Dance Troupe Preserves, Promotes Puebla’s Culture
Dance has been an important part of Mexican culture for centuries, from rituals performed by early indigenous peoples to the ballroom dancing brought to fiestas by Europeans in more modern times. Like other folkloric troupes around the world, Puebla’s regional dance company strives to preserve these traditional forms of artistic expression in its performances. For the past decade, the group has performed a free show most Saturday nights — called Las Noches Poblanas — at the cultural center downtown. The next round of performances gets under way Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to continue through February.
The free show is highly recommended for poblanos and people who visit Puebla.
The 90-minute presentation celebrates pre-Hispanic, revolutionary, and other important periods in Puebla’s history through dance, theater, and music. The dancers perform on the central patio of the Casa de la Cultura (5 Oriente #5), surrounded by the audience seated on folding chairs. If you arrive early, it’s usually fairly easy to find a spot, and those in the front row should be prepared for anything, from being asked to dance or getting splashed with rainwater should it cover the floor (as it did the night we attended). A local favorite is this lively rendition of “Que Chula es Puebla” in which the women are dressed china poblana-style.
Sergio Alamilla of Veracruz, who saw the show with his parents, recalls: “Suddenly, a man came out onstage, with background music and monologue representing the customs and idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants of the valley of Puebla at the time. …In the next act, a group of dancers dressed in elaborate costumes surprised everyone, not only for their ability, but for their exquisite sense of artistry.”
“I have to confess that I’ve never really liked folklore,” Alamilla added, “but … these people knew what they were doing, and they did it magnificently.”
Director Jorge Armando Castañeda founded the regional dance company 25 years ago, bringing together 150 dancers to showcase the artistic qualities of Puebla. The Noches Poblanas program, which is sponsored by the state government, has enjoyed a 10-year run. To date, the troupe has performed many other shows in Mexico and traveled internationally to share Puebla’s culture throughout the Americas and in parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The building’s history dates back much further, to 1595, when it began as the College of St. John. Students were taught subjects such as philosophy and morality. When the Catholic bishop Juan de Palafox arrived in Puebla in the mid-1600s, he integrated St. John’s with two other schools to form the Tridentine Seminary and opened the first public library in the New World. Since 1974, the site has housed the cultural center and its diverse events, from folkloric dances and art exhibits to films, workshops, and conferences.