If Cities Could Dance


San Francisco's Dance Crew Blends Tap and Mexican Footwork

La Mezcla dance company, founded and led by Vanessa Sanchez, uses dance and song to tell stories of Chicana history, culture and resistance. Blending tap dance and son jarocho zapateado (traditional footwork from Veracruz, Mexico) Sanchez describes this unique dance style as “zapatap.” Watch these dancers perform dynamic choreography in front of iconic Mission District murals and landmarks.

AIRED: May 19, 2020 | 0:05:59

(feet tapping)

- Hi, my name is Vanessa Sanchez.

We're out here in San Francisco's Mission District

with If Cities Could Dance.

Tap dance

and Zapateado rhythms.

(shoes tapping)

We're creating this new percussive Chicana aesthetic.

(upbeat music)

This is 24th Street,

the heart of San Francisco's Mission District.

La Misión, as some call it.

The hub of welcoming Latino communities

who are migrating to this country.

It's really amazing to walk down these streets

and see idols like Dolores Huerta,

an activist, the Chicana activist,

alongside my indigenous ancestral lineage

with this amazing young woman, Chicana activist

from the 60s, who started the fight that we continue to do

through our artistic expression.

Five, six, seven, eight.

I started La Mezcla because I never saw someone

who looked like me on a stage before,

on a professional tap stage.

- [Sandy] What has been the most exciting

about working with Vanessa and the rest of the group,

the work is so driven by intention.

I have so much respect for her.

(shoes tapping)

- [Vanessa] In La Mezcla we approach tap dance

as the dance of resistance, the dance of survival.

We're trying to push how tap dance is seen.

(shoes tapping)

I was born and raised in a very Chicano family.

My mother's family is from Veracruz, Mexico.

My father is Navajo and Cherokee.

I started dancing when I was really young.

My dive into the history of tap dance,

this connection to the African diaspora came later.

[Sandy] When black people, their drums were taken away,

this is how they communicated, how they celebrated.

Brown femmes partaking in this black American tradition

continues this legacy of resilience.

[Vanessa] Making music with my feet always felt right in my body.

I lived in Veracruz, Mexico for a couple of years

where I studied son jarocho zapateado,

which is traditional footwork from Veracruz, Mexico.

(shoes tapping)

Like tap, son jarocho is rooted in this element

of call and response.

(singing in Spanish)

In the community gathering called the fandango,

everyone is a musician, everyone dances.

(feet tapping)

And the song goes on as long as the participants go on.

I picked up the rhythms fast and with a couple of friends

started this thing called zapatap.

I would teach them some tap material,

they would teach me son jarocho zapateado,

and this concept kind of clicked for me, this mixture.

I decided that this is how I'm going to reflect

my Mexican American identity.

I came up with this show Pachuquismo.

Performing these two dance forms together through this story

set in the 1940s in Los Angeles, California

when young Mexican Americans

adopt this African American jazz scene.

And they adopt the zoot suit and these big hairstyles.

During this time, World War II is going on.

Anyone that doesn't fit this white vision

of what being American is, is seen as an outsider.

And for 10 days in June in 1943,

white servicemen started attacking

any young pachuco, pachuca,

anyone that looked like a Mexican American.

With this crazy media sensation that was going on,

Mexican American women were villainized.

I really wanted to bring this story

and existence of these young women to life.

(upbeat music)

(feet stomping)

[Sandy] Pachucas, they were subverting expectations of women

in a time when women of color

weren't meant to take up space.

When I put on the zoot suit, I feel super G.

[Emmeline] My pachuca comes out,

she's just her nose in the air, ready to fight anybody.

[Vanessa] To be able to fill these shoes that they created.

It's like this inner power just grows and grows.

(guitar playing)

If we don't look back and revisit these things

that have happened to our people,

how are we going to change them moving forward?

Systemic racism, white supremacy,

this is still part of what we struggle with.

But throughout history there's these women

that rise up and fight for their right to thrive,

their right to exist.

(shoes tapping)

(singing in Spanish)

Performing these two dance forms together,

I found the space and a medium to tell my story.

(shoes tapping)

Hey everyone, thanks for watching.

If you enjoyed this and want to see more,

make sure you check out other episodes

of If Cities Could Dance.


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