoning tourist market in hotels in Pátzcuaro. On the island of Jarácuaro transmission through families continued to take place in a musical environment where ensembles formed and were disbanded as members came and went, and as opportunities for performance presented themselves. Many villagers played instrumental music for fiestas and for their own entertainment, also serenading sweethearts with pirekuas (songs in the P'urhépecha language). In this context Gervasio López made his mark as a musician and promoter of The Old Men. As a child López was (p.133) taught by the musicians Nicolás Bartolo Juárez and Aurelio Calderón, playing violin in the musical ensemble of a mariochada (a form of mariachi ensemble) and with the Orquesta Juárez, the chamber ensemble of the Bartolo Juárez family. López danced The Old Men for local events, including visits of the state governor, Lázaro Cárdenas, to the island of Jarácuaro. By the 1950s López directed his own ensemble of The Old Men and was the first to undertake enactments of the dance in a hotel context in Pátzcuaro, initiating the trajectory that continues to this day. Significantly, López's role in relation to The Old Men gradually developed as he became the state-sanctioned “representative” of this dance. In the same way that the initial appropriation and transformation of The Old Men involved government-sponsored actions incorporating one Jarácuaro islander, namely Nicolás Bartolo Juárez, so from the 1950s onward, this trajectory was again pursued through Gervasio López. As I discuss further presently, López was increasingly given the role of national icon as the authentic and principal exponent of The Old Men. Curiously, through López The Old Men was assigned a level of personalization that was often at odds with the concept of anonymous folklore, encapsulating the ambivalence and contradictions inherent in characterizing folklore with anonymity and communality of creativity, while simultaneously utilizing a nameable individual to signify the authenticity of the practice.

As López and others villagers developed their ensembles on Jarácuaro, on the nearby island village of Urandén, two families (Gabriel and Camilo) also initiated groups of Old Men dancers, particularly influenced by Bartolo Juárez. The two families continue to vie for “ownership” of the dance, each setting out a narrative for their own processes of instigation, which indicates how the aura around this dance is sufficiently noteworthy to make it important for the families to stake a claim for tenure. According to the Camilo family, The Old Men was started on the island in 1935, after Dimas Camilo borrowed masks from Bartolo Juárez. According to Evaristo Gabriel Cortés, The Old Men on Urandén was initiated in 1948 by Evaristo's father, Rufino. It was performed in Pátzcuaro for the fiesta of 8 December and on Urandén for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve). Both families continue to perform into the twenty-first century in events in the Pátzcuaro region and in Mexico City (figures 1.10, 10.1, and cover) (25, 31–34                       Films, Visual Images, and FolklóricoBelonging, Difference, and Bodies).

During the 1940s and 1950s local contests, organized by SEP and the Cultural Missions, provided a context in which the Lake Pátzcuaro ensembles danced, with groups from Urandén, Jarácuaro, Cucuchucho, and Santa Fe participating. Increasingly, ensembles from Jarácuaro also enacted a version of The Old Men in local fiestas, most notably for 22 January in their home village and in the mestizo highland town of Carácuaro, for a celebration in honor of Christ of Carácuaro (28–30                       Films, Visual Images, and FolklóricoBelonging, Difference, and Bodies). For both events López and others directed large numbers of dancers, mostly boys rather than men, sometimes accompanying them with just the jarana, and at other times forming a trio of violin, vihuela, and bass. In a very different context, in the late 1950s, the Gabriel family from Urandén deployed The Old Men as form of political demonstration. As the little island of Urandén did not have electricity, the islanders decided to take a petition to the governor of Michoacán. A deputation of islanders made their way to the capital city of Morelia, and as they (p.134) handed in their request, they also performed The Old Men as a means of drawing attention to their uniqueness.

As villagers performed The Old Men in local contests and fiestas, overtly regionalist and nationalist events continued to take place in the Lake Pátzcuaro region, deploying The Old Men as an obvious symbol of local tradition, further establishing it as an iconic and representative dance within a national and international framework. Three events at, and connected with, the continent-wide pedagogical institute CREFAL serve to illustrate such uses. In 1951, The Old Men was performed at the inauguration ceremony of CREFAL.17 Political and pedagogical representatives from all Latin American countries were present, as were top-level Mexican politicians and governmental representatives, including former President Cárdenas. A wooden platform was erected in the grounds of the CREFAL campus, on which music and dances were performed for the official opening. Villagers from Cucuchucho performed The Old Men, accompanied by a single musician, Antonio Pablo. The event also included the Dance of the Moors and Las Canacuas, in which P'urhépecha women presented gifts to Cárdenas, perpetuating the “suite” of P'urhépecha rituals and dances established in the 1920s.

