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This beautiful gouache on paper painting, by Carlos Merida, depicts the “Dance of the Old Men of Michoacan”, also known as “La Danza de los Viejitos” (The Dance of the Little Old Men).
The dance is normally preformed by children or young men, who pretend to be old by wearing masks, dressing in baggy clothes, and hunching over as they dance.
The origin of the dance is unknown, but it is believed to be a remnant of an ancient Aztec tradition – as the Michoacan region was once home to the P’urhepecha Empire, which rivaled the Aztec Empire in pre-Hispanic times. Although similar dances are preformed throughout Mexico and the world, this particular dance is traditional to the state of Michoacan, Mexico.
The dance is a celebration of the Fire God and is preformed to please the Fire God in the expectation that he will grant the dancers and their peoples with a bountiful harvest, as well as some kind of insight into the future and visions of the past.
These “Bountiful Harvest” dances are common throughout most indigenous cultures of the world, whether it is “Maypole Dancing” in England, the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux, or the “Dance of the Little Old Men” in Michoacan, Mexico.
Traditionally, there are four figures in the dance– each dancer representing a different element – fire, water, earth and air.
In this particular painting however, there is an additional figure - the guitar player, who creates the music for the dance. And as you can see in the piece, the guitar player is standing somewhat aloof from the dancers.
Again, a very interesting piece by Carlos Merida based in mythology and Mexico’s rich culture that comes to life with a beautiful, subtle movement and bright, bold colors so often associated with Latin America.