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Choreographing Mexico

Choreographing Mexico
Festive Performances and Dancing Histories of a Nation

The impact of folkloric dance and performance on Mexican cultural politics and national identity.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

September 2022
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372 pages | 6 x 9 | 32 b&w photos |

The years between 1910 and 1940 were formative for Mexico, with the ouster of Porfirio Díaz, the subsequent revolution, and the creation of the new state. Amid the upheaval, Mexican dance emerged as a key arena of contestation regarding what it meant to be Mexican. Through an analysis of written, photographic, choreographic, and cinematographic renderings of a festive Mexico, Choreographing Mexico examines how bodies in motion both performed and critiqued the nation.

Manuel Cuellar details the integration of Indigenous and regional dance styles into centennial celebrations, civic festivals, and popular films. Much of the time, this was a top-down affair, with cultural elites seeking to legitimate a hegemonic national character by incorporating traces of indigeneity. Yet dancers also used their moving bodies to challenge the official image of a Mexico full of manly vigor and free from racial and ethnic divisions. At home and abroad, dancers made nuanced articulations of female, Indigenous, Black, and even queer renditions of the nation. Cuellar reminds us of the ongoing political significance of movement and embodied experience, as folklórico maintains an important and still-contested place in Mexican and Mexican American identity today.


Manuel R. Cuellar is an assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American literatures and cultures at George Washington University.


"Manuel Cuellar’s Choreographing Mexico, a wonderfully nuanced study of corporeal movement in a myriad of cultural texts that feature festive performances, convincingly argues that embodiment and choreography, not just discursive, literary, and visual practices, helped shaped modern Mexico. This much-welcomed addition to cultural studies of Mexican nationalism is an admirably choreographed set of alternate readings of lo mexicano that center the human body (dancing and gestures) as a principal site of nation-formation; because Cuellar possesses an attentive queer lens that allows him to read excess, however, he is able to demonstrate that these examined public embodied performances evince cracks in our hegemonic understanding of nation."
Laura G. Gutiérrez, UT Austin, author of Performing Mexicanidad: Vendidas y Cabareteras on the Transnational Stage

"Simply extraordinary. Cuellar examines primary sources as diverse as nineteenth-century periodicals, film, dance, interviews, and contemporary art performance, making this mandatory reading for scholars on Mexico now and in the future. Cuellar does a spectacular job of rescuing folklórico from its oft-maligned status as an accomplice to the state’s meaning-making nationalist apparatus: the critical exposition of this performative and dance history, alongside the ways in which it continues to make sense for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Latinx and queer communities today, is an exceptional and necessary intervention for the history of Mexican and Latinx arts."
B. Christine Arce, University of Miami, author of México's Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women