A gay dance company in Mexico City is becoming known for its adaptation of Mexico’s very traditional folklore ballet. The company, Mexico in Color, takes “ballet folklorico”, Mexico’s beloved traditional folk dance, and combines it with the flamboyant transgression of drag. Instead of men in sombreros twirling dainty women in flowing skirts around the floor, 20 gay men in Mexico in Color play both roles, mixing the highly technical traditional steps with modern dance. The hardest part is learning the delicate sensuality of the traditional female steps: twirling a skirt just so, floating around the floor in heels, dancing with legs together rather than apart — it all takes many hours of practice.
It is a daring project in Mexico where folk dance is revered and machismo and homophobia still exists. “The form and style of movement of a woman is very difficult for us, because nature gave us a different anatomy,” says David Reyes, 27, one of the dancers who founded the company seven years ago. “We have to sweat like truckers to look like princesses,” says Carlos Antunez, 57, the company’s director. Antunez is also the artistic coordinator of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez, the premier institution of Mexican folk dance — a renowned company founded in 1952 that has toured the world and still performs every week in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.
Although Mexico in Color is inspired by the same traditions, it is completely different, says Antunez. “The steps dancers learn in a traditional folk school are very well written, very academic. I don’t use them. I take them and I transform them,” he says. It isn’t folk dance.”
Mexico’s modern folk dance tradition is a blending of elements from its Indigenous, African and European heritage. Before the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous dance developed with strong ties to the religious practices. As to the LGBT drag influence drag including self-expression, comfort, transvestic fetishism, and spiritual reasons, as well as the higher profile of performing and entertaining. Drag can be a creative outlet, a means of self-exploration, and a way to make cultural statements.
Image credit AFP/Alfredo Estrella