Ancestral dance fosters connection to nature and tradition

MOVEMENT AND MEANING: Danza Azteca Chichimeca practices and performs traditional Aztec dances, unchanged from ancestral times. It not only connects its participants to their roots but sends a message to Latino immigrants that their identity can remain strong in their adoptive home.
MOVEMENT AND MEANING: Danza Azteca Chichimeca practices and performs traditional Aztec dances, unchanged from ancestral times. It not only connects its participants to their roots but sends a message to Latino immigrants that their identity can remain strong in their adoptive home. Photo by Marisol Jacinto

When the drum sounds and the conch shells make the call to the four directions, Danza Azteca Chichimeca opens a ceremony dedicated to gratitude for the Earth and harmony with the universe. These indigenous ancestral rituals of Central America have been carried out since before the conquest of the American continent. “Everything that is, the visible and the invisible, is represented in the dance,” says Cristóbal Velazco, a member of the Hendersonville-based troupe. “It is to thank what life gives us. What Mother Earth offers us.”

Velazco, who is from Mexico City, has lived in North Carolina for 17 years. He’s been part of Chichimeca for nearly a decade. Initially, Velazco viewed dance as a way to remain close to his roots. After a while, the influence of the dance and its teachings took prominence in his daily life, creating more awareness about his actions and the world around him. “The dance has given me a change of life,” he says. “It helps me personally, socially, with my family and with [my] whole existence.”

A traditional dance troupe, Chichimeca adheres to vientos — ceremonies that take place roughly every three months and honor the ancestors. La palabra — the name — of such a group is not official until it is approved by the jefes, or elders, who maintain the traditions, says Velazco. Once validated (a process that can take years), the moniker is kept forever and can be passed down from generation to generation. “The traditional group needs to have the foundations and the correct forms as they have been inherited by the jefes,” says Velazco.

The dance has a philosophical, astronomical and mathematical significance relating to the Earth and the entire universe. Participants of the dance form a circle representing the solar system. The dancers are the planets, in harmony with each other. “Everything we do is in relation to [our] existence and the Earth,” said Velazco.

At the beginning of the dance, the group goes to the cardinal points to obtain permission and to offer the dance to the Earth and the supreme being. The steps all have a specific meaning and connect humans with nature, Velazco explains. The main drum that marks the different rhythms is called huelt huetl, which means elder, and represents the heartbeat and the wisdom of the ancestors.

Traditional collectives such as Danza Azteca Chichimeca dance during specific times of the year, following the cycle of agriculture and giving thanks to the land. In addition to the ritual dances, the group also performs at public events. Chichimeca’s artists recently appeared at the Dia de los Muertos celebration held at Salvage Station in Asheville. The dancers have also taken part in Hola Carolina Magazine-sponsored events such as Hola Asheville and Fiesta Hendersonville. “For us, [it’s important] to [share] those forms so that [indiginous people] know that we continue to exist [and] show our resistance,” Velazco says. “That we continue in these lands, with our customs and traditions.”

The group, formed in Hendersonville, is open to everyone who wants to participate. Members learn the meanings of the steps and the importance of every moment of the ceremony. “Dance teaches us the way of life, to be in harmony with everything and with oneself,” said Velazco.

Each member of the dance creates his performance attire in a personal way, following the Aztec calendar. “One is guided by a certain animal, orientation, time,” says Velazco. “According to [that] they make their costume.”

The Chichimeca group seeks to conquer hearts in each presentation and bring the Aztec identity to different places. At the end of each event, group members talk with the audience — especially Latino immigrants — who want to know more about the meaning of the dance. “Despite being in a country with many influences, many people, when they see the dance, [they] feel connected,” says Velazco. “It’s our identity. The group is like a family that is growing.”

Danza Azteca Chichimeca can be seen practicing at Fletcher Park on weekdays and at Carrier Park on Sundays.

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About Victor Palomino
Victor Palomino is a visual artist, musician and media producer born in Bogota Colombia in 1974. Attended film school and graduated in 1998. Moved to the United States in 1999 and established residency in North Carolina in 2001. Palomino is a member of AshevilleFM news team and host and producer of La Radio, a Spanish-language radio news show for AshevilleFM 103.3 FM, and freelance writer for Spanish language media. Follow me @vaptartmedia

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