Carrying the Word

Carrying the Word: The Concheros Dance in Mexico City

SUSANNA ROSTAS
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46ntnc
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  • Book Info
    Carrying the Word
    Book Description:

    In Carrying the Word: The Concheros Dance in Mexico City, the first full length study of the Concheros dancers, Susanna Rostas explores the experience of this unique group, whose use of dance links rural religious practices with urban post-modern innovation in distinctive ways even within Mexican culture, which is rife with ritual dances.   The Concheros blend Catholic and indigenous traditions in their performances, but are not governed by a predetermined set of beliefs; rather they are bound together by long standing interpersonal connections framed by the discipline of their tradition. The Concheros manifest their spirituality by means of the dance. Rostas traces how they construct their identity and beliefs, both individual and communal, by its means. The book offers new insights into the experience of dancing as a Conchero while also exploring their history, organization and practices.   Carrying the Word provides a new way for audiences to understand the Conchero's dance tradition, and will be of interest to students and scholars of contemporary Mesoamerica. Those studying identity, religion, and tradition will find this social-anthropological work particularly enlightening.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-004-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Max Harris

    In December 1998, I was one of a reported 6 million pilgrims and other visitors who made their way to the Basilica of Guadalupe in the northern suburbs of Mexico City to celebrate the annual feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12). Over a three-day period, the huge atrium in front of the basilica was packed with dance groups from all over central Mexico. As many as thirty groups performed at a time, often competing with one another for physical space and musical audibility. By far the most popular, in numbers of both participants and watching crowds, were...

  5. PREFACE & ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xxiii)
  6. ONE INCONGRUOUS BEGINNINGS
    (pp. 1-18)

    Those occasions when we come across the incongruous are comparatively rare. In Mexico City in the early 1990s, however, I encountered just that: groups of dancers who, calling themselves Concheros, enacted a sacred dance, circular in form and sometimes preceded by an all-night vigil. In one of the largest cities in the world, a religious tradition that claims to have indigenous rural roots was still flourishing as unchangingly as it could, despite the pressures and complexities of everyday life at the end of the twentieth century.

    My first encounter with the Concheros was at a velación (all-night vigil). Usually held...

  7. PART 1: THE EXPERIENTIAL CONTEXT
    • TWO THE CONCHEROS
      (pp. 21-41)

      A book on the Concheros faces the challenge of how to do justice to the many dimensions of their tradition while keeping the larger cultural context in which it is situated in mind. Of how to portray as much as possible about the dances as collective enactments while also attending to the diversity of the enactors’ experiences of them. I turn first to particulars of the wider organization and the prescribed dances whose significance each dancer learns about early on. I look next at a particular mesa, Santo Niño de Atocha, with which I danced, and at the positions that...

    • THREE THE OBLIGATIONS: FRAMING THE CONTEXT
      (pp. 43-64)

      Vigils and dances as events are closely interrelated and both are built up spatially and temporally by means of ritual framing. Whereas the last chapter looked at the personnel of the dance, in this chapter I want to detail the Conchero’s obligations by looking first at a vigil (velación) and then at a dance. Although each dance is inevitably somewhat different from any other and one vigil differs from the next, I will give an idea of the overall form of each. To begin with, not every vigil is followed by a dance just as not all dances are preceded...

  8. PART 2: THE EXPERIENTIAL NEXUS:: FORMING THE SELF
    • FOUR AGENCY AND THE DANCE: RITUALIZATION AND THE PERFORMATIVE
      (pp. 67-85)

      Whereas the first part of this book was concerned with the context of the dance, with its organization and practice, in this part I look at the experiential nexus. Here, I develop further the theoretical position I outlined in the introduction and aim to analyze what dancers are doing while they dance and how they experience it. In Chapter 3, I showed that a vigil as a ritual has certain aspects that are open-ended and performative whereas a dance, although it can be seen as a performance, has many heavily ritualized episodes. In general, ritual and performance have been conceptualized...

