Music and Social Status

June 18, 2009 at 11:23 pm (Uncategorized)

blog 604 5While researching through numerous Google searches I quickly found that I was getting nowhere with the keywords “Aztec dance” and “Danza Azteca”. I then changed my search to look for a dance god and found the name Ozomatli. This is the Nahuatl word for the Aztec monkey who was considered the companion spirit and servant of the god Xochipilli, the god of music and dance. I found that a popular band is also named after this god; therefore my Ozomatli search produced many links to the band’s performances, reviews and websites. I ran into a question and answer page asking exactly what I was thinking: how do I find information on Ozomatli the Aztec monkey instead of Ozomatli the band? Luckily one of the responses gave a simple answer: type in “Ozomatli” and “Aztec monkey” as the search words instead of Ozomatli alone. With this search the first few websites gave an abundant amount of information about the Aztecs and the importance of dance in their culture.

blog 604_3Dance and music within the Aztec society was not only dedicated to religious ceremonies. The rhythmic movement to music has a symbolic meaning and is an element of ceremonies with a variety of purposes, which includes hunting, warfare, harvest or victory celebrations, or a rite of passage such as a marriage.[i] Some ceremonies are even named for the dance performed. Dance was also a sacrificial gift to the gods. As I mentioned in previous blogs, I can see dance as meditation to get closer to the gods, but to get to this elevated mental state, the dancer did not only have to concentrate on the movements, the music was also an integral part. Music and dance were of equal importance. According to Dr. Arnd Adje the Aztecs did not have a word for music. Music was the “art of song” or cuicatlamatiliztli, and musicians did not play but “sang” on their instruments. To dance was “to sing with the feet.”[ii] This shows the importance of melody and rhythm, which is also attributed to dance.

blog 604_4Dance was also a measure of social status within the Aztec society. There were numerous dance rituals and ceremonies by different classes and Adje details some of these different dance trends within the Aztecs. The common man provided dance entertainment in their own homes as well as in local festivals, and the instrument of choice were various kinds of rattles and small whistles. While reading Music, Song and Dance among the Aztecs-a short introduction it seems like the higher the social class, the more advanced and resonating the instruments and performances became. The Aztec priests performed in the temples and used trumpets, large rattle-sticks, slit-drums, turtle shells, flutes and whistles. Sacred temple chants by priests or the gods’ representatives were accompanied by metal bells and conch tinkles, as well as eagle whistles, small flutes, ceramic drums and slit-drums. There were also professional musicians who performed for the court. They resided in the “house of the Cloud Serpent”, also known as mixcoacalli. Adje says of these court performers:

“The court musicians performed the music of large circular dances, in which often hundreds of dancers took part. They also played for their ruler, such as during daily banquets, which were accompanied by acrobats and dwarfs, and were ordered to play for the wealthy merchants in their private feasts.”

These professional court musicians had the most varied and abundant instruments of all performers. Another group was the warriors, best known from the eagle and jaguar societies. They performed in the courtyard of the “house of song” or cuicacalli. The noise and music from this group was the loudest and most frightening with shell trumpets, drums and whistles.

blog 604It is interesting that each group had a different way of expressing themselves through music and dance. It is also understandable that the professional court performers would have the most elaborate dances and the warriors would have the loudest routine, while the unprofessional common man only performed for their own entertainment. Each group integrates their social status as well as their social importance through dance and the instruments they use for the music they express.

[i] Waldman, Carl. “dance.” Word Dance: The Language of Native American Culture. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1994. American Indian History Online. Facts On File, Inc. ItemID=WE43&iPin=ind3337&SingleRecord=True (accessed June 3, 2009).

[ii] Adje, Arnd. Music, Song and Dance among the Aztecs-a short introduction. (accessed June 4, 2009)



  1. mgarcia284 said,

    Great observations!
    I was not aware of the meaning of Ozomatli. I just thought it was the name of the band. Who by the way attended my high school lol.. Nice to know the meaning.

  2. guatas arroyo said,

    How wonderful, a god, Ozomatli, for dance! Would love to see more research on this topic, maybe even information on the meanings of what they wear, the different dances and how they came about.
    “To sing with the feet” quite a different perspective to that of our era.
    Wonder what you final project will be like.

  3. aztecfood said,

    I like the band Ozomatli and had no idea where the name for the band originated. Interesting tidbit. I am sure the band knew what they were doing when they chose the name.

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