With a less global audience, in 1954 The Old Men was performed at another event held at CREFAL in celebration of the 28th anniversary of the formation of municipalities of Michoacán. Again, Lázaro Cárdenas attended the proceedings, along with serving governmental and institutional officials. However, on this occasion the dancers were not inhabitants from the Lake Pátzcuaro communities but children and young adults from across the whole state, with each municipality presenting a group of Old Men dancers. In this instance, The Old Men was transformed into a folkloric and civic activity, performed by non-P'urhépecha Mexican citizens in a state-organized event, in an endeavor that subsequently became a frequent facet of school and civic occasions.

Also in 1954, a Festival of Song and Dance (Festival de Canto y Danza) took place in May, in the central plaza in Pátzcuaro, organized to celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of CREFAL. The event was promoted in the newspaper Heraldo Michoacano by the state tourist office (Dirección Estatal de Turismo). The advertisment for one part of the whole occasion, the Fiesta of Song and Dance (Fiesta de la Canción y de la Danza), clearly demonstrates the differentiation of participants and practices.

The participants are:

Distinguished performers from the Mexican Institute of Dance of the National Institute of Fine Arts who will present three ‘ballets’ that were part of the final season of Modern Dance in the Capital of the Republic;

Los Niños Cantores (the Boy Singers) of Morelia, under the directorship of the professor Romano Picutti, who will perform works by Mexican composers;

Groups of dancers (Las cuadrillas de danzantes) from the communities of San Pedro Pareo and Cucuchucho, who will dance, respectively, Los Matlachines' (sic) and Los Viejitos;

(p.135) The State Band.

(Festival de Canto y Danza 1954)

An article in the same newspaper two days later captured key elements of the occasion, noting the presence of the top politicians (including Governor of Michoacán, Dámaso Cárdenas) and using poetic and florid language to describe qualities of the event:

Thousands of people of all social conditions came to admire…the most beautiful, regal and vibrant of the art, music and dance of the Tarascan peoples (los pueblos tarascos)….From an early hour the great the plaza of San Francisco served as an authentic open air theater (teatro al aire libre)…the dancers displayed rhythms and emotions whose essence and artistic virtues were strongly applauded by the people (el pueblo).

(Magno Festival en el CREFAL 1954)

Tarascan Rituals: Real Life and Reenactment

In 1961 another film, entitled Rituales Tarascos (Tarascan Rituals), was screened in cinemas throughout Mexico, disseminating images and ideas about Lake Pátzcuaro, Night of the Dead, The Old Men, and P'urhépecha peoples. Whereas the films Janitzio and Maclovia were purportedly narrative, fictional productions, Rituales Tarascos followed more in the vein of the “Pátzcuaro” sequence of The Three Caballeros, in that the content regarding the activities of the inhabitants of Lake Pátzcuaro was presented as ethnographic reality,18 yet the production was imbued with a blurring of real life and dramatization, mixing fictional events with enacted presentations. Rituales Tarascos was created locally for a wide audience in both Mexico and Latin America and was produced by the cinematic news company Noticiario Mexicano in collaboration with CREFAL. This combination of a news company and a state pedagogical institution indicates the framing of this film as ethnographic documentary, in which the lives and rituals of indigenous P'urhépecha islanders were presented as factual. The film was intended for the general public who attended cinemas throughout the country, and the performed “message” was that of an active and participatory community of P'urhépecha islanders, continuing to undertake their traditional celebrations (Rodríguez Yerena: personal communication).

However, the material of the film also concerned visitors and tourism, documenting the presence of outsiders on the island of Janitzio for Night of the Dead, and showing obviously staged, theatricalized, and dramatized enactments taking place on the basketball court. Although not billed as such, this staged event for outsiders was the first of the Festivals of Music and Dance that have been an essential element of Night of the Dead on Janitzio since the 1960s. Middle-class, urban audience members were invited to attend this special occasion. As clearly (p.136) visible in the film, the majority of the audience were attired in 1960s-style urban clothing (men in city suits and ladies in dresses and high-heeled shoes) in contrast to the clothes of the P'urhépecha islanders. Significantly, the live event shown in the film was organized by Janitzio islanders in cooperation with the Council of Pátzcuaro, presenting a model that has been replicated ever since.

