As published on the Huffington Post, 1.25.13.
LA PAZ, Baja California Sur — With a whirl and a smile, the dance begins. Much like the colorful courtship performance of a bird of paradise, the jarabe tapatio, the quintessential folk dance of Mexico, is a captivating display of form and flow.
Although there are dozens of styles seen throughout the country, the basic movements of the jarabe tell the story of a woman who refuses the courtship of a man but later accepts, only after he has broken out his top shelf dance moves. Because of its sexual connotations the jarabe was banned by authorities in the late 1700’s, but public performances returned soon after.
As with Mexican mole sauce and its immense range of 27-ingredient-infused flavors, the dance takes on varying characteristics over time. New emotions manifest themselves — longing, passion, adoration, frustration, love, satisfaction — and there is a playfulness and a sweetness to it that is completely lost on modern dance. (I would love to see those old school authorities chaperone a high school prom.)
Internationally, the jarabe is better known as the “Mexican Hat Dance,” which unfortunately sets all emotion from the beautifully choreographed performance out to wilt in the hot desert sun. Say “jarabe” slowly, roll the ‘r’ as best you can, and you are already two steps closer to connecting with the mood of the dance.
Suffice to say, the hat does play an important role. By putting the man’s hat on her head in the finale, the woman to signifies her acceptance of him as a suitor. But by no means does the hat embody the purpose of the dance, which is to show the many tumultuous twists and turns of the courtship. Life is a journey, not a hat, or so the saying goes.
What a beautiful couple! Bravo!
(This jarabe was performed by high school students in La Paz, Baja California for a group of travelers about to board the National Geographic Sea Bird for an expedition in the Sea of Cortez.)