In Mexico,“La Danza” refers to a form of ethnic dance which may also called “Baile Folclórico” or “Folklore Dance” which is popular and varied according to regions throughout the country. These dances evolved from several sources over the last four hundred years or so and the origins of many are clouded by antiquity and can only be speculated upon. Some no doubt originated with the Aztec and Mayan cultures, some were introduced by the Spanish missionaries as religious morality plays, some were a form of social satire aimed at authority figures, and many have some of all of these elements. The dance that is indigenous to the local region in the state of Guanajuato where I live is called “La Danza del Torito” or “The Dance of the Little Bull”. It is centered around the towns of Silao, Romita, Manual Doblado, Purisma, and Guanajuato but there are variations of it that are performed throughout Mexico. The origins of this particular dance can be approximated to around the year 1830 and the theme is supposedly a result of an actual event that occurred on one of the big ranches in the general area. The dance is accompanied by simple musical instruments and is traditionally performed at the time of the feast day honoring a local patron saint or at the time of some other important even like a successful harvest.
The theme of the dance of “El Torito” is centered around a fiesta at a big “rancho” where a saint is being honored on their feast day. The people are having such a good time at the fiesta that they fail to watch the farm animals and somehow the bull gets out of his pen and is attracted by the festival. The story progresses as one by one the various characters of the dance, who are represented by costumes and masks, try to capture the bull and lead him away from the festival and back to his pen. All fail and becoming enraged by the Devil the bull kills one and all and in the end bull also dies proving that death is inevitable. There are several variations even within this region. In one variation there are eight characters; El Torito, El Hacendado, El Caporal, La Maringuia, La Borracha, El Jorobante, El Ermitaño, and El Diablo. In the another variation there are ten characters with the addition of El Apache, and La Muerte but the result is the same…in the end death always triumphs.
The cast of characters:
El Hacendado is the landowner. He is sometimes referred to as El Charro or El Cabalito. He is the first one to try and catch the bull. He is represented in costume by an actor dressed as a Mexican vaquero or “cowboy” who has the head and forelegs of a wooden horse strapped to his front and the tail end of a horse strapped to his backside. He goes after the bull with his lariat in his right hand and the reins of his horse in his left hand. He represents greed, nepotism, and corruption and all of the evil that the love of money can generate. His movements are very elegant but firm. Nevertheless he fails to capture the bull.
El Caporal is the ranch foreman. He is sometimes referred to as La Mulita or “the mule”. He is the second in command at the ranch and is in charge of daily ranch operations. He is very crude, macho, and without formal education or morals. The wife of the Hacendado is his surreptitious lover. He tries to dominate the bull with tricky movements that are more aggressive than those of the Hacendado and constantly whips his horse without mercy. He represents the people of the rancho. He too fails to dominate the bull.
La Maringuia in one version of the dance is the wife of the Hacendado and the lover of the caporal but in another version she is the daughter of the hacendado and is engaged to be married to a captain who is a “criollo” which means that he is a full blooded Spaniard. With a red apron she tries to mimic the movements of a bull fighter. In some versions she is very gaudily dressed in tight clothes and wears high heels. She is usually played by a male who is dressed like a transvestite. She fails to captivate the bull. A little side note: There are several variations in spelling of the word “maringuia”. Some times it is spelled “maringuilla” and also “maringuea”. In various regions in Mexico and certain Latin American countries “la maringuia” can also represent the Blessed Virgin. In other words the word is not necessarily associated with a tart or tease or tramp but in general it represents the quintessential feminine.
La Borracha is the “criada” or servant of the hacienda. She observes the actions of La Maringuia and tries to imitate them so that the bull will leave La Marinquia alone but in her state of drunkenness she fails. She is sometimes characterized by carrying a doll on her back which represents a child.
El Jorobante is the hunchback and is the husband of La Borracha. He is also sometimes called “El Jorobado” and also “El Moco”. The word “moco” in Spanish is associated with mucous or nasal snot but a “moco” is also the protuberance that hangs down between the eyes of a turkey. That is why the mask of “El Moco” is a long triangular shape with what looks like an elephant’s trunk hanging down from between the eyes. In any case “El Moco” is very ugly. He represents a sinner who is being punished by God. He is the lackey or “stirrup holder” of the hacendado. He sees what his wife is doing and tries to distract the bull away from her by jumping around, whistling, shouting, but he only makes the bull angrier and the situation gets worse.
El Ermitaño is the old man. He is also sometimes called “El Viejo”. He carries a cane, a crucifix and a rosary and represents the religious people who believe that with prayers and supplications they can tame the beast. He sees what is happening to “El Moco” and tries to help. He succeeds in calming the bull but is unable to lead him back to the corral.
The Devil represents evil in person. With a whip he infuriates the bull but he falls victim to his own evil and is defeated by the bull.
The Apache appears in some versions. He represents the indigenous past of the Mexican people. He faces the bull with his rudimentary weapons but is also defeated.
La Muerte or “Death” also appears in some versions. Death represents the truth, that in the matter of life and death, it doesn’t matter if one is poor or rich, or good or bad, or beautiful or ugly, all have to die. The bull kills everyone and then Death kills the bull. The dance ends with everyone dancing in front of the bull between Death and the Devil.