With a program of dramatic scenes, dances, and music, the live event followed a format combining cuadros costumbristas (theatricalized scenes of customs), staged representations of pre-Hispanic narratives and rituals, and the dance contests and festivals organized by the Cultural Missions and schools. The basketball court served as the stage area, with a tiered wooden structure for seating the audience. Very large chinchorro fishing nets were hung up around the space as scenery and a backdrop. The main element of the staged event was a depiction of the pre-Hispanic origin of the festival in honor of the dead, through the dramatization of a legend acted by Janitzio islanders. Reenactments of the ceremony for Night of the Dead in the cemetery were also staged, in conjunction with a performance of The Old Men by Jarácuaro villagers. The film captured the distinctive sound of the dance, with the precise rhythmic footwork accompanied by a single jarana.

Two sets of representations and frames were present: shots of the Lake Pátzcuaro region and shots of the staged event on the basketball court. These distinct elements were edited in such a way that they seemed to merge into one another. Indecidability of interpretation imbues the film, merging the boundaries between live display, real life, and make believe, bringing into play questions concerning the efficacy of bodies as authentic. For cinema audiences Rituales Tarascos created a collective gaze that encapsulated an image of an authentic and indigenous Mexico, in which both Night of the Dead and the Dance of the Old Men were central to the imaging of Mexicanness. Placing these two activities within the same interpretive and representative frame perpetuated the association of one with the other. The documentary context, depicting P'urhépecha people carrying out everyday and ritual activities, alongside dances, music, and dramatizations, engendered notions of indigenous people and practices as an attraction for consumption and utilization in both nationalistic and touristic contexts.

Particularly poignant in terms of exhibiting everyday life was the use of the large chinchorro fishing nets as scenery for the spectated event. Hanging up nets as scenographic objects effected the transformation of the utilitarian objects that were vital to the lives of the islanders into decorative artifacts for visitor and tourist consumption, clearly evidencing processes of refunctionalization, commodification, and commoditization. As fishing was the central activity of the region for centuries, both for personal consumption and trade, so fishing nets had been the essential piece of equipment for sustaining lives. Hanging up fishing nets was a key element of the practice of fishing, both for drying and mending purposes. In the postrevolutionary period, this very activity had been captured photographically by Carlos González (1928b) and Frederick Starr (1928:5), and disseminated through Mexican Folkways. The photos depicted Janitzio fishermen standing by their drying nets, undertaking an everyday work act.19 In a private ritual, once a year on Janitzio nets were also hung up in a symbolic rather than utilitarian act, as they (p.137) were carried through the island and displayed around the church for the celebration of Corpus Christi, a ceremony of thanksgiving for the continued source of their livelihood. In contrast, the act of hanging the nets as symbolic and performative objects to decorate the area of staged spectacle for non-Janitzio spectators radically altered the function of the object. This element of presenting everyday work objects and activities within a symbolic tourist frame became increasingly important with the escalating tourist numbers visiting Janitzio.

Entertaining the Crowds: the Night of the Dead Festival of Music and Dance

By 1964 visitor numbers for Night of the Dead on Janitzio had increased to such an extent that an official Festival of Music and Dance was instigated to provide entertainment for the sightseers. The cemetery on Janitzio was tiny and the ceremony of Night of the Dead centered upon sitting around the graveside of deceased loved ones throughout the night until dawn broke. Not only was it impossible for the mass of visitors to observe this, but also the hours of such “inactivity” were not sufficient to keep the crowds entertained throughout the cold night. Using the model of the staged event filmed for Rituales Tarascos, a Festival of Music and Dance was initiated, which consisted of short music and dance pieces and scenes of local life, usually performed by villagers from the Lake Pátzcuaro region. As previously, tiered seating was erected around the basketball court and the display area was dressed with fishing nets and the distinctive, orange-colored cempasuchitl flowers. Stalls were set up selling hot drinks, food, and souvenirs. Ofrendas to the dead, decorated with flowers, bread and sugar shapes, were created and placed on display as exhibits for the tourists. As each year went by, these were larger and more elaborate, often utilizing national symbols such as an eagle devouring a snake (García Canclini 1985:58–9).

These Festivals of Music and Dance were complex events in ideological terms. Organized locally by a committee from Janitzio, they were given financial support by governmental bodies such as the Michoacán Tourist Board and INI, ultimately benefiting both the local community and tourist industry businesses in the area. Musicians and dancers were either paid to perform or they competed for prize money. Some dances, such as la Danza del Pescado (The Dance of the Fish), were originally performed because the participants “owed” a manda (a promise). However, by the 1980s, the idea of performing such dances for a religious obligation had been replaced by the notion of performing for recognition from visitors, and receiving financial remuneration from governmental sources. As seen in Rituales Tarascos, The Old Men was included as an essential element of the festival from the beginning, whereas other dances were newly created. Janitzio-born musician and teacher Aurelio de la Cruz directed a group of young performers for whom he created new choreography that was purposely aimed at tourists. Under de la Cruz's direction, the group subsequently traveled to various places in Michoacán, Mexico City, and even Spain to perform. P'urhépecha villagers from (p.138) many communities formed small groups specifically for the festival, creating short staged pieces either based on existing dances, music, and ritual or using local work activities as the movement vocabulary (fishing: Pescado, Pescador Navegante, Chinchorros, Mariposas; sowing: Sembradores; and transporting pottery: Huacaleros) (25 and 40                       Films, Visual Images, and FolklóricoBelonging, Difference, and Bodies). The Festival of Music and Dance on Janitzio therefore encouraged and supported creativity through the composition of new dances and music expressly for the event; however, despite the variety of music and dance presented, The Old Men continued to be promoted as the most representative dance.

