Dances of Campeche, Mexico come alive in Idaho
Born and raised in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Norma Pintar began dancing at the age of five. There is rarely a party or event without music and dance in Mexican culture – growing up, dance was part of her schooling and her social life.
Pintar went on to study dance at university and perform at huge events, including for the President of Mexico. When she came to Idaho 24 years ago, she brought a dedication to the art and wanted to share it.
Through teaching dance, she’s built a home away from home and brought the Idaho Hispanic community together around cherished traditions.
“It’s very important to share the way that we grew up or we are living, our traditions, in order to understand us."Norma Pintar
Many traditional Mexican dancers have Pintar to thank for their introduction to the art. She helped start the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa and that’s where she first met Jayf Ebert, a student of hers since he was five. Now Ebert is her apprentice through the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, which works to preserve traditional arts in Idaho.
In the apprenticeship, Pintar not only teaches dance choreography and performance, she’s also dedicated to sharing the history and culture behind the dance.
“I am teaching the traditional Mexican dances from the state of Campeche,” said Pintar. “Campeche is a region that is in the southeast of Mexico.”
Her apprentice is a busy one at 16 and very maturely wants to carry on Pintar’s mission of teaching Mexican culture. Ebert started dancing to connect to his Mexican heritage and has been enjoying it more as he realizes it’s a skill to be proud of and that he can share with others.
For each dance, Pintar spends time on geography, food, dress, significant celebrations and the details that set each region apart.
“I selected Campeche because most of the people in Idaho [are] used to the dances only from the states of Jalisco and Veracruz,” she said. “Mexico has 32 states and we have more than 300 different styles of costumes. And for me, it's a nice way to educate and share all the traditions from other states and regions.”
Pintar even asks her students to delve into their own history with the art form.
“I wanted Jayf to know where he comes from,” she said.
Ebert researched his family tree so Pintar could decide which region of Mexico to choose dances from for the apprenticeship. His grandmother comes from Southeast Mexico and married his grandfather who was traveling there on a Mormon mission, so they chose music from the Southeastern Yucatan Peninsula.
Pintar also wants to expose Ebert to dances he wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn.
“Most of the performing and dance that I’ve done has been from Jalisco and Veracruz, which are Northern, and so Campeche’s fairly new to me,” said Ebert.
The pair meets at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa, where Pintar has given dance lessons for more than 20 years. She unpacks a large suitcase and spreads colorful clothes and accessories on a table to show the traditional dress of Campeche dancers.
The light and summery clothes are ideal for the tropical, coastal state on the Gulf of Mexico. Their dances are a melding of cultural influences – the Spanish conquistadors, pirates, neighboring Cuban descendants of African slaves, and from the indigenous Mayan people.
“The Campeche dress starts with their long skirt, embroidered,” said Pintar. “It is very usual to wear pink and yellow. I also wear a rebozo shawl. And then, also, the earrings that have some coins, are gold. I also have my shoes that are very important.”
And from the Spanish culture, Flamenco dance is also an influence.
“The Mexican tradition of folk dance shoes have some nails,” Pintar said. “We use a lot of the nails to make noise.”
Ebert explains further. “The nails are there so that you can hear the steps while we dance because often times there's intricate steps.”
The two are practicing for an upcoming performance, complete with dance props.
“So these glasses are from a song that we've been learning called the Guaranducha,” said Ebert. “In that song, we dance and they'll be full of liquid, and we dance with them on our heads. And it's kind of difficult to learn because you’ve got to learn how to balance it and you have to be able to move without it falling off.”
To practice, Ebert uses a plastic cup full of rocks for weight. He even attaches sandpaper to the bottom to help keep it from sliding off his head as he dances.
Pintar presses play on a portable boombox and the two tap their feet on the tile floor, Ebert exclaiming as he strains to keep a glass balanced on his head and Pintar softly cooing encouragement. Their hands are up in the air as they dance, a balancing technique like tight-rope walkers or gymnasts employ.
Pintar and Ebert practice twice a week – each session is three hours long.
When asked how she prepares for a performance, Pintar notes what is, by now, second nature to her.
“Well, I've been dancing over 45 years, so I don't know ‘nervous,’” she said. “I get so excited. Preparing in front of people for me is like preparing for a party, preparing for enjoying a beautiful moment.”
Months of practice go by and it’s finally time to perform at a Día de los Muertos celebration at JUMP in downtown Boise. Pintar and Ebert are in the greenroom, awaiting the moment they share their collaboration.
The performance space is decorated with candles, sugar skulls, paper flowers and photos of loved ones. Many of the valley’s Latinos and Latinas are gathering to remember family and friends that have passed away, and to show off beautiful traditional dresses and face paint.
Pintar sits patiently while her face is painted by local muralist, Bobby Gaytan. As Gaytan has matured in his own art form, he has found more opportunities to connect to his Mexican heritage and regularly paints faces for Día de los Muertos celebrations. He carefully draws flourishes and flowers that resemble traditional holiday iconography but with a modern touch. Gaytan also paints Ebert’s face: white with a black spider and web motif.
“The biggest thing that I hope to learn from Norma and throughout this apprenticeship is how to pass on this culture.”Jayf Ebert
Ebert stands at a table, squeezing food coloring into a glass.
“I'm just preparing the water, so I'm just putting some food coloring in it so that they'll be able to see that there's water in the cup when we're dancing on stage,” Ebert said.
Dancers in a wide variety of costumes flow in and out of the room, preparing for and recovering from their dance performances. Many are dressed in traditional Mayan feathers, fringe and beads, others in lacy white ruffles, hair pulled back into tight buns.
Pintar gathers herself toward the door to enter the stage. She and Ebert leave the tight greenroom and emerge into the crowd and toward the stage.
The dancers are welcomed through the crowd and onto a platform at the center of the room. Smiles and cheers erupt during the showy performance. The two do not fail to entertain onlookers with their technical yet warm execution of La Guaranducha, and no water is spilled from the full glasses they balance throughout the performance.
Back in the green room, Ebert catches his breath and changes into a new outfit for his next dance with his sister’s Oyamel Dance Group.
“The biggest thing that I hope to learn from Norma and throughout this apprenticeship is how to pass on this culture,” he said.
After he graduates from high school, Ebert wants to leave home to go to college, but hopes to return to his community someday to help his sister run a dance studio. For Ebert, dance isn’t just a skill, it’s also a social activity that ties him to friends and a sense of who he is.
“I think it is very important that everyone can learn a little bit of another culture in order to understand it.”Norma Pintar
This piece was produced for the Expressive Idaho series in partnership with the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program, with funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Suzanne Allen.