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Roberta Sotonoff
Adventures Abroad
Plaza de Armas
Veracruz City, OT (Mexico)

Danzón Tuesdays at the Plaza de Armas in Veracruz City, Mexico

by Roberta Sotonoff
September 22, 2008
Plaza de Armas
Veracruz City, OT (Mexico)
The salsa and cha-cha dancing that's so popular in clubs today is actually an evolution of a 17th century dance called the danzón. If you'd like to see danzón performed, just show up on Tuesday night at Veracruz City, Mexico's Plaza de Armas or zócalo.

The zócalo is alive with smiling people and a variety of food, trinket and balloon vendors. Alongside the Palacio Municipal sits the orchestra, a collection percussion, wind and brass instruments including several tubas. All are dressed in white, just like the dancers who take their places, pause and wait. Then there are three drum rolls, an introduction and everyone begins the traditional ballroom dance known as danzón. The orchestra sounds a definite beat and the steps are exact. Even a grandfather and his very young granddaughter take this dance very seriously.

The 400-year-old dance mixes the French, Haitian and Creole. Though its roots are grounded in French court and English country dances, the French settlers brought it to Haiti. The island musicians, mostly of African descent, took a little poetic license and infused it with some of their Creole style. After the 1791 Haitian revolution, Creoles and French settlers decided it was safer to move themselves and their jaunty dance to Cuba.

Though the dance has changed over the years, its original structure –a pattern of two or three brief segments which is repeated several times (a ritornello or rondo)—remains. So does the cinquillo, a rhythmic five-note pattern. Miguel Failde is credited for composing the first danzón composition in 1879. He slowed down the tempo and emphasized the cinquillo. As the dance evolved, instrumentation was changed. The Cuban or conga drum, a further representation of African and Creole influences, became an integral part of the orchestra. A section of Cuban Son, a kind of call and response rhythm, was also added. Cuban Son later became the mambo.

Today danzón is considered the national dance of Cuba. When performed in Mexico, it varies slightly. Sometimes it even is accompanied by a marimba band.

So if you happen to be in Veracruz City on a Tuesday night, come to the Plaza de Armas. After a few sets, the dancers will mingle and you just might get the chance to do a little danzón yourself.
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