LGBT+ dance company

A 2017 government study found 30% of LGBT+ people had faced some form of discrimination in the last year

Mexico's LGBT+ dance company
Jalisco es Diverso dance group – Photo: Taken from Jalisco es Diverso's Facebook page
English 06/11/2018 15:43 Reuters Mexico City Oscar López Actualizada 15:54
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Merging tradition with modernity, a folk dance company is making waves in Mexico by welcoming all comers, letting its dancers smash taboos and perform in whatever gender makes them happy.

Esmeralda Nuñez could not be happier. Growing up in Jalisco, the birthplace of Mexico’s national dance, the ‘Jarabe Tapatio’, folk tradition was part of her childhood.

“Dancing was my passion,” the 28-year-old said.

But fulfilling her passion came at a cost for Nuñez, a transgender woman who had to dance as a boy in her traditional, and mostly Catholic, homeland.

Wearing the flamboyant dresses that she swirls exuberantly as she dances, Nuñez explained that while dance was her life, conservative culture had restrained her dreams.

In Mexico, where machismo prevails and gender roles are enforced, being openly transgender can be quite difficult, if not deadly.

According to the government, transgender women are among the most discriminated groups in the country, facing increased poverty, health issues, and a lack of access to education.

The group Transgender Europe reported that 56 transgender women were killed across Mexico between 2016 and 2017. The United Nations said nine transgender women were killed in Veracruz last July.

STRICTLY

Dance, like many things in Mexico, is run in two strict gender categories. Mexican folk dances are usually performed in male-female pairs, and although Nuñez had always felt like a girl, she had to dance the boy’s part.

“For the love that I had for folklore, for Mexican culture, I danced as a boy,” said Nuñez. “Because it’s something that I’m passionate about, something that moves me.”

Nuñez joined a dance group in high school, and her teacher even taught her the woman’s steps, although she kept performing the man’s role.

She befriended a young man, Edwin Sepulveda, who also found solace in dance while battling with his own identity and facing rejection from his father when he came out as gay.

“When I danced, it was like entering in a totally different world where people couldn’t hurt me,” said Sepulveda, also 28. “I danced, and I would forget about everything.”

After high school, Nuñez and Sepulveda thought about joining professional ballet companies but found many challenges.

“We discovered that you have to comply with a lot of requirements,” said Nuñez. “If you’re gay, you can’t show it. You have to be a certain size, a certain height. There are a lot of regulations.”
 

DANCE OF DISDAIN

As in dance, so in life. The sort of challenges faced by Sepulveda and Nuñez are common for LGBT+ people in Mexico.

A 2017 government study found 30% of LGBT+ people had faced some form of discrimination in the last year.

Same-sex sexual acts were decriminalized in Mexico in 1871, but open displays of homosexuality can still draw disdain.

In 2015, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional, but a year later, the pollster Parametría found that nearly six in 10 Mexicans still opposed gay marriage.

Formed in June last year, Ballet Folclórico LGBTTTI “Jalisco es Diverso” is a dance company that performs traditional Mexican music and dance as a way of promoting diversity and greater inclusion, according to its founder Johnny Cobian.

“Most people in society categorize us as party people without commitments,” he said.

Like Nuñez and Sepulveda, Cobian was a passionate dancer as a teenager but says he was rejected by professional companies because of his height.

Later, when Cobian became involved in organizing the Guadalajara Pride march, he said he found local dance companies were reluctant to get involved in an event celebrating the LGBT+ community.

So he formed his own company, one that did not discriminate on height, weight, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Everyone is welcome,” Cobian said. “Our doors are open.”

Among the first to join were Nuñez and Sepulveda, who said they felt immediately at home.

CULTURE CLUB

The group’s first performance was at Guadalajara Pride in June this year, and they have since performed at local festivals and parties, including this year’s Day of the Dead parade.

“There’s been a lot of acceptance,” said Cobian. “People keep inviting us back.”

Experts say that broaching such taboos is an important part of changing perceptions of the LGBT+ community.

“Culture occupies a very important part in our lives,” said Mexican LGBT+ rights activist Enrique Torre Molina.

“Being present in the cultural sphere makes us more visible in front of more people. It’s reminding them that LGBT+ people have always contributed to cultural development.”

The group’s costumes often incorporate the colors of the LGBT+ rainbow flag, as well as more traditional frills and sequins.

“We’re innovating on Mexican culture without breaking what folklore is,” said Nuñez.

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