An exhibition in Balboa Park recounts the tradition of Aztec dance in San Diego

An exhibit on Aztec dance in San Diego will be on display Saturday at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park.

The tradition, officially known as Aztec Dance, is a spiritual and artistic expression that honors the rituals of the Native American communities of central Mexico.

The dancers wear brightly colored feather headdresses, carry musical instruments and dance to the rhythm of drums, flutes and guitars. The performance, while entertaining, has spiritual significance because the dancers offer a prayer through their movement.

The photographic exhibition May We Discover Our Heart (May we discover our hearts) will open at noon at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, on Park Boulevard. There will also be a live performance by Aztec dancers at 2:30 pm and a seminar by Mario Aguilar, who directs the San Diego Danza Mexi’cayotl Aztec dance group.

The images on display include those of dancers in Mexico, those of dancers in the United States in the 1970s and those of Danza Mexi’cayotl, which has been around for more than 40 years, said Bea Zamora Aguilar, who helps direct the dance group with her husband.

Zamora Aguilar, who also participates in the dance, said the tradition resonates with many Latinos because it is a representation of their cultural roots.

“As a Chicano nation we develop that indigenous identity,” he said. “By seeing these dances … we recognize that there is a reason why the color of our skin is what it is, our hair is dark, we are brothers and sisters with the natives in this section of the north of the Americas.”

One of the images of Danzantes Aztecas in Chicano Park that will be exhibited at the Centro Cultural de la Raza.

(Courtesy of Bae Zamora Aguilar)

He said the exhibition will focus on the achievements and influence of the Mexi’cayotl Dance in San Diego. There are about eight groups locally.

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“It really focuses on the group … how they have become involved not only with the preservation and teaching of these traditions in San Diego, but really throwing a wide network of dance teaching throughout California and other states,” he said. Zamora Aguilar.

He said the influence of the Aztec Dance can be seen everywhere, including Chicano art, the murals in Chicano Park, and lowrider art.

The dance was brought to the United States in the 1970s. Florencio Yescas, an elder leader of Aztec dance, is credited with bringing the dance tradition to a group of youth and children in San Diego in 1974, he said.

One of those young men was Mario Aguilar, who went on to become “Danza Elder” and has led the San Diego group for 41 years. The group usually performs at large events such as Chicano Park Day, marches and during the processions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The free exhibition will run through May at the Centro Cultural de la Raza and then will move to the Sherman Heights Community Center. The gallery closes at 4 in the afternoon.

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