And 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. It seemed a tuneless parody of Mexico. Certainly nothing to dance to.
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.
As my friend Ricardo explained about Mexican regional music, “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, his English is pretty good.)
When you dance you're dancing to a beat. What I still couldn’t find was any sex appeal to the beat in the music played by those bands. 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, bands whose instruments may even include a tuba. Yet I was assured that sex appeal could be found.
You may have noticed that we take our 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 mariachi be 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, 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 the 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 dancing in the audience.
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 when it comes to indulging women as women practically as long as we still have teeth. I was able to set up an observation lab in real world conditions with an actual 21-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 rivets the dance style. That subdued sexuality of the male hip movement is what is distinctive to the sexuality of dancing well to that kind of music.
This is probably one 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. We can do it, but it always feels stymied and unnatural. Here a talented guy can convey sexuality not by movement but by the relative lack of movement.
There is also a tacit acknowledgement that the ability for men to move their hips in that particularly subtle way, according to our Mexico City field investigator, is so fleeting. She pointed out that it was practically impossible for a guy to pull it off after the age of 25.
In contrast, the sexuality of women’s hips has a remarkable shelf life. Big, small, wide, young, more mature or imperfect, the sensuality of women's’ hips is probably the last thing to go. Not so for the male of the species. This particular anatomical window closes fast for them.
My investigative conclusion? In regional music, Mexican women can discreetly appreciate the beauty, sexuality and brevity of youth that is the everyday experience of men admiring young women.
It would be a little creepy for a woman, especially a more mature one, to watch a gyrating, humping musician or dancer for too long, but you can’t judge her too harshly for watching a young man dance when he’s barely moving.
Like the way women used Mexican hand fans in days of old, young men can dance in front of their grandmothers, sisters and their uncle’s female friends at a family gathering and still send a coded message to the rest of the audience.
Or at least that’s my hypothesis. As we all know, basic scientific method requires that many independent experimenters repeat the experiment and test for discrepancies themselves. I hope that many of you women out there will soon be among them.
Kerry Baker is 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."
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