By Roslynn Beighton

08 October 2020 - 08:38

Mexican folkloric dancers
'My tutor’s wife, Marichuy, leant me her dress and dance shoes for the year.' ©

Sydney Rae used under licence and adapted from the original.

Roslynn Beighton spent nine months teaching English at University Escuela Normal Superior in the city of Toluca, Estado de México. In Mexico she learned the country’s ballet folklórico. 

Ballet folklórico is an important part of Mexican culture  

While I was teaching in Mexico I took the opportunity to embrace dance. I learned several dance styles including salsa, cumbia, bachata, banda and even a little rockabilly. But my favourite dance experience was joining my university's folkloric dance club and learning Mexican ballet folklórico.

Ballet folklórico attracted me because it is an important part of Mexican identity, encompassing each Mexican region's traditional dance. The dance is influenced by indigenous folklore and dance from Europe and Africa. It was a chance for me to experience the dances that represent the many cultures found in Mexico.

Dance classes were hard work but I enjoyed rehearsing with my students

My tutor’s wife, Marichuy, leant me her dress and dance shoes for the year. I practiced twice a week in two-hour classes with my students. My teacher Hugo had been dancing since he was a toddler. His passion and love of folklore was obvious.

Hugo worked us hard and would make us do sit ups when we were off rhythm with the zapateados or forgot the dance steps. The classes were exciting and I enjoyed rehearsing with my students. 

At first it wasn’t easy to grasp the dance class instructions in Spanish 

At first I struggled to understand all the teacher’s instructions in the language I was learning, but I soon picked it up. The class always helped me and made sure I felt included. It was also a great exercise regime; the dances can be fast-paced and you need to be ready for a million spins!

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Traditional Mexican dance costume was the best part of performing

I took part in several shows at the university. For me, the best part was wearing traditional dance costume. There are many styles of dress for ballet folklórico. 

My usual costume was a bright pink, floor length skirt with ruffles that fanned out (which added a lot of weight). I wore it with a traditional white lace blouse tucked into the skirt. The outfit was completed with gold hoop earrings and a lot of make-up. 

Marichuy taught me how to make my own hair pieces. We made two thick plaits out of black wool, interwoven with pink and yellow ribbons to match the dress. I brought these back home at the end of the year, with the hope that I’ll have the chance to dance folklore again. 

My dance partner wore traditional mariachi as a charro (a cowboy originating in the central regions). This costume included a silk tie, plaid shirt, jeans and a wide-brimmed sombrero. The more formal costume is a smart shirt and bolero jacket, and embroidered trousers. 

Roslynn and dancers spinning
Roslynn and her dance class performing ©

Dpydc Ensem used with permission. 

Roslynn with teacher Hugo
Roslynn with dance tutor Hugo Garcia Salinas  ©

Hugo Garcia Salinas used with permission.

I learnt so much about Mexican dance and folkloric traditions

During my travels I saw many live performances. I learnt much about the variety of dances and folkloric traditions from each state. 

I saw the Aztec ceremonial dance rituals of the concheros and the popular regional dances of Jalisco. I watched La Danza de los Viejitos of Michoacán, the polkas of Chihuahua and the indigenous Danza del Venado of the desert states of Sonora and Sinaloa. Also, the carnival of Veracruz and La Jarana from the Yucatán. La Jarana sees the dancers balance a tray of bottles of beer and glasses on their heads.

For my birthday, Marichuy invited me to a royal folkloric ballet show at the local theatre.

My advice to language assistants is – grab the chance to try something new

When I left Mexico I was not an expert dancer, but I had learnt the basics of a few Latin and traditional dances. I'd also met some wonderful people and learnt about a new part of the world’s history and peoples.

Language assistants working in Mexico should certainly try ballet folklórico. When you're working abroad, grab the chance to try something you never thought you would. It's the perfect way to learn about a culture and show how interested you are in your host country. 

I miss Mexico and folklore, but I haven't hung up my dance shoes!

Roslynn took part in the English Language Assistants programme. Every year, around 2,500 language assistants from the UK support the teaching of English in 14 countries around the world.

Applications for the 2021-22 programme open on 28 October 2020 and close in February 2021.