    • FIVE CONCHERO SPEAK: CARRYING THE WORD
      (pp. 87-102)

      In Chapter 3, I gave an overall idea of the structure and content of both a vigil and a dance as an outsider might observe these activities. Here I want to look at the words of the Concheros’ leitmotif—union, conformity, and conquest—which appear on all their standards and are used in their various interjections, as is the expression “El es Dios.” These verbal expressions aid dancers in knowing what it is they are aiming for, of how metaphorically they should set about “carrying the word,” that is, embodying the dance and its various practices. As expressions, they are...

    • SIX CLOTHING MATTERS
      (pp. 103-128)

      So far I have been concerned with the dancers as subjects who by their “mode of presence and engagement in the world” actively embody the dance through time and re-present it. This chapter moves from an analysis of the dancers’ experience of what is happening to and within the body, over which the dancers have only a certain amount of conscious control, to look at what is displayed on the body, at how dancers dress themselves. As Csordas has recently argued, the body is best understood as a subject that is “necessary to be” rather than an object that is...

    • SEVEN WHY DANCE?
      (pp. 129-146)

      Only by dancing, by gaining know-how, can the enactor know the dance. In this chapter, I attend to the experience of the dancing itself. I look at why it is that people are drawn to and enter the dance and what it is about the enacting of it that catches them and keeps them coming. In Chapter 4, I looked at the process of ritualization that each enactor must perforce undergo as she enters into the spirit of the dance, focusing her attention on re-attaining its forms and on reproducing the steps and gestures in accord with their well-established patterns....

  9. PART 3: POWER CONCERNS:: PERFORMING THE SELF
    • EIGHT ALLIANCES AND IDENTITY POLITICS
      (pp. 149-164)

      In Chapter 2, I looked at the overall organization of the mesa of Santo Niño de Atocha by placing the group in the context of the Reliquia, that part of the association to which it belongs. I said little, however, about the mesas with which it has close contact. Each dance group is devolved and autonomous but has a degree of interdependency with the other mesas in its part of the association. In terms of practice, a mesa will dance on a regular basis with certain groups but will also have a special relationship with other mesas, some of which...

    • NINE ORAL TRADITION, MYTH, AND HISTORY
      (pp. 165-190)

      Until very recently, as indicated earlier, the tradition of the Concheros has been predominantly an oral one. Entry to that “open door to paradise” achieved by means of the dance has been passed down by embodied practice from one generation to the next. The history of the dance is told in their alabanzas and remembered in speeches; little has been preserved in written form as the dancers have been largely preliterate. Not much is known then about its organization and if it existed in something like its present form before the early 1900s when the name Conchero appears to have...

    • TEN THE MEXICA AND MEXICANIDAD
      (pp. 191-208)

      In this penultimate chapter, I look at those dancers who call themselves Mexica and identify with the movement loosely known as Mexicanidad. Although some Concheros become involved in identity politics, as indicated in the previous chapter, to the temporary detriment of the harmony of the dance, the Mexica tend to be involved far more frequently in interpersonal power struggles. The Mexica dance the same dances as the Concheros but give them a different ethos, have a somewhat different perspective on their origins and raison d’être, and are much less interested in spiritual attainment. By the articulation of often-invented meanings, the...

  10. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 209-224)

    In the last chapter, I elaborated on the Mexica and why they have appropriated the Concheros’ dances and their various associated practices into the larger context of their multifaceted and essentialist movement of Mexicanidad. Despite the frequent assertions made during the 1990s by the older generation of dancers (including Jefe Ernesto) that the obligations never change, most aspects of the dance have historically always been open to outside influences and hence in a state of flux. Today the dance is as vital and the mesas as numerous as at the time of the celebrations of 1992 for the “discovery” of...

  11. APPENDICES
    (pp. 225-232)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 233-266)
  13. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 267-272)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 273-290)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 291-304)