Danzas Aztecas have peaked much interest in the United States. Mexican people have made Aztec dance a way to preserve their culture, and have also made it available to anyone wanting to explore their indigenous cultural history. Today, Aztec dance is about entertainment rather than religious tradition, but why did the Aztecs start this tradition of dance? Was it only a religious custom? Or was it merely entertainment? Today, Danzas keep the ritual alive to honor their ancestral culture and to preserve the history of the Mexican identity.
Quetzalcóatl: Aztec round dance
In the pre-Hispanic era the ritual of song and dance was known as “IN CUICATL IN XOCHITL” in Nahuatl (el canto y la flor), which translates to “the song and flower.”[i] This reference to a flower was a way to integrate an offering ritual with nature. It was a way for the Aztec people to stay in contact with the gods in their natural manifestation, nature. These indigenous people lived with an active attitude toward every aspect of their lives, which included not only worshiping their gods as part of their religion, but also the nature in which they lived in because it was provided by these deities. They worshiped and sacrificed for the sun god to appear every day. If the sun god appeared, or if the sun rose, it would advance the cycle of life, which would then help their crops produce, and give the light needed to harvest, and work for daily survival needs. Aztec dance was a way to worship and honor deities, but it was also a survival need.
Aztec Dance was concentration in motion. One can almost look at this as a way of meditation with movement. The dancer’s concentration on the movement and steps could channel the offering to the god as well as focusing on their goals of prayer. Ritual dance was known as Macehualiztli, which translates to “deserving.” The dance represents the eternal search of man for cosmic harmony and integration of body and spirit.[ii] It was considered a form of prayer, but also a complete way of life and communication with what was most important to these people, their gods.
This communication is evident with the movements made during the dance. The serpent-like actions represent fertility, the squatting to the floor represent the earth and crops, the twirling in the air represent the soul, the alternating of forward and backward steps represent fire, and the zigzag steps represent water.[iii] These steps are extremely simplistic, but this is what enabled the dancers to concentrate on their goals and their prayer. They connected everything that was part of the dance with nature, and therefore made it easier for the body, mind and nature to become one. The individual dancers also work together to become one entity and reach the goal of complete attentiveness. The dancers unite to create a corporal expression to worship and communicate with their gods as they are expressed in nature.
Aztec Dance is one of the most basic expressions of artistic and cultural spirit of the native people of Mexico.[iv] For the Aztecs this tradition was a part of life, and fortunately we are able to see this fascinating way of life today.
As I watch videos and see pictures on the internet of different Danzas I get an overwhelming sense of pride to see how beautiful this tradition is. I do not feel a spiritual connection to deities as the Aztecs did when they preformed, but I can feel a connection to the dancers because we share a common ancestry. Seeing the costumes and emotion from the dancers helps me better understand why the Aztecs brought about these customs and how important they were in their daily lives.