Why you never see women playing in mariachi bands
In my first few years living here in Mexico, admittedly I wasn’t much into Mexican music or dancing. I adore some Spanish language singers and songs but couldn’t find the appeal in mariachi, banda, ranchera and regional Mexican music. They seemed like a tuneless parody of Mexico. Certainly nothing to dance to (although I have to admit loving this "mariachi light" classic, "Morena de mi corazon." I think it's the yipping in end that kills me).
For native listeners the experience of Mexican regional music is much like how people respond to American country music. In fact, a number of my Mexican girlfriends love American country music even though they don’t understand the words. For a good education on the history, instruments, and clothing of Mariachi, here is good bog by the Spanish Blog (because you will not get that information in this blog, my personal take on the genre.)
My friend Ricardo explained Mexican regional music like this, “The voices may be bad, guitars slack-keyed but the lyrics are heartfelt. There is something else in the honest wailing and genuine, raw emotion of those regional renditions, especially as sung by Latin “machista” men. It’s like witnessing something you’re not supposed to see, a guy opening up.” (Yeah, Ricardo’s English is pretty good). My fellow blogger Fabiola Rodriguez Licona also wrote about the power of mariachi music in an attempt to help us understand.
These are the same kind of bands that want to play at your table while you’re having dinner at places with names like Rio Taco in the United States, bands whose instruments may even include a tuba. What I still couldn’t find was any sex appeal to the beat. I was assured that sex appeal was in there.
You may have noticed that we take our cultural research seriously here at Ventanas Mexico. At last I was able to uncover how this regional musical can be sexy as explained by an American male friend, as explained to him by a woman in Mexico City when he too had asked the question, “How can anyone find mariachi sexy?”
Women throughout the world may rejoice in their answer.
If she had only told him that the appeal was “all in the hips,” I doubt that the explanation would have impressed me with its insight. The fact that a type of music is sexy because women in the audience can move their hips to it is like expressing as breaking news that dessert tastes good because it’s chocolate.
To clarify that statement, I challenge you to show me any type of music, no matter how terrible, that a woman can't move her hips to. We can move our hips effectively to a Tide Detergent jingle if we feel like it, and we can do it for most of our lives.
The secret to Mexican regional music? As explained by our Mexico City expert, the sexual appeal of regional Mexican music lies more in the movement of the hips of the young males, the “varones,” than the women who enjoy the music.
Taking a strictly anthropological perspective (of course), I decided to investigate the hypothesis. Happily, Mexico lacks the rampant ageism of the United States. Mexican men are rather more like the French, they will at least acknowledge you as a female regardless of your age. I was able set up an observation lab under real world conditions with an actual 25-year old male of the Mexican species.
In other words, I had been invited to a Christmas street party by my friend Rafael, who had an early-twenties nephew. After several hours of dancing with all the women in a circle as is customary at house parties, the nephew invited me to a dance. At about six-one with the narrow hips of a rock-star, he was the perfect specimen for my strictly-scientific (of course) observation.
There are two secrets that make the the male more central than the the female in dancing to regional Mexican music. First, it’s not the movement of the hips that make it sexy but the promise; not what the guy’s hips are actually doing, but the implication of what they could do. The lack of overtness pegs the dance style. That subdued sexuality of movement is the secret of dancing well to regional Mexican music, so men take the stage.
This is probably a big reason why you have never seen a woman playing in a mariachi band. Women are programmed to accentuate their hip movement when they dance. Hiding our natural rhythm in this area is a struggle with music we really feel. In regional music a guy conveys sexuality not by movement but by the relative lack of movement. A woman in a mariachi band probably wouldn't be able to contain herself that way, (like me with Prince).
There is also a tacit acknowledgement by the general Mexican population that a man's ability to move this way is fleeting. Our field correspondent pointed out that in the wild this movement is rarely seen in men after the age of 25.
In contrast, the sexuality of women’s hips lasts practically forever. Big, small, wide, young, more mature or imperfect, the sensuality of women's’ hips is probably the last thing to go. I remember my mother getting admiring glances well into her fifties. (I was mortified.)
My investigative conclusion? Mexican women are all over Mexico are discreetly appreciating the beauty, sexuality and brevity of youth that is the everyday pleasure of men admiring young women.
Just like the way Mexican women used hand fans in days of old to communicate with suitors, young men dancing to regional music can dance in front of their grandmothers and sisters at a family gathering and still send a coded message to young females grazing nearby.
Or at least that’s my hypothesis. As you may know, the rules of basic scientific method require that many independent experimenters repeat the experiment and test for the same results themselves.
I hope that many of you women out there will soon be among them.
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About the author:
Hola, I'm Kerry Baker am a writer and partner with Ventanas Mexico, and author of two books, "If Only I Had a Place" on renting in Mexico and the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." You can't really imagine the increased richness of expat life when you know conversational Spanish. You can learn as an older adult. This book gives all the best free tools on the web, linked and organized into lesson plans.