Regional Dances of Mexico: Fixing, Notating, and Publishing

As the uses of The Old Men by Lake Pátzcuaro villagers proliferated in tourist and political events, in a national arena the teaching and dissemination of The Old Men continued apace, alongside other Mexican Regional Dances in school and pedagogical contexts. By the late 1930s a repertoire or collection of regional dances was already formulated using the model of the costumbrista exhibitions and as displayed in Danzas Auténticas Mexicanas in Mexico City. The repertoire included dances framed as indigenous and others which were presented as mestizo and urban. In the vein of the didactic publication by Johnston (1935) discussed in the previous chapter, books and leaflets were produced that included ostensibly factual notation and descriptions in order to teach the dance. Each dance was purportedly appropriated from its ritual and local setting and adapted to be performed by a group of children or adults in folkloric ensembles, with elements of choreography, floor patterns, duration, and proxemics altered to suit festival occasions. All schools and pedagogical institutions directed through SEP were instrumental in organizing festivals and contests for regional dances. Boarding schools were particularly important in the transmission process, with the staging of contests and the production of audio recordings and descriptive documentation (see, for example, Castro Agúndez 1958, Hellmer 1963). Published descriptions had the effect of “fixing” the origins and meanings of dances, and of disseminating a unified and often invented tradition for the purposes of folkloric nationalism. Notions of shared practice, cultural patrimony, ownership for all, and national unity were propagated and embodied in these processes and practices.

In order to illustrate the nature and format of didactic and folkloric publications that circulated in Mexico and abroad during the 1940s and 1950s, here I use four exemplars. Firstly, in 1947 Robert Riveroll produced a striking book in the English language, but published in Mexico, entitled Mexican Dances. Details of twelve dances were beautifully documented through exquisite paintings, movement notation, musical transcription, and textual description. For Los Viejitos floor patterns, line drawings of bodily positions, detailed descriptions, musical notation, and a color illustration of the costume were given, with textual and choreographic descriptions undertaken by L. Felipe Obregón, the teacher of the Cultural Missions who had documented The Old Men in Tzintzuntzan with the ensemble of Nicolás Bartolo Juárez in 1931.

(p.139) Secondly, Dances of Mexico, produced in 1954 in English by Guillermina Dickens, was published in Great Britain rather than Mexico or the United States.20 The book included three regional dances, one of which was Los Viejitos, for which descriptions, choreographic and musical notation and drawings were given. It was intended as a didactic and instructional resource for schools of dance, and is a good illustration of how a repertoire of just three Mexican dances was disseminated beyond Mexico. As this publication is one of the series of books on “Traditional Dances of Latin America” and also linked with a series of “Handbooks of European National Dances,” the inclusion of The Old Men as one of only three “Dances of Mexico” places it decisively into the category of most representative. As was common practice in schools of dance, the musical accompaniment was played on a piano, so Dickens includes a music transcription for piano, with bar numbers linking in with the choreological details, along with very comprehensive description of the dance steps and patterns (1954:22–29). Although the music was transcribed for piano, the arrangement maintains a sense of a chordal, strummed accompaniment, however, pianistic embellishments and arpeggiated chords, especially in the bass, were also included.

Thirdly, in 1958 SEP published a book encompassing narrative descriptions, musical notation, and drawings of a selection of dances performed for contests in state-run boarding schools between 1953 and 1958 (Castro Agúndez). An account of Los Viejitos is included as one of the dances. Although Castro Agúndez does identify this dance as P'urhépecha and acknowledges the prominent place of this dance in programs of costumbrista exhibitions, he does not mention the island of Jarácuaro, preferring to frame this dance in terms of specific Roman Catholic celebratory days and periods (Patron Saint, the Santa Cruz, Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of the Holy Child, and 8 December in homage to the Virgin of la Salud) (1958:39–40). Fourthly, Luis Bruno Ruíz's book entitled Breve historia de la danza en México (Brief History of Dance in Mexico), published in about 1956, includes references to Los Viejitos, presenting it as a folkloric and regional dance and associating it with Michoacán and with pre-Hispanic roots, through citing part of the reference by the sixteenth-century priest Durán (no date: 51).21

