Celebrating Similarities

Published 11 December 14 02:04 PM

What do Ireland and Mexico have in common? Let me count the ways.

Well , first of all, we can go back to relatively recent history, the Mexican-American War that began in 1846. Students of international conflicts might remember that during this 'dust-up', several Irish immigrants who began the conflict fighting on the side of the Americans switched their allegiance to the underdog mexicanosand formed the Saint Patrick (or, en espanol, San Patricio) Battalion.When Mexico accepted defeat in 1848, several dozen of the defectors were caught by U.S. forces and were hung as traitors. However, in Mexico, to this day, the sons of Ireland who were executed continue to be honored as heroes.In addition, many modern day south-of the-border icons are of Irish ancestry. Alvaro Obregon (originally O'Brien) was President of The Republic from 1920-24, Academy Award winning actor Anthony Quinn was the son of a Mexican father and Irish mother, and, close to home, the Ireland born-and-bred Crosthwaite clan are one of the founding families of Baja California's Rosarito area.

How about other commonalities? Going way back we can look at the religious faith...Catholicism...that both countries share as well as a common enemy most of the time...la Francaise. But perhaps the most unusual congruity of them all is in the field of the terpsichorean arts. When Sandra Dibble of the San Diego Union Tribune dabbled on the shared roots in her 2011 article entitled "Irish Dancers from Tijuana?', she was barely scratching the surface of what has become a worldwide phenomenon.

As she pointed out, "Tijuana is one of the few places in Mexico where Irish step dancing is taught and performed. Fernando Lopez Maldonado, director of the city's elite public high school Prepa Federal Lazaro Cardenas dance program, pointed out that he began teaching the steps back in 2002 after watching a traveling troupe perform Irish maestro Michael Flatley's 'Lord of The Dance' show."

Dibble opened the door to more research on the subject when she briefly mentioned that " the Irish step dances are somewhat reminiscent of the Mexican zapateado style popular in the southern state of Veracruz."

That research uncovered a lot more than a passing similarity.

Dan Haren and Ann Richens, who ran a Columbus, Ohio based Irish Dance Academy, were indefatigable researchers who traced the roots of their native country's contributions to a variety of dances first performed in the mid-1500s. "These included the Rinnee Fada or Fading, where two lines with partners faced each other. The dances had a fast tempo and included side steps." Fast forward 200 years to when "a major influence on Irish dance and culture was the advent of the traveling Dance Masters. Sometimes the itinerant teachers had to tie a rope around a student's leg to distinguish right foot from left. Having an eminent dance master associated with a village was a cause for pride and boasting by the community."

"Each dance master had a repertoire of dance steps and he created new steps over time. By the way, eight measures or bars of music were called a 'step, hence the term 'step dancing."

"Dance Masters created the first schools of dancing; villagers paid the dance masters and the accompanying musicians from the proceeds collected at a 'benefit night' held to present the new artistic creations. Apparently the level of the pay for the instructors was relatively high for the country as it included room and board."

At approximately the same historical period, a combination of music and dance that had started in Spain (where it originated as flamenco and fandango) found its way to the Mexican state of Veracruz during the colonial period where it was called jarocho or zapateado. It was an amalgam of Spanish baroque music played by musicians accompanied by rhythmically talented dancers stamping out the rhythms (often with two lines of performers facing each other on raised platforms called tarimas).

The Mexican National Folk Dance, derived from this style, is called the Jarabe Tapatio. The late great ethnomusicologist Francis Toor tells us that back in the 1920's "...it was danced by rancheros and their partners....and it was gay and it was fiery. In many instances a wooden platform was placed over an excavated area or over buried jars to produce a resonance. The dance sometimes lasted for hours."

Now we can compare 'Lord of The Dance' choreography (the pinnacle of Irish step dancing) with Mexico'sbaile folklorico zapateado/jarocho and the similarities are striking. In fact, as writer Agustin Gurza of The Los Angeles Times told us in 2006 "...British born dance director Richard O'Neal gave up his job as assistant director of Michael Flatley's international production company of 'Riverdance' and attempted to launch a Mexican version of the show to be based on the rousing, foot-stomping dance style known as son jarocho, native to the southern state of Veracruz. The invitation had come from a powerful, highly placed fan of 'Riverdance," (then) Veracruz Governor Miguel Aleman Velasco."

Can an amalgam of the two country's dance heritages succeed? The jury is still out on the experiment, but on February 28th you can see extremely talented young Mexican dancers perform Irish choreography interpreted by a local, brilliant and talented dance master; by the way, you can do this without traveling to the ends of the earth and having to pay a king's ransom.

Check out the recently created Facebook event page titled 'International Triple Treat Benefit Concert' and find out how you can support a worthy cause while being marvelously entertained by not only the aforementioned Danza Irlandesa, but by the celebrated Blue Agave, under the Musical Direction of the internationally acclaimed Andy Abad, and the Latin Grammy-nominated Trio Ellas. It all takes place at the Rosarito Beach Hotel's historic Salon Mexicano. Packages including event tickets and two nights at the iconic oceanfront hostelry are available and...while they last...affordable. Doors open at 6:00 PM and the show starts promptly at 7:00 PM.

Please contact the Boys and Girls Club of Rosarito's President, Rosy M Torres, for all the details at:rosymtorres@hotmail.com or (661) 850-1773 and find out how you can enjoy a very special evening spent celebrating similarities.


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