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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress presents

The Homegrown 2009 Concert Series
Traditional Ethnic and Regional Music and Dance that's "Homegrown" in Communities Across the US

June 18, 2009 Event Flyer

Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac:
Ritual Dances of Danza Mexica

Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac

The complexity of colonial and indigenous histories and their legacy in the Americas informs tradition, custom, and other markers of cultural identity for many who identify as indigenous, or native, to the regions of present-day Mexico. Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac, and its artistic director Brujo de la Mancha, offer the ritual dances of danza mexica (meshica) to reclaim as a living culture the Mexicayotl, and to tell the story of the pre-Hispanic life and world-view of Mexico. According to Mexican legend, the Meshica founded Mexico City, the political and cultural capital of Mexico. The energy of the art and spirituality in danza mexica combine to act as a powerful tool for remembering one's roots and ancestors. In preserving this tradition through Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac, Brujo offers to the growing Mexican community of Philadelphia a significant opportunity to participate in dances and ceremonies that, by their very nature, challenge cultural homogenization and critique colonialism and its legacy — a legacy which continues to inform social and economic narratives.

"Brujo" literally means "witch" in Spanish; but, as is evident in the work and art of Brujo de la Mancha, it should be more broadly understood to mean a person who works with magic powers to transform the world. Born in Mexico City, Brujo came from a family that included both Spanish working class and Mexican indigenous members. While living in Mexico City as a youth, Brujo often saw the danzantes mexicas and aztecas in the zocalo, or main city square, but his more formative experiences in the culture were in the country. He describes visits to his father's family around Xico, in the mountains of Veracruz, Mexico, where he experienced surviving Mayan and Olmec, as well as Catholic, cultures through traditional foodways, agriculture, and crafts. His paternal grandmother, who spoke Nahuatl, Tojolobal, and Spanish, was tremendously influential in his development as a tradition-bearer. It was first in Xico, and later through his own journey to the other Mexican states of Oaxaca, Puebla, Michoacan, and Tlaxcala, that Brujo worked to learn more about the traditions of a people who had flourished before the coming of the Spanish conquistadores in the sixteenth century.

This dedication to learning more of his roots and heritage continued after he moved to Philadelphia in 1998. With Daniel "Chico" Lorenzo, Brujo co-founded Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac (OYC) in 2003 to "investigate, understand, and raise awareness" of the Mexicayotl culture. Lorenzo had danced in the zocalo as a danzante and was considered a master artist of the tradition. When Lorenzo returned to Mexico in December of 2006, Brujo took on the role of training other OYC dancers and finding additional masters from whom they could learn the full range of traditions that inform their practice.

Being a danzante is about more than simply dancing. As with many examples of art forms understood as being folk or traditional, the gathering of danzantes is a "high-context" event that includes traditional dress, ritual objects and instruments, the use of incense, significant music and rhythms, and, of course, dance and movement. In 2007 Brujo won an Apprenticeship Award in folk and traditional arts from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to work with Xavier Quijas Yxayotl to make Tlapizcalli, or clay flutes. These flutes, along with the Ehekachiktli, or dead whistle, add another significant layer to the danza mexica performance. Brujo also accompanied Quijas to a summer solstice in 2007, where he received his Aztec name Tletxayacoatl, or "The snake with the face on fire."

One common misconception is that the danza mexica as practiced by OYC is simply another expression of the Ballet Folklórico de México, made popular by Amelia Hernández, whose group has been performing the regional dances of Mexico since 1952. A whirlwind tour of Mexican culture, Ballet Folklórico presents dances that are often categorized by the states of Mexico and which include pre-Hispanic and Aztec cultures, as well as dances brought by the Spanish and other Europeans beginning as early as the fifteenth century.

For Brujo, his work with OYC to reclaim and remember the ancestral themes and heritage of his native past works much differently from the celebration of culture found in the folklórico groups. While he acknowledges the value that these groups have for Mexicans at home and in the diaspora, he notes that his role as a danzante is one of learning the ancient customs and helping them to live today as vibrant expressions of a rich cultural identity. As Brujo and OYC look to the future, Brujo has noted that "it is very important for me to keep learning about myself, my culture, and the world around me. Wherever I go, I am always aware how my living culture is full of arts and spirituality, and this awareness pushes me to keep working hard to identify ways to express to the public an indigenous perspective that is not always seen in our contemporary (or historical) society. The first and foremost goal of OYC is that more dance groups like this can come alive."

Lisa Rathje
Arts & Heritage Specialist
Institute for Cultural Partnerships
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

American Folklife Center Logo The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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