Alongside dissemination in books, other media such as journals, magazines, and newspapers also included articles describing and referring to The Old Men. In the intercontinental journal América, published in Cuba, within a section entitled “La Danza en México” (Dance in Mexico) both indigenous dance in general, and The Old Men of Michoacán in particular were represented as part of a premodern configuration. Francisco Frola, the author, essentialized indigenous dances and people by associating them very specifically with a state of mystical adoration and surrealism which was alcohol and drug induced, stating that “the indigenous people dance without ceasing, to the music of their primitive instruments” (Frola 1942:68). Even the briefest descriptions that encompassed such characterization performed a potent role in perpetuating the notion of The Old Men and indigenous dance and people as situated thoroughly in the past.

Through multiple didactic and populist publications, the Dance of the Old Men was fixed choreographically and given a permanent place in the repertoire of (p.140) representative Mexican dances. Each publication contributed to the essentialization process, defining meanings and significations, and consolidating the role of dance as an efficacious corporeal medium for creating a shared sense of belonging, and for shaping a notion of Mexicanness in international contexts.

The Ballet Folklórico de México

Alongside books and magazines, another major activity that fixed a staged folkloric version of The Old Men and embedded it within a set of Mexican Regional Dances was the formation of the profoundly influential Ballet Folklórico de México (the Folkloric Ballet of Mexico) in 1959 in Mexico City. As a highly trained, professional company, this ensemble became more famous than any other dance company in Mexico and had a significant impact both in Mexico and the United States. In tourism terms, the company was, and still is, used as a marketing image, and in nationalistic terms, the company was highly influential in providing a model for the formation of Ballet Folklórico companies, amateur and professional, throughout Mexico and in the United States.

As with other worldwide national folkloric dance companies, the Ballet Folklórico de México was fundamentally concerned with the representation of a nation-state, encompassing and embodying notions of ethnicity and race on both a national and global stage. From its inception, the Ballet Folklórico fulfilled a signifying role for the dual and yet interfacing elements of Mexican nationalism, and national and international tourism, and the dances that formed the repertoire ostensibly symbolized the nation's essence and provided “a coherent, exportable picture of Mexican Otherness…packaged for tourist consumption” (Zolov 2001:242). Tourist audiences formed an impression and view of the country through the performance. For audiences of Mexicans in Mexico City, the performance had to both appeal to, and be acceptable to an audience of upper-middle-class elites, with whom political and economic benefits were associated (Shay 2002:89). In creating the repertoire, choreographic choices and strategies designed for specific visions of national representation were crucial, and although this process had started many decades prior to the establishment of the Ballet Folklórico, the high profile of the new company meant that the nature of the representation of Mexico through dance would be more influential than any other in Mexico.

The founder and director of the Ballet Folklórico de México, Amalia Hernández, was central to the creative decision-making processes, and her sense of dance aesthetics, theatricalization, and folklore were of utmost importance.22 It is therefore significant that Hernández specialized in Mexican art (with Miguel Covarrubias) at the National School of Anthropology, and also danced in the Mexican Academy of Dance. In 1952 she formed the Modern Ballet of Mexico, which transformed into the Ballet Folklórico of the Palace of Fine Arts, and subsequently became the Ballet Folklórico de México.23 In 1952, under the sponsorship of the powerful mass media magnate Emilio Azcárraga Milmo she created choreography for television (p.141) programs known as “Gala Performances,” which were folklore programs designed specifically for television. A representation of Michoacán, entitled Sones de Michoacán, was one of her first choreographies, encompassing an aesthetic presentation not dissimilar to the theatricalized cuadros costumbristas of the 1920s and 1930s. In 1959 her ensemble represented Mexico in the Panamerican Games in Chicago, and by presidential order, the Ballet Folklórico was made into an official national company, under the auspices of the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), and was promoted through the Department of Tourism. Although the company was privatized in 1964, state sponsorship (both “artistic” and touristic), along with the support of large corporations, has been fundamental to the company's promotion. As the government-run Palace of Fine Arts continued to be the base for the Ballet Folklórico, the performances maintained a role as state-approved dance and music representations of Mexico, appropriate for ideological purposes, both nationally and internationally. From its inception, the Ballet Folklórico was used as a major part of advertising campaigns in tourism, shaping and reinforcing the concept of folkloric performance as a central component of the tourist experience.

