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Buscando la armonía: Performance, Embodiment, and Indigeneity in la danza azteca


This dissertation explores ceremonial and performative aspects of the dance tradition danza azteca in the United States and Mexico. Engaging questions of authenticity, representation, and identity formation within this transnational expressive cultural production, this study is interested in public and private articulations of indigeneity as expressed through embodied practice and performance. Specifically, this study engages with the ways in which the body becomes a key site through which danzantes (dancers) negotiate and construct indigeneity for themselves and others.

A dance tradition rooted in communities located in the central valleys of present-day Mexico, the heart of which is the ever-expanding urban hub of Mexico City, danza azteca is a synergetic dance tradition; an amalgamation of pre-Columbian and contemporary choreographies, Mexica (Azteca) and Roman Catholic iconographies, ceremony and spectacle, ritual prayer and public performance. Despite severe and often violent restrictions placed on indigenous social and religious practices during the Spanish Colonial period, it is possible to trace the evolution of danza azteca from pre-Columbian times to today. Of particular interest to this study is the adoption and performance of danza azteca by individuals and communities affiliated, directly or indirectly, with the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, a time of heightened political, social and cultural activism among persons of Mexican heritage living in the (southwestern) United States. During this time, an explicit politic of indigeneity proved central to cultural nationalist responses formulated by Chicanas and Chicanos to oppressive and exploitative processes of marginalization affecting communities throughout Greater Mexico. A fully embodied form, danza azteca provides a unique space in which dancers are able to explicitly claim and articulate indigenous belief systems through movement. Even as social and political gains have been made in and for many communities, Chicana/o nationalist discourses continually fall short of breaking with hegemonic notions of gender and racial formations and in many cases, serve to further marginalize sectors of the Chicana/o and Mexican/o communities, namely women and indigenous peoples.

Through the use of ethnographic methods, such as participant-observation, interviews, and reflexive analysis, this multi-sited study traces the embodied expressive cultural form of danza azteca as an important and contested site of identity formation, corporeal epistemology, and healing for communities throughout Greater Mexico.

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