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Dancing with the Devil

SMA: Faith Is Culture

By Joseph Toone

When teaching dance, part of what I enjoy is doing choreographies to songs in English that feature Latin rhythms. For instance, most pop songs in English are cha-chas. For danzón, I like to use the song That Old Devil Called Love. It was a popular 1940s song that had a resurgence in the 1980s telling the story of a women’s lament that an old devil is back in her life to lift her up, then tear her down. However, no matter what, she’ll always return to this devil because his name is love.

Slowly paced, the song is great for more intricate danzón passes, and for added theatrics the man dresses as the devil with plenty of time to twirl his tail or poke his pitchfork at her. However, I’m constantly amazed that despite the abundance of devils in town, particularly around the holidays, the men don’t want to be seen dressed as devils. But the men and the women in the crowds watching completely enjoy the tall gringo, dressed as the devil, jokingly teasing his smaller, Mexican dance partner!

The devil and the holiday season in San Miguel de Allende have a long history together. Guanajuato is one two states in Mexico that often feature the devil in Nativities (Oaxaca is the other). According to the president of the International Crèche Herald, a crèche collector’s bible, there are two theories for this.

One, the devil tried to distract the three kings on their trip to meet Jesus. When that failed, the devil joined the kings in their travels and was present at Jesus’ birth. Two, the devil knew his rule on Earth was over so he came to Jesus’ birth to give up his control. Either way, it can be off-putting to see a life sized Nativity with a dancing devil surrounded by actual flames next to the baby Jesus. But Satan doesn’t just stay in the manger over the holidays; he’s all over the city!

For instance, following a danzón presentation in the open air market for the Virgin of Guadalupe, which starts the holiday season, we dancers were sitting and resting while a mass was performed before doing our second show. Noemi, arguably one of SMA’s best danzón dancers, was caught up checking emails on her phone and missed when the priest entered the crowd followed by a holy water-carrying devil. Into the devil’s bucket the priest dipped his wand to then bless the holiday season crowd. When the water struck Noemi by surprise she nearly fell off her seat with her jerky reaction.

That gave me the opportunity to lean over and whisper, “That was a mighty violent reaction to a couple drops of holy water!” while reminding her that when you dance with the devil, you don’t get to pick the Toone.


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