Dance Aesthetics: Ballet/Folk and Centers/Peripheries

The Ballet Folklórico de México relied upon a romanticized and virtuosic aesthetic, utilizing a large company of highly trained dancers, competent in a range of techniques, who filled the vast stage of the Palace of Fine Arts with intricate, geometric, and often symmetrical patterns to form a spectacle of color and sound, along with many musicians who accompanied the pieces who were also often on stage. A variety of dance styles was incorporated, including dances that were either drawn from the repertoire shaped through the 1920s onward, or, ostensibly, “collected” from villages and adapted for the stage.24 In addition to these set dance pieces, Hernández also created “choreography with an argument,” which were “suites that have story lines” (Shay 2002:99). For this Hernández developed a story using a series of songs and dances that reflected the traditions and nature of a region, for example, The Tarascans (ibid.). Although not acknowledged as such, these suites drew directly on the model developed in the 1920s and 1930s in which cuadros custombristas exhibited everyday life on stage.

Engaging the term “ballet” in the name of the company was significant for the way in which it invoked ideological notions of dance aesthetics that had their roots in the immediate postrevolutionary years. Ballet was highly regarded in Mexico City in the nineteenth century, and took on a new dimension in the early twentieth century through performances of the Ballet Russes, and in particular with Anna Pavlova, whose performance of the vernacular jarabe tapatío en pointe generated a new fusion and concept of dance. Back in 1921, when creating Noche Mexicana in Mexico City, Adolfo Best Maugard had classified the vernacular and rural dances as “ballet,” which set up a tension between forms, because using the term “ballet” engendered a certain perception, and so, as López has commented, the audience (p.142) expected more than folk dances could deliver (López 2006:28). In that postrevolutionary period, one school of thought considered the intervention of cultured artists to be necessary in order to place vernacular and popular art in front of a public audience, engaging a distinction between aesthetics of dance performance. In the 1950s, therefore, naming the company Ballet Folklórico perpetuated that discourse and practice, implying that “ballet folklórico” was a theatricalized version of a vernacular style that existed somewhere else in Mexico, performed by authentic indigenous and rural peoples. Notably, Miguel Covarrubias (artist, ethnologist, and art historian) and Vincente T. Mendoza (music folklorist) suggested that in appropriating dance, the characteristics remained the same, while the traditions of the people were enriched (Covarrubias and Mendoza 1967).25 As the Palace of Fine Arts was the most prestigious venue in Mexico, hosting mostly opera, classical music, modern dance, and ballet, so deploying the same stage for the professional Ballet Folklórico created a place and status for the professionalization of dance labeled folkloric, which comprised vernacular dances transformed by trained professionals.

The choreography for The Old Men as performed by the Ballet Folklórico de México drew directly on the versions danced in the early 1920s by the Orozcos and Bartolo Juárez of Jarácuaro, and by Antonio Pablo and his family of Cucuchucho, using the theatricalized Mexico City events and the Lake Pátzcuaro Cultural Missions contests as models. Therefore, the form danced by most Ballet Folklórico ensembles, both in Mexico and the United States, traces directly to these families of Lake Pátzcuaro. However, with the Ballet Folklórico the form was commodified to become more showy, with an emphasis upon the speed and intricacy of the footwork; exaggeration of characterization; and precision of the floor patterns and proxemic relations, which gave the whole dance a more “spectacular” feel. Curiously, U.S. scholar Janet Brody Esser, in her work on P'urhépecha masks, states that the version performed by dancers from Jarácuaro in the 1970s was influenced by the Ballet Folklórico de México, suggesting that the Jarácuaro version was “inauthentic” because of this possible influence by a folkloric company and performances for tourists (Brody Esser 1984:107). With the influence of the Ballet Folklórico, a network of Ballet Folklórico ensembles was established throughout the country, further perpetuating the divide between authentic and inauthentic bodies, movements, and displays. I discuss further ramifications and consequences of the influence of the Ballet Folklórico de México in subsequent chapters.

The End of an Era: the Massacre and the Olympics

Through the Golden Age of the 1940s and 1950s, and into the 1960s, The Old Men and Night of the Dead were promoted as icons of Mexicanness and lo mexicano, circulating through multiple representational modes, including films, guide books, marketing materials, and newspaper articles. Crowds of tourists, Mexican and international, flocked to Lake Pátzcuaro and Janitzio to witness and experience Night of the Dead and The Old Men. The dance was fixed as an inherent element in (p.143) the repertoire of Mexican regional dances and disseminated through schools and folkloric ensembles and through performances by the Ballet Folklórico de México. In the late 1960s, The Old Men was chosen to be performed at a Boy Scout Reunion in France as a presentation of “the essence of [Mexican] nationality” (Ibargüengoitia 1998:69).26

In 1968, as professional staged reenactments of The Old Men were taking place in the Palace of Fine Arts in the heart of Mexico City, on the island of Jarácuaro the ensemble of Gervasio López was rehearsing the dance for a performance at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Just days before the Olympics started, a massacre took place in Mexico City that had repercussions for the representational role of The Old Men. In the following chapter, I turn to the post-1968 events, discussing how, in an attempt to reconstruct a national and shared sense of belonging after the devastating massacre, the government turned to populism, engaging a form of folkloric nationalism that had its roots in the postrevolutionary years, and deploying The Old Men and performers from Jarácuaro as an overt icon of national unity.


