Luis Morales Ortiz

In Mexico there exists an incredible diversity of dance traditions from the son jarocho from Veracruz, to the redovas of the northern states, to the jarana tradition in Yucatan, many of which are often included as part of the nation state identity and as part of the ballet folklorico presentations. There exists, however, an immense repertoire of indigenous dances, referred to as danzas, throughout Mexico that are much more hidden. The danzas are collectively performed by communities rather than organized performance groups. The danza de los diablos (dance of the devils) of the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, Mexico, is a prime example of Mexico’s hidden practices and histories. As many danza practices, la danza de los diablos is related to the moros y Cristiano (Moors and Christian) traditions found throughout Mexico that represent a dichotomy of struggles that is based in European history and that made its way into the New World. This specific danza has, fortunately for Californians, reemerged as a community practice in places like Fresno and San Diego where communities of Mixtecos have developed. As part of this dance ritual that includes ornate costumes and the music of a banda, there is a wonderful practice of lavish mask making.

In California, Luis Morales Ortiz has become a master artist in the tradition of mask making for la danza de los diablos. Many of the danzantes (dancers) contract Morales with specific ideas of how they want their demon mask to appear and Morales attains a block of wood, carves out the shape of the demon face, enhances the facial expression with colors of paint, and finishes the mask by adorning animal horns (deer, bull, elk, ram). In addition to mastering the art of mask making, Morales is also a violinist that plays for another Mixteco dance tradition known as la danza de los rubios.

As part of ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2016, Luis Morales Ortiz is a master artist of the Mixtec tradition of mask making for la danza de los diablos, instructing his apprentice Panuncio Gutiérrez, who in addition to learning mask making has been a long time dancer of this tradition.


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