Wednesday, September 27, 2023

La Danza de Los Matachines Celebrates 330 Years

Bernalillo’s Dance of Devotion Shaped and Molded by the Community


The Matachine ritual dance drama is the main event August 9, 10, 11 during the upcoming Las Fiestas de San Lorenzo in Bernalillo. The Signpost spoke with 23 year dance veteran Dr Joseph Moreno, Director at the New Mexico Highlands University Metro Center. Moreno spoke about the Matachine ritual dance and its importance to the community of Bernalillo. We explored the hidden aspects of the efectos visuals (visual effects) and how the dance has been shaped and molded by the people in his community.

Each Matachine Dance is Unique

La Danza de los Matachines is one of the only dances performed both in Hispanic and Indigenous communities. The dancers and the communities they are from shape the way the dance is performed and celebrated. The style and appearance of the dance in the Southwestern Hispanic and Native American communities differs from the Matachine Dance in Mexico and Latin America. It has been performed by the Bernaillio community for three hundred and thirty years.

The Matachine Dance

“The whole reason why we dance is to honor our patron saint of the poor of the sick, San Lorenzo and to worship God.” Moreno explained. A symbol of San Lorenzo travels from year to year and family to family throughout Bernalillo. The process of becoming a Mayordomo (caretaker) begins years in advance. “We know about 11 years out who will have it every single year. In August, the current Mayordomo hosts the Matachine dancing and then on the third day they take that symbol to the new home,” Moreno said.

Moreno said the Native dance version, and the Spanish version differ. “Each community looks and feels different and sounds different, but they still have similarities,” Moreno said. “We've had reasons to turn inward and change the way we look; change the way we sound; change the way we dance.”

The dance has two main components called la corridor and la danza. All of the dancers participate in la corridor procession to San Lorenzo’s Santuario, however, it usually takes five years for a dancer to dance in la danza in front of the new Santuario.La danza tells the story of the conversion of Montezuma to Christianity by his daughter La Malinche.” Moreno said.

The Matachine Dancers

There are from 50 to 120 dancers each year in Bernalillo. Dancers are elevated to certain key positions because of their seniority and knowledge. “There’s levels and layers of making the promesa (promise) to dance; even for little ones who dance. It is something very personal between that person and God,” Moreno said. The dancer’s faces are covered to conceal their identity and protect them from evil.

The Matachine Performers

Monarca portrays the Aztec ruler Montezuma and leads his warrior dancers in the Matachine dance. He wears white pants, a white shirt, white shoes, a corona (crown) decorated with flowers and a respaldo, (scarf) worn on the back, typically depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe. His face is covered by a black cloth called a mascada.

Monarca carries a wooden palma (palm) in his left hand, which represents the Holy Trinity and a shield. The palma is typically maneuvered in a figure eight throughout the dance. His right hand carries a guaje (gourd rattle), used to pulse the beat of each tune the fiddle and guitar musicians play. “This position is held by the person who is the most knowledgeable of the tradition; typically, a person who has danced for at least 30 years,” Moreno said. La Malinche is a small 10-12 year-old girl who represents Montezuma's daughter. Historically La Malinche was a full grown woman who became the wife of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. “We've changed that official narrative. She has a different personality in other communities but in Bernalillo we view her as a pure little girl. She represents the Catholic religion, and we protect her throughout the dance,” Moreno explained. There is no mention of Cortés anywhere in their dance.

La Malinche dresses in white and wears a crown decorated with flowers with veils attached. As she weaves through the dancers, they gesture like they're protecting her. “She is a key figure within the community; to be La Malinche brings a great source of pride to the family,” Moreno said. She is believed to have influenced her father to convert to Christianity. “She is known as a traitor in Mexico, but in New Mexico she is admired and respected as an ally who helped the Spanish people.”

Toro, the bull, stalks La Malinche as the dancers try to stop the Aztec ruler’s conversion. “In many communities Toro is a small boy, and we're the only one to have full grown men as the bulls. They're imposing and scary and are kind of disciplinary. People are told, if you don't behave, I'm gonna get the Toro on you.” Toro is dressed in a red shirt, has horns, and carries two canes so he looks like a four-legged bull. Toro is always a male senior dance member.

El Abuelo, the grandfather, is the caretaker of La Malinche and the Matachine dancers and instructs them on the ways of Christianity. He is always a male veteran dancer dressed in black pants and a white shirt with a respaldo (scarf) on his back. Three feet-long ribbons are attached to his waist and hang down each leg. He wears sunglasses, a hat and carries a whip to discipline Toro.

“Within the dance he disciplines Toro so there's always skirmishes between them as Good and Evil. Outside of the dance, when we're just normal people, he ensures that we are showing up on time to dance, that we're comporting ourselves well within the community, and that we are dancing correctly,” Moreno said.

Bernalillo is the only community with male and female dancers. The danzantes (dancers) can begin dancing Los Matachines at 14. “We are one of the unique ones that allow females to dance. And that started in the 1970s when we had one or two women who wanted to make promises,” Moreno said.

Their attire consists of black pants and white shirts. Danzantes also wear respaldos, elbow scarves, carries a palma in the left hand and a guaje in the right hand. Moreno holds the position of Capitan within the dancers and sets an example of how to dance correctly and what not to do.

The dance ends with Montezuma’s conversion and the bull’s death symbolizing the victory of Christianity over Paganism.

“We need to be perfect, in unison and ready to dance spiritually, physically and emotionally. We find a sense of ourselves and draw our strength and power from our community, from the land. And part of that means our language, our traditions, our culture, our heritage and our history all wrapped up into one little nice package,” Moreno concluded.

More information and a map of the procession is available at the Town of Bernalillo’s website at


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here