Vasquez and Galvin: Traditional Dance of Michoacán

Felipe Vasquez. Photo Courtesy of Corazón Alegre

La Danza de los Viejitos, or “the Dance of the Old Men,” is a traditional folk dance of the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Felipe Vasquez, of White Pine, learned this dance from his grandparents and has been practicing since he was five years old. It is a tradition that is passed from generation to generation in his family. Felipe has been teaching the viejitos dance for over fourteen years.

In Morristown, Felipe started the Corazón Alegre dance group to pass on traditional folk dance to the younger generations.Felipe says, “It is important for them to learn the traditions and roots of their ancestors so they can continue for generations to come. The dance allows us to share our culture with them through visual arts and performance, in hopes that this tradition will continue.”

This performance is said to trace back to pre-Hispanic times to the Purépecha indigenous group from Michoacán and was meant to honor the Guegueteo, which means “Old God” or “God of Fire.” The dance is intended to be humorous. During the dance, the dancers walk slowly and make clumsy movements. They carry a cane and hold on to their backs to resemble great fatigue and their “elderly” state. That fatigue soon disappears as they zapateado, or dance, demonstrating their strength and agility. The viejitos are accompanied by violins and guitar melodies which are meant to interpret the folkloric characteristics and excite the crowd.

Photo Courtesy of Corazón Alegre

The viejitos wear typical campesino clothing. Their wardrobes are a combination of a sombrero, wooden mask of a smiling old man, embroidered shirt, red waist sash, wool poncho, embroidered pants, and wooden sandals, which make sound as they dance. The sombrero is adorned with colorful ribbons. The women wear hand-embroidered blouses, full skirts called nahua, and a decorative apron called a delantar.

Michael Galvin. Photo Courtesy of Betsy Hurst

Apprentice Michael Galvan, of Morristown, has been learning the viejitos dance for four years. He says, “I like the dance because I can share it with other community members, and I like to learn about the traditions from my mom’s homeland.” Michael also believes that it’s important that this dance is not lost, saying, “Sharing this dance allows me to be part of the community. Also, it helps my community to feel that they belong to the community when we are part of it. We are part of the community when we share our traditions.  I believe it is important to pass it on to other generations.” The Corazón Alegre has shared the dance at churches, family gatherings, schools, universities, and cultural events in different regions of Tennessee.