Every Step is a Prayer

Every Step is a Prayer
 

Every step means something. For example, if we jump, we say, ‘Thank you for the air.’ If we stay down, we say, ‘Thank you for the earth.’ And every, every movement that we have, we always say, ‘Thank you for nature.’  ~ Maria Torres

 

 

 

This photo series documents the 2015 Our Lady of Guadalupe procession and celebration at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Following the procession, I spoke with St. Peter’s Cathedral Dancers, Maria Torres and her son, Enrique.

The Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle began hosting its celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1979, but this dancing tradition was incorporated into the festivities within the last decade. In the Catholic faith, the procession commemorates the 1531 apparition of the Virgin Mary to an Aztec man, Juan Diego, in present-day Mexico City. The 2015 procession and celebration took place on Sunday, December 13.

Drawing on Aztec tradition, the Cathedral Dancers employ their bodies and attire as a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Their performances are full of symbolic choreography and high-energy footwork, amplified by the jingle of their beaded apparel and the chatter of ankle and wrist rattles. At the time, Maria and Enrique had been practicing and performing with the Cathedral Dancers for about four years. After relocating from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, fourteen years ago, this traditional art form enables Maria and her family to remain connected with Aztec cultural traditions. This annual procession also serves as an opportunity for members of Jackson’s Mexican and Mexican-American communities to celebrate their cultural heritage.

St. Peter’s Cathedral Dancers perform through the streets of downtown Jackson, beginning at St. Peter’s on N. West Street, making their way toward the Capital and on to State Street, returning to St. Peter’s for an afternoon mass. Adorned in radiant colors, beaded regalia, and donning ankle and wrist instruments, which are hand-crafted out of dried seed pods, dancers employ their bodