The state of Michoacán is located on the Southwestern Pacific region. Its name is from the Nahuatl: "Place of Fishermen", referring to those who fish on Lake Pátzcuaro. In pre-Hispanic times, the area was the home of the P'urhépecha Empire, which rivaled the Aztec Empire when the Spanish arrived.
The beautiful capital city of Morelia, (Originally named Valladolid under Spanish rule, but renamed to honor Independence hero José Mª Morelos, a native of the city), is a cultural hub with important tourist attractions.
The P’uhrépechas (also known as “Tarascos”), the modern descendant group of the pre-Columbian empire that commanded the land, is a mestizo culture that has managed to retain many vestiges of its past glory. Their language, some aspects of their modus vivendi (to this day they tend to be fishermen and agriculturists), and their cuisine have remained quasi unchanged since the XIV century. However, the culture has also adopted many elements of Spanish origin such as the dress worn by the women, called “guares” today; the instrumentation of their music, played entirely on orchestras or wind bands1; and the inclusion of courtship replacing ritualistic dancing that involve foot stomping in some cases.
1The thunderous and historic Banda de Zirahuen is the leading representative of this music style.
Most of the repertoire has been practically re-created based on vague ancient P’urépecha rituals in the mid XX century in choreographies that depict their daily living, such as the “Dance of the White Fish”, “The Farmers”, “The Butterfly Fishnets”, and the "Fishermen", and a series of charming dances that depict bullfighting.
Others are relatively modern compositions that reflect regional pride and some that demonstrate the mixed nature of this amazing indigenous culture, such as "Arriba Pichátaro", Toro de Once, and more that have followed the typical “son” structure found all over Mexico.
Singing is of utmost importance and masterful. These are songs called “pirekuas” in which two or more women sing praises to beauty, romance or deceit in their native language, following a Spanish vernacular form, which has been re-adapted to the local style.
Some representative dances have become symbols of Mexican folklore.
Its true origin is not really known, but it appears to be the remnant of a ritual to the Aztec old sun God huehuetéoltl , that was modernized to mock how (supposedly) Spaniards aged and became decrepit. The choreography is pretty improvisational and it also represents man’s eternal fight against death as the old men dance vigorously to scare off the spirits of death, demonstrating that they are still strong and capable of executing intricate foot stomping.
This dance is a cultural phenomenon. It was taught to the Indians by the missionary friars in an effort to convert them into Christianity and to teach them the difference between good and evil. The dance represented the fight between Christians and Moors. The Indigenous cultures in pre-Columbian Mexico worshipped good and evil alike. Eventually the natives paid more attention to the richly dressed Moors than to the humble Christians.
With time, the two factions became individualized dancing forms. The dance of the moors became a single entity and that is found all over MesoAmerica with very little variations in costume. Meanwhile the dance of the Christians varied greatly according to the region in a cycle known as "Matachines" or by other denominations.
Women’s dress fashions present a combination of European styles. The outfit is made of brightly colored silk, satin or taffeta short puffy sleeve blouse with a ruffle at the waist, and a decorated pectoral.
Las Guares: Use a 5 to 8 meter long, dark colored wrap-around made of wool that has many pleats in the back, and a heavily decorated slip. The Huanengo or blouse is richly embroidered. They use a locally manufactured rebozo on their heads, and in towns surrounding a lake they wear a palm hat; an apron that is either embroidered on dark gingham checks to colorful satin decorated with lace, depending on the town or festivity. They weave their hair into two long braids which they adorn with brightly colored ribbons.
The men wear the typical bleached or unbleached muslin outfit. The shirt does not have a collar and its sleeves are arm’s length. They bring a local zarape which they simply carry at their shoulder. The shirt and pants are embroidered. They use a red sash as a belt and a Huetameño hat.
This region is known as the hot land. Heat and humidity are a constant as it is close to the Ocean. Music and dance are known as "sones Calentanos" and have come to be revered as musical masterpieces the world over. Northern Guerrero and southern Michoacán share these music and dance styles, which also exhibit powerful African elements. Many sones Calentanos have also become part of the repertoire of Jalisco and of other neighboring regions. Foot stomping is as complicated as the intricate music passages. Dancing is done by couples.