Friday, December 14, 2012

"It's not a Costume!" Danza regalia

Has a bystander ever walked up to you after or during a ceremony and exclaimed "what a pretty costume!" Or perhaps, once upon a time, you did that to another danzante. In other cases people may have asked to "borrow your costume."

The question then arises as to how you react as a danzante? In many cases that I have heard some of you will just roll your eyes and ignore the person. In other cases you will explode at these people and explain that it is something you just don't do because it is sacred. Yet you may end up not explaining why.

However, by reacting this way you only achieve two things: you end up making the other person feel stupid and you end up looking like a jerk.

Now remember, as a danzante you have a commitment to preserve your culture and teach it. You are not going to accomplish it by exploding at every person that calls it a costume. Take it as a learning experience to teach them why is your regalia so meaningful. Why is it important?

Why is it sacred?
For those of you still curious as to why "costume" sounds so demeaning, well this lies more with the connotations it holds. Immediately one begins to think Halloween costume, where you are trying to imitate or represent a stereotype or icon of a particular period. In danza, we are not imitating any particular period. We use our trajes for contemporary spiritual uses.

 They serve a contemporary spiritual purpose that is "in the now". We are not trying to imitate a particular period. We are honoring, however, the particular traditional Chichimeca style tradition which of course also has elements of the conchero danza tradition. Therefore, is a difference between tradition and re-enactment. Our trajes are traditional vestments, for the lack of a better term, not costumes.

This then brings me to the subject of sacredness. Many dancers view their regalia as sacred because of the content it holds.

A dancer's regalia represents more than just the fact that one is a danzante. Some incorporate the day and year symbols they were born into according to the Tonalamatl, also known to many as the Monument to the Sun or Aztec calendar. Colors also distinguish their energies. Women will use silver to represent their energy received from the moon; Men will sometimes use a lot of gold to represent their energy associated with the sun. Those who identify with neither gender will use colors such as black or other so-called neutral colors. Those who identify with both genders might use both colors. So as you can see regalia is important because it becomes part of ones identity.

Also, as not all dancers come from Mexica or Aztec backgrounds, some of us also incorporate symbols from our countries of origin. For example, my family comes from the indigenous Ponzehui in Mezcala, Jalisco I therefore incorporate symbols of my family's indigenous culture into my regalia. For example I have the shield of Poncitlan represented on the back of my regalia as well as the cave symbols from Mezcala on the bottom part of my regalia. To me it represents that I am grounded on my culture. It is something meaningful to me. It represents my ancestors, my family, and lineage. It is something I think anyone would be proud of.

Also, remember that our regalia also reflects our interactions with the elements (water, wind, earth, and fire) within our danza. You can say that our regalia is a medium, for the lack of a better term, for commemorating that which keeps us alive. Therefore it is something sacred.
Image source:

I have also seen people incorporate sacred symbols related to loved ones such as mothers, fathers, mentors, and elders that have passed on. Therefore it is something to keep in mind when you are talking about someone's regalia.

A non-spiritual/non-religious perspective
Perhaps you are still not convinced or think that the aforementioned explanation was too abstract or religious to pay attention to. Well here's another thing to think about.

Danzantes put a lot of work and effort into their vestuarios, trajes, regalia--whatever we choose to refer it to.

We don't all simply go to a store and purchase one. Even if you do purchase one you select the traje you feel that best represents you as a dancer in terms of your energy. You buy a danza with the image of an eagle it is because you are going to dance like if you represented the energy of the eagle per se.

Also in regards to purchasing a traje, that is not simply something you can buy anywhere or for a cheap price. They can cost anywhere from low prices of $150 to upwards of $300-$400. This is not counting the cost of chachayotes, copilli, sonaja, etc. Think about the hours of labor you put in at your 9-5 job to buy this.

Then theres the question if whether you want a traje that's already made or if you want to commission one. That costs you extra $$$$. You may pay based on measurements($), amount and type of material used($$), detail ($$$), and time ($$$$$$$$$)!

For those of us who make our vestments, it can take you hours! I know just to make my simple traje out of paint and leather, it took forever to take measurements, make sure they are secure, have all the symbols arranged the way I wanted, etc, etc. It took me not hours but days, weeks, and months. Not to mention the time it took me to learn how to use a sewing machine.

So think of it also as an investment of time


To conclude here, I also want to acknowledge that people don't necessarily mean harm when they call a traje a costume. So danzantes, there is no need to get on a high horse and get angry at people when they make this comparison. It is just what they know. It becomes your opportunity to explain and educate them on what your traje represents.

Recently at Plazita Olvera, my group and I went for the Dia de La Virgen or Tonantzin ceremony and someone wanted to take a picture of me and wear my copilli. Respectfully, I told him I could not let him wear it because it was something sacred to me and briefly explained why: "It's something that represents me and my group so I can't let you wear it. It represents family..." I still took a picture with him. Perhaps what danzantes can do in such situations in mentally practice what is your response when someone asks you something like this.

As for those of you who didn't know why "costume" sounded so offensive before, I hope you took what was said into consideration. This is also why you shouldn't ask a danzante to let you borrow their regalia. It is like asking someone to let you borrow their used underwear! Not a pretty picture. It is something close to them.

Thanks for reading and hope this was insightful!

-Danny Santana-Hernandez

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