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.
- Hi, my name is Vanessa Sanchez.
We're out here in San Francisco's Mission District
with If Cities Could Dance.
and Zapateado rhythms.
We're creating this new percussive Chicana aesthetic.
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.
- [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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
(singing in Spanish)
Performing these two dance forms together,
I found the space and a medium to tell my story.
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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