(1.) The Partido Nacional Revolucionario, PNR (National Revolutionary Party) of 1929 then became the Partido Revolucionario Mexicano, PRM (Mexican Revolutionary Party) in 1938 and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in 1946. The PRI was finally removed from power in 2000 when Vincent Fox of the Partido Acción Nacional, PAN (National Action Party) was elected president.

(2.) However, “lo mexicano came to serve counterhegemonic impulses as well as regime projects” (Joseph, Rubenstein, and Zolov 2001:8).

(3.) Rowe and Schelling 1991:18 and Schmidt 2001:26; see also Barre 1983:34, 61, and Lewis 2006:192 for alternative perspectives.

(4.) After the first Inter-American Indigenist Congress, anthropologists Alfonso Caso, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, and Julio de la Fuente, among others, worked in the field of indigenismo and initiated what has been called the “Mexican school of anthropology” (García Canclini 1993:24 and García Mora 1997). The very title of Beltran's 1952 publication Problems of the Indigenous Population is an indication of the positioning of intellectuals and politicians regarding indigenous peoples in the 1950s and 1960s.

(5.) A rich source of contemporaneous contextualization comes from the writing of Nicolás Slonimsky in his 1946 publication Music of Latin America, resulting from his “Pan-American fishing trip”(1946:6). In an insightful and detailed section entitled “Artless Folklore” he noted that “it is a paradox of spontaneous creative force that folk music should be, by definition, an anonymous art, originated by simple men and women without learning, and yet attaining the most perfect musical expression of the nation's collective soul. . . . Not all folk songs are collective creations. Melodies composed by individual authors may become folk songs when they attain the simplicity and perfection of spontaneous art” (1946:38–9). Slonimsky also discussed the idea of “nation” in a section entitled “Is Latin America Latin?” capturing the concept of nationalism as it was being constructed in the early 1940s and the “rising consciousness of national culture.” He noted that “Carlos Chavez writes: ‘The music of the Indians is Mexican music; and also Mexican is the art of Spanish extraction. It is fit and proper to regard as Mexican even the native operas in the Italian style, or the German-inspired Mexican symphonies. Naturally, the state of being Mexican does not qualify an art product esthetically. Only when Mexican music attains artistic quality does it become true national art’” (1946:64–5, see also 225 for another version of same quotation). At a somewhat later date, the Spanish translation of the work of Brazilian Paulo de Carvalho-Neto, entitled Concept of Folklore was also significant in shaping ideas in Mexico. According to Carvalho-Neto, “Folklore is the scientific study, part of cultural anthropology, which deals (p.282) with cultural acts of any peoples characterized, principally, by being anonymous and not institutionalized and, possibly, by being ancient, functional and prelogical” (1965:17).

(6.) Key musical folklorists of this era included Luis Sandi, Raúl Guerrero, Vicente T. Mendoza, Francisco Domínguez, and José Raul Hellmer (Slonimsky 1946:252) and U.S. radio presenter and folklorist Henrietta Yurchenco. According to Slonimsky, Luis Sandi's compositions were “permeated with Mexican folklore, based on indigenous melodies” (ibid.). INBA was founded in 1946. The first director of INBA was the renowned composer Carlos Chávez. At this time, other influential institutions included the Museum of Plastic Arts, and the National Museum of Popular Arts and Crafts.

(7.) Indigenous and folkloric themes were used as material to create dances for the Academy of Mexican Dance, for example, Día de Difuntos (1947) and Sinfonía India (1949).

(8.) Writing about the island of Yunuén, Coca Ballesteros outlines the “possible factors for the development and progress of the community of Yunuén” (1958: 51).

(9.) George Foster's publication Empire's Children: The People of Tzintzuntzan (1948) presented research undertaken as part of the Tarascan Project, and in reviewing this book, Charles Wagley noted that “when this body of research is all published, the Tarascan area will be the best studied region of Mexico, or of all of Middle America for that matter. The present study by Foster and his associates is a major contribution to this over-all program” (Wagley 1950:219). For other contemporaneous writing see Arriaga 1947, Beals 1946, Beals and Rubin 1940, Carrasco 1952, and West 1948. Later, Foster published another scholarly work on Tzintzuntzan (1967).

