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Carrying the Word

The Concheros Dance in Mexico City

By Susanna Rostas

Publication Year: 2009

In Carrying the Word: The Concheros Dance in Mexico City, the first full length study of the Concheros dancers, Susanna Rostas explores the experience of this unique group, whose use of dance links rural religious practices with urban post-modern innovation in distinctive ways even within Mexican culture, which is rife with ritual dances. The Concheros blend Catholic and indigenous traditions in their performances, but are not governed by a predetermined set of beliefs; rather they are bound together by long standing interpersonal connections framed by the discipline of their tradition. The Concheros manifest their spirituality by means of the dance. Rostas traces how they construct their identity and beliefs, both individual and communal, by its means. The book offers new insights into the experience of dancing as a Conchero while also exploring their history, organization and practices. Carrying the Word provides a new way for audiences to understand the Conchero's dance tradition, and will be of interest to students and scholars of contemporary Mesoamerica. Those studying identity, religion, and tradition will find this social-anthropological work particularly enlightening.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

In December 1998, I was one of a reported 6 million pilgrims and other visitors who made their way to the Basilica of Guadalupe in the northern suburbs of Mexico City to celebrate the annual feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12). Over a three-day period, the huge atrium...

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Preface & Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xix

Most in Mexico City know something about the Concheros, who are to be seen performing their dances—circular in form—in a variety of public places throughout the year. The Concheros contribute dramatically to the vibrant cultural life of the city and forge...

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1: Incongruous Beginnings

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pp. xx-17

Those occasions when we come across the incongruous are comparatively rare. In Mexico City in the early 1990s, however, I encountered just that: groups of dancers who, calling themselves Concheros, enacted a sacred dance, circular in form and sometimes preceded...

Part One: The Experiential Context

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pp. 19-64

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2: The Concheros

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pp. 20-41

A book on the Concheros faces the challenge of how to do justice to the many dimensions of their tradition while keeping the larger cultural context in which it is situated in mind. Of how to portray as much as possible about the dances as collective enactments while also attending...

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3: The Obligations: Framing the Context

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pp. 42-64

Vigils and dances as events are closely interrelated and both are built up spatially and temporally by means of ritual framing. Whereas the last chapter looked at the personnel of the dance, in this chapter I want to detail the Conchero’s obligations by looking first...

Part Two: The Experiential Nexus: Forming the Self

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pp. 65-146

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4: Agency and the Dance: Ritualization and the Performative

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pp. 66-85

Whereas the first part of this book was concerned with the context of the dance, with its organization and practice, in this part I look at the experiential nexus. Here, I develop further the theoretical position I outlined in the introduction and aim to analyze what dancers...

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5: Conchero Speak: Carrying the Word

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pp. 86-102

In Chapter 3, I gave an overall idea of the structure and content of both a vigil and a dance as an outsider might observe these activities. Here I want to look at the words of the Concheros’ leitmotif—union, conformity, and conquest— which appear on all their standards...

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6: Clothing Matters

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pp. 103-128

So far I have been concerned with the dancers as subjects who by their “mode of presence and engagement in the world” actively embody the dance through time and re-present it. This chapter moves from an analysis of the dancers’ experience of what is happening...

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7: Why Dance?

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pp. 129-146

Only by dancing, by gaining know-how, can the enactor know the dance. In this chapter, I attend to the experience of the dancing itself. I look at why it is that people are drawn to and enter the dance and what it is about the enacting of it that catches them and keeps...

Part Three: Power Concerns: Performing the Self

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pp. 147

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8: Alliances and Identity Politics

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pp. 148-164

In Chapter 2, I looked at the overall organization of the mesa of Santo Niño de Atocha by placing the group in the context of the Reliquia, that part of the association to which it belongs. I said little, however, about the mesas with which it has close contact...

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9: Oral Tradition, Myth, and History

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pp. 165-190

Until very recently, as indicated earlier, the tradition of the Concheros has been predominantly an oral one. Entry to that “open door to paradise” achieved by means of the dance has been passed down by embodied practice from one generation to the next...

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10: The Mexica and Mexicanidad

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pp. 191-208

In this penultimate chapter, I look at those dancers who call themselves Mexica and identify with the movement loosely known as Mexicanidad. Although some Concheros become involved in identity politics, as indicated in the previous chapter, to the temporary...

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pp. 209-223

In the last chapter, I elaborated on the Mexica and why they have appropriated the Concheros’ dances and their various associated practices into the larger context of their multifaceted and essentialist movement of Mexicanidad. Despite the frequent assertions made...

Appendix 1: Timelines for Santo Nino de Atocha

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pp. 225-226

Appendix 2: Spanish and English Names of Dances, 1989

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pp. 227

Appendix 3: Spanish and Nahuatl Names of Santo Nino de Atocha's Dances, 2001

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pp. 228

Appendix 4: Principal Mesas in Mexico City of Significance to Santo Nino de Atocha

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pp. 229-231

Appendix 5: Genealogy of the Mesas of Santo Nino de Atocha and San Juan de Los Lagos

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pp. 232


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pp. 233-265


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pp. 267-272


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pp. 273-290


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pp. 291-303

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320043
E-ISBN-10: 1607320045
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321385
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321386

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 41
Publication Year: 2009