Composing Histories: The Transmission and Creation of Historicity, Music and Dance in the Los Angeles Danza Community

Across Los Angeles, Mexican-American men, women, and children of all ages perform Danza, a communal dance accompanied by the reverberating beat of rattles and the emblematic Aztec log drum known as the huehuetl. Presently, a growing number of Danza communities incorporate additional Indigenous identification projects that include learning Indigenous languages, songs and dances, marking a distinct shift from the initial form introduced in the 1970s that was positioned more broadly as a syncretic Mexican cultural practice. Many of these efforts aim to recover a pre-Hispanic aesthetic through song and dance. These attempts to re-capture a perceived authenticity in the Mexican-American diaspora offer insight into competing interpretations of Indigenous aesthetics, histories, identities, and authenticities, and highlight incongruities between United States and Mexican perceptions of Indigeneity.

Drawing on interviews and research with three generations of Los Angeles dancers in the tradition, I examine how identities and histories are created, sustained, and embedded in the songs and dances of the Danza repertoire. These findings are further contextualized through an intertemporal methodology, and I suggest that seminal influences of colonial-era Catholic conversion theater and twentieth-century nationalist art movements endure and provide a vital framework for the composition of repertoires and histories within Danza. Drawing on Latin American, Chicano, and Indigenous studies, I argue that musics, identities, and histories reinforce and inform each other within Los Angeles Danza communities, creating powerful spaces of experiential historicity for participants. These findings contribute to broader ethnomusicological discourses regarding Indigenous intangible cultural ownership, authenticities, and the roles of music and history in contemporary cultural movements.