Mexican folk dance is an uneven synthesis of different cultural traditions. Its historical roots is the synthesis of indigenous, European and African cultural influences but it continues to evolves with influences from modern pop culture. It is not one particular style but rather a collection of various regional and ethnic traditions. Dance traditions vary widely over Mexico's expanse. In some areas, such as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the Yucatan Peninsula, the pre Hispanic elements have almost completely disappeared. In others, such as Totonacapan (in the states of Veracruz and Puebla), among the Nahuas of Guerrero and State of Mexico, the Huastecs of San Luis Potosí and areas in the northwest of the country, indigenous elements have been strongly maintained. Those considered native or indigenous include Los Voladores, Los Quetzales, and the Deer Dance. Dances that survive relatively intact are in areas that were remote from colonial authorities. However, their “purity” is under debate.
Most of the ancient dances have been modified in various ways, although most of these are superficial with the basic movements remaining intact from the pre Hispanic period. The aspect to change most has been costuming. The materials used to produce dance costumes, adapting to new materials and the loss of old ones. The use of hides and feathers is the oldest of costuming traditions, but today costumes can be made of synthetic fabrics and other modern elements. One common substitution is the use of mirrors on costumes to replace polished stones.
Instruments used to accompany the dancers have changed to include those from Europe, but pre Hispanic ones, especially drums and flutes, are still used. However, as many dances are still tied to religious events, knowing how to play the traditional songs and dance the traditional dances still gives dancers and musicians social stature, as they are keepers of tradition and expected to pass it along to the next generation.
Traditional dance generally involves the history and/or the cosmology of the people who perform it, and is a part of the social cohesion of that group. While varying widely, many folk dances in Mexico share some common elements. Animals that appear in these dances are generally those that were religiously significant to pre-Hispanic indigenous people. These animals include deer, serpents, eagles, and jaguars. After the Conquest, dancers added other animals—such as horses, bulls, and roosters. Masks are used in various ways in Mexican dance. They can be used to “transform” the dancer into a character, either metaphorically or religiously, it can be used to hide the dancer's identity for festivals such as Carnival to allow for pranks and/or it can be used for social commentary, for example a farmer wearing a mask and military-style clothing to protest corrupt police. The use of mirrors on costumes are to represent the life force of the sun as its light is reflected as the dancers move.
Most Mexican traditional dance shows indigenous and/or European heritage, but there are some that show the country's African past, especially in Veracruz and the Costa Chica region in Guerrero and Oaxaca. Like indigenous dances, African based ones often involved the use of masks, costumes and other props that carry various meanings with the dances themselves function as a form of social cohesion. In Veracruz, best known “African” dances include Los Negritos, along with various huapangos and sons. In the Costa Chica, the best known of these dances include Los Diablos, Las Tortugas and Toro de Petate.
Generally, folk dance is popular and well supported by various government efforts, but not all to the same extent. Those considered representative of the country and popular outside their home region, such as the jarocho or jarabe receive regional and federal support. Those without that type of popularity are performed mostly in local and regional religious events. While much support is geared to preserving dance forms, art forms outside of Mexico still have influence. Traditional dance is taught alongside more modern dance such as salsa, merengue and hip hop in various schools and cultural centers across the country with some crossover effect.