Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation’s Resident and Community Services Department initiated a grant-funded Danza Azteca program in January at Villa Cesar Chavez Apartments in Oxnard.
The weekly program is an immersive arts and dance program that encourages residents to explore their indigenous Aztec background. Danza Azteca means planting the seeds.
“Community members are able to learn about a culture many of them were a part of, but knew very little about,” explained CSUCI Communication’s Capstone student Marlene Pelayo, in her senior thesis titled “Planting the Seeds in a Community Through Aztec Culture.”
With Villa Cesar Chavez’s designation as a property specializing in housing migrant families, Danza Azteca focused on the community’s cultural and historic roots, connecting the younger generations with the older generations through music, dance and art history. The program also inspired residents to express themselves through these traditional Aztec art forms.
For example, residents participated in a traditional celebratory dance called Ollin (officiated by members of Danza Mexica – Cuauhtemoc), where participants learned the traditional Aztec significance behind each move, turn and stomp. Residents also learned several words in Nahuatl, the indigenous Aztecan language.
“Every element within Danza Azteca had a purpose,” Pelayo said. “The movements were symbolic of man’s relationship with the earth as well as within the community. The kids were taught about respect and working together.”
In March, the art history portion of Danza Azteca began, and residents learned and created their own symbolic Aztecan imagery, such as the double-headed serpent and two-tone metallic emblems.
As the program progressed, residents became more engaged in learning about the cultural significance behind such things as the drum, or huehuetl – “to treat it like a grandfather” – and learned about the traditional Aztecan regalia called the chachavotes and sonajas, which are rattles created out of seed pods.
“The discussions and lessons in art class in combination with the physical motions and lessons of Danza Azteca, helped the kids realize that life is about much more than themselves. It is about your community that encourages you, shares with you, and helps you grow,” Pelayo said.