Teaching Dance Research for CENIDI by Juanita Suarez

I taught a course titled “Dance Research” in Mexico City at the Centro Nacional de Investigacion, Documentacion E Informacion De La Danza “Jose Limon” located within the National School of the Arts August 12-14, 2013. The course spanned three days and each class was three hours in length. Dancers and actors comprised the membership of the class as well as an art history major. I was escorted by two van drivers who were responsible for getting me to the center and back to the Hotel Gillow. The force of the divine was with me as a male visitor presented himself to me; he was affiliated with one of the female students. A professional translator by trade, he was born in Maine but worked in El Salvador and his name is Jesse. Generous in his offer, he volunteered to serve as the translator for the class. He spoke beautiful Spanish and was adept at translating concurrently what students were speaking about and helped the students understand the density of the material being covered. The experience was very rich and rewarding.

I focused on presenting research class material relating to their Mexican-specific heritage. One research model was based on the Aztec Moon Goddess Coyoxaulqui. I shared the story of the Moon Goddess with them, which many of them did not know. The research question posed was: “What is the one question Coyolxauhqui did not ask that would have changed the course of her story?” I also related the iconic figure of La Malinche to feminist inquiry stating how different the image of woman would be had her story been told in its entirety. I began by letting everyone know how sensitive the next topic is and how as researchers, we must be open to new information even if it contradicts everything you have come to accept as truth. And so I proceeded to tell the story of La Malinche and how it intersected with the story of La Llorona, which is a story that existed before the arrival of Cortes. How could a fourteen-year-old girl be a whore? Is it possible Malintzin (La Malinche) was brilliant, and talented as a strategist; that she was an opportunist who made the most out of the cards she was dealt? I could see the wheels of cognition spinning in the heads of many women in class. I presented the idea of history as a continuous series of excavations, which Mexico engages in heavily to recover lost artifacts, to the research process itself.

I also had a chance to reconnect to Anadel Snyder, an American, who has been living in Mexico City since she was 18 years old. I met Anadel in 1995 in Denton, Texas during a CORD (Congress on Research in Dance) Conference. Anadel works with the Zapatistas, teaching creative movement to children living in one of the five districts they control. She is excited by the work she does and her conversation over dinner as to the cultural/gender dynamics of the Zapatistas was very interesting. What she finds most amazing is how they took over five cities in Mexico with a few rifles and long sticks and the genius strategy work of Marcos, the charismatic leader of the Zapatistas. Lately, they have decided to be taught by insiders to the group and so she is one of those rare individuals who is able to work with them as an outsider.

Prior to teaching I attended dance rehearsals of two contemporary dance artists, Rocio Gutierrez and Bruno Ramri, who created work out of Fabienne Lachere’s dance studio “Escuela Frances de Ballet.” Fabienne is a dancer who arrived in Mexico City when she was twenty years old and never returned to Paris. The artists asked if they could present a current work they were developing in order to receive feedback. The process of generating the work was very different between artists but both were quick paced and decisive. Bruno spent a lot of time asking questions whereas Rocio focused mainly on the craft of shaping and timing. I noticed how contemporary dance in the city is very athletic, similar to what we see in the United States.

On the second day of my stay, I saw an evening performance, “Silencio Compacto,” that took the topic of torture and the impact of being silenced from the perspective of the psyche when it is denied light and voice. Rocio and Bruno performed in the work. Haunting imagery, the work began with a woman entering with a microphone stuffed into her mouth as she tries to communicate something to the audience. She is blindfolded and leashed like a dog, escorted in by a man in military garb. Later in the work, a beautiful folkloric dancing woman is presented but the image is dissipated as two men in military uniform begin to laugh at three women being tormented; the images were separate but relatable. There was a lot going on in the work and more than can be conveyed at this point. Prior to this concert was a tango performance in the outdoor theater. Beautiful in its execution, it was obvious this was a place where a lot of dance was being explored and developed.

In closing, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Saw lots of street performance art (superheroes, a female archangel suspended in the air); went to El Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia and saw humankind’s inhumanity to the “other.” Checked out El Museo de Popular Artes and ate great food served in the streets as well as home cooking with a family of Pita, short for Lupita, who is the mother of Andrea Vazquez. Andrea teaches at the University of Texas El Paso and is a past graduate student of mine. She stayed in communication with me during the entire stay. In closing, I would like to thank Andrea and especially Pita for their help and generous hospitality.

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About latinadanceproject

The Latina Dance Project, a collaborative ensemble of multidisciplinary artists, explores through performances--physical, musical and visual--controversial issues impacting the global community. The company's "projects" create experiences that form a new aesthetic in dance theater reflective of the diverse Latina culture of today, shedding light and provoking reflections that can bring about changes tomorrow.
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