Taking its first steps in Cuba, Danzón is the Mulatto offspring of European and African dance influences. With English, Spanish and Haitian roots, it is a subtle blend of precision and sensuality.
Like some of the other Caribbean and Latin dances, Danzón was considered risqué when it first appeared. Not only was it being taken up by people of mixed social classes, but it was a dance that encouraged getting up-close and personal with your partner. Some members of society wanted it to be banned, considering it too African, too sexy and too open to the intermingling of races.
But as we see again and again, you just can’t stop the music- Danzón would not be quelled and it became extremely popular. It was the main musical influence in Cuba until the 1920’s, when Son music was invented. It tapered out in Cuba in the 1960’s soon after giving birth to its mischievous love child: The Chachachá.
Danzón is still alive and kicking in Mexico however, although in a somewhat less provocative form than it’s Cuban counterpart. Cities like Oaxaca (where many famous Danzón compositions were written), Mexico City, and Veracruz have a noticeable Danzón following. The 1990’s saw a revival, in particular with the citizens of the ‘tercera edad’ (literally: The third age; referring to the folks who have been gallivanting around life for several decades. Aka: senior citizens).
I have seen Danzón in the main plazas in several cities including Valladolid, Puerto Vallarta, and of course Oaxaca and Mexico City. The most entertaining that I have been to is the “Miercoles de Danzón Bajo el Laurel” (Danzón Wednesdays under the Laurel Tree) in Oaxaca. A ‘Danzoneras’ band with marimbas and instruments made from gourds, combined with a lively bunch of young at heart dancers decked out in jaunty attire, makes for a nostalgic and debonair atmosphere.
In Oaxaca, the dancing starts around 6:30pm in the zocalo and sometimes on the andador turistico or main tourist walking street. It’s just off the main square (Macedonio Alcalá street).
Many take pride in dressing the part. Women balance on elegant high-heeled shoes fanning themselves while their Pachuco partners throw them a cheeky grin. Pachuco is a vintage style that was popular in the 1940’s. A zoot suit with baggy, high-waisted trousers, suspenders, and a feather adorned fedora is their wardrobe of choice.
While there are some young faces seen at the nights of Danzón in the plazas or zocalos of Mexico, some worry that its days are numbered. If it is not picked up by the younger generations, it will soon slow dance its way into nothing more than a memory.
The 1991 film called Danzón, directed by María Novaro gives a look into some of the nuances of this romantic dance culture.
If you know of other cities where they have weekly Danzón get-togethers, please add it to the list!