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Dance of the Chinelos, a colorful Morelos’ tradition

The dance of the chinelos is one of the most representative dances in our country and its origins date back to the post-colonial era. It emerged in Tlayacapan, Morelos and to this day it is considered the symbol of Morelos identity.

The Spanish brought carnival festivities to our country and these were mixed with local traditions. The product of this syncretism has given rise to many Mexican customs, and the Chinelos dance is no exception.

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At the beginning of the 19th century, the Creole and Spanish population excluded indigenous people from the carnival festivities. In response to the rejection, the indigenous youth began to dress up and wear old clothes to imitate and mock the Spaniards who were celebrating the carnival.

dance of the chinelos

In response to this rejection, indigenous youths began to dress up by covering their faces and wearing old clothes of different colors to imitate them. Over time, the satire began to be complemented by various elements, such as the wooden masks that refer to the Spanish colonizers.

There are several interpretations of the word “Chinelo”. One version says that dances of this type were named tzinelohua, a Nahuatl word that means “hip movement”. Over time, the word became what we know today as Chinelo.

According to Morelos’ professor Tirso Clemente Jiménez, Chinelo comes from the Nahuatl expressions “chichiltek”, which means red or red skin; and “niele”, a mocking expression, which translated would say something like: “¡Se cree mucho ese colorado!” (“He thinks he’s better!”)

The dance of the Chinelos

The dancers are also known as “huehuetzin”, which means “he who wears old clothes”. These make their appearance during the carnival (in late February), with wooden masks and velvety robes.

The streets are full of color when the Chinelos place their hands on their chest and jump to the rhythm of the band music. Bounces are believed to celebrate the joy of pre-Hispanic Tlahuica culture.

dance of the chinelos

Although the dance emerged in Tlayacapan, the Chinelos tradition has spread to different areas of the country. In Mexico City there are neighborhoods like Culhuacán and in the Milpa Alta neighborhood this dance is practiced.

It is also possible to see it in several municipalities of Morelos such as Yautepec, Oaxtepec, and Tepoztlán, among others.

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