(10.) My thanks to ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin for bringing this film to my attention in connection with the representation of Mexican dances.

(11.) I am using the term “live” to refer to living humans, in opposition to animated cartoon images. I am also distinguishing between shots of Lake Pátzcuaro with men fishing on the lake, for example, and rehearsed scenes using actors enacting a staged scenario.

(12.) Another example is Qué lindo es Michoacán (1943) directed by Ismael Rodríguez.

(13.) The acknowledgments for Toor's book read like a “who's who” of Mexican and U.S. folklorists, anthropologists, archeologists, scholars, and artists. Of particular significance for this study is the inclusion of Francisco Domínguez, George Foster, and Henrietta Yurchenco, (1947:ix–x).

(14.) Photo numbers 85 and 86 (no page). The captions read “Los viejitos of Michoacán” and “The cemetery on the island of Janitzio, lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, after midnight on All Saints' Day” (figure 1.14).

(15.) In the 1990s, this changed from an independently run hotel to a Best Western, marking a shift into the global, corporate market place (figure 1.2, top right hand corner).

(16.) During an informal conversation, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin told me about a road trip that he made as a child in 1951 from Detroit to the Mexican-U.S. border, and then on to Guadalajara and Mexico City, taking in Lake Pátzcuaro and Janitzio on the route. Slobin has memories of the “naturalness” of Mexico and also of the journey across the water of Lake Pátzcuaro to Janitzio (Slobin: personal communication).

(17.) “Inauguración del CREFAL, 9 May 1951” (Video).

(18.) In the Disney production, the framing of the narrative was overtly fictional and the characters cartoon animations, which heightened the notion of real life in the documentary sections.

(19.) It is noteworthy that the film Rituales Tarascos also included scenes of the yearly event of cacería de los patos (duck hunting), an activity that had featured in an article in Ethnos in 1925 (La cacería del pato en el lago de Pátzcuaro) and is still (p.283) featured as part of the attraction of Night of the Dead of Lake Pátzcuaro (see Noche de Muertos 2007, Michoacán Tourist Board, pamphlet).

(20.) Dickens was born in Pachuca, a city north of Mexico City with strong connections through the mining industry to Cornwall, England.

(21.) Although this book has no publication date, using contextual information as a guide it is most likely that this was published in the mid-1950s. Two further interesting references to Los Viejitos are in Llano and de Clerck 1939 and Ibara 1952.

(22.) For Ballet Folklórico de México and Amalia Hernández see Shay 2002: 91–3, Israde 2000, Saragoza 2001, and Zolov 2001.

(23.) Ballet Moderno de México and Ballet Folklórico de Bellas Artes.

(24.) According to Shay, Hernández mistrusted “the actual peasant taste and production and feels [felt] the need to ‘improve’ upon them” and therefore she did “not attempt to place actual folklore on the stage” (2002:51 & 92). Anthropologist Edward Spicer's 1965 account of the transformation of the Yaqui deer dance by the Ballet Folklórico corroborates this to some extent, noting that the company went to great lengths to understand the essence of the deer dance and to perform an authentic ethnographic version with the general plan of the ballet, but that “what ones sees with the Ballet Folklórico de México is a new creation, a synthesis of certain elements selected from the yaqui deer dance complex with elements of the western tradition of modern dance as staged art” (Spicer 1965:132–3). For example, the Ballet Folklórico de México's performance of the deer dance includes a section of the death of the deer, with a corporeal conception of the movements based upon the muscular contractions and spasms observed in deer. Spicer suggests that this idea links directly to the Dying Swan of Anna Pavlova (1965:137), which would have been familiar to audiences in Mexico City. Through his brief article, Spice documents the transcendency of the Deer dance in Mexican culture, mainly through the Ballet Folklórico de México, and describes the process of acculturation. Significantly, the article was published in América Indígena, “the journal of the Interamerican Indigenist Institute.” In 1937, Francisco Domínguez had published an article in Mexican Folkways on Yaqui music.

(25.) Vicente T. Mendoza was the founder and first president of the Folklore Society of Mexico in 1938. Mendoza and Virginia Rodríguez Rivera (his wife) also established the first Mexican School of Folkloric Study (see Cortés 1993).

(26.) Renowned Mexican writer Jorge Ibargüengoitia made this comment in his collection of articles entitled Instructions on How to Live in Mexico. The other dance that he noted was the dance of the Concheros.