Yesterday, L, L´s father, and I went to a festival of Mexican folk music, being held at the National Teachers´ College in Mexico City. It´s a three day free festival, 10 AM to 10 PM, with God-knows-how-many groups playing 4 or 5 songs each. We spent about three hours there, listening to music from the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Michoacan (I might have missed some others). What a treat, while I cannot at the end of the day tell the difference between the different folk traditions, the groups from Guerrero and Oaxaca really touched me in a way few musicians ever have.
They had a huge wooden dance floor in the middle, and at any given moment there must have been 3 or 4 hundred people, perhaps more, dancing to the music. I found myself repeatedly amazed by how well people knew all the different folk dances, there was some free styling, but in general, you could see the formal elements of the folk dance throughout the dance floor. The dancers included everyone from young couples to parents out with young children to groups of teenaged friends to elderly couples or this one beautiful woman, probably in her 80s, who twirled her skirt and danced in a world all her own. There´s one dance from Michoacan, I forget its name but have seen it before, where the movements are those of “los viejos” (the old people)… it also involves making a train of people that moves across the dance floor. More than 9 trains of people formed across this dance floor when that music came on, each must have had 40, 50, 60 people, and as they all moved about the floor, I was amazed to note that there wasn´t a single collision across that very packed floor! It looked like so much fun too, one of those moments when I really wanted to jump up and join in, then had to remind myself I didn´t know the dance! There is something about Mexican folk culture, though… it´s the only music and the only dance that has ever made me want to join in. I´m thinking both about a community dance held at Zoatecpan while I lived there and at the Dia de los muerots celebrations in Santa Ana, the only 2 times in my life that i have voluntarily joined in a dance and enjoyed it. Partly, it´s the music that gets under one´s skin in a way that forces one to move, even if one is sitting in a chair, and partly it´s the community aspect of it… I remember watching a mother dance with an infant strapped to her back in a shawl. Amidst music so loud that we had to shout to be heard, and amidst her not at all subdued dance moves, the 1 year old slept blissfully. I loved that these moments were enough a part of that child´s life.
In the metro on the way back, though, I found some of that evening´s high slip away from me. I´ve written before about how Mexico City´s subways are full of people selling everything from lollipops to pirated DVDs and also about the variety of preformers who board the train and do their thing, then ask for money. In general, I enjoy that madness of the train, there´s never a dull moment. Yesterday, though, I had to shut my eyes and wish it away. A man got into my subway car, bare chested, and scattered broken beer bottles across the floor. Then, he began his stunt show, throwing himself against the pieces of glass, his back, his chest, breaking them further with the weight of his body and with his fist. I shut my eyes, but could still hear the sickning clink of flesh against broken glass. When he finished, nobody wanted to pay him for that stunt, so he gathered his glass and moved on to the next car. As he walked away from us, I searched his back for scars and saw none, just one gash across his shoulder. Then, I could hear the clink from the next car, and I felt my stomach turn. I can´t understand how one could do that to oneself, and as much as I outherwise like supporting street performers, this one just left me with a bitter aftertaste that I couldn´t quite shake off.