Traditional danzas are good for the soul
By Mayra Lizzeth Carrera
In a society where young people’s attention is often focused on the Internet, television, cell phones, and social networking, attracting their interest and getting them to attend Mass is not an easy task. Yet we really can’t wait for young people to come to church on their own. Although the latest trends in technology may seem to reinforce the sense of individualism, young people, particularly Hispanics, need to feel invited, welcomed, and attracted to things or events in order to participate.
In an effort to bring young people to church and get them involved in the parish, members of the youth group at Saint Mary of Celle in Berwyn, Illinois set out in 2003 to find ways to attract them to Mass and to participate in church-related activities. Many in the youth group expressed their interest in learning a traditional dance from their hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico. The group contacted a friend—who began dancing at the age of six—to teach them the traditional dance used in their native country as a form of celebration and worship. This led to the start-up of “La danza de San Miguel,” a dance group with ten members. Today, the group consists of 32 youth and young adult dancers, who through their colorful and dynamic danza have attracted many people to the church and other parish events to enjoy their performances.
La danza de San Miguel is inspired by a sense of devotion, worship and respect, and the dancers perform during important Catholic Church feast days including the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Originated in Zacatecas, La danza de Matlachines is executed in a slouched position with a complex footwork that consist of vigorous stomping. Dancers are partnered up, forming two lines, with two captains in the front leading the way. A drummer accompanies the dancers, playing the beats they must follow. The original danza also includes a violinist who plays alongside the drummer, however many modern danzas do not feature a violinist.
Each group of dancers designs the costumes and everyone wears a two-piece skirt adorned with sequins, beads, mirrors, bamboo, or anything they wish to add. The themes on their skirts are often religious: some may include the dancer’s name, crosses, or even the image of Jesus or a saint. Shirts worn by the dancers can be of any color. Although the traditional headgears are made from feathers, members can decide what headgear to wear. Another important piece of the Matlachines costume is the leather sandals dancers wear to create a sound as they move their feet. The dancers, or danzantes, carry an arrow and a gourd that is used as a rattle to perform their routines.
La danza de San Miguel performs in four parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The dances have significant symbolism of worship and celebration. As a member of La danza I have become more involved in the Catholic Church throughout the years. I have learned that dancing is not only beneficial for the body, but also for the community. It is gratifying to participate in Catholic rituals by doing something as enjoyable as dancing. In Mexico, the Matlachines head the processions in honor Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day, dancing all the way to the temple, which can often mean several miles.
What abilities or talents can help you and other young people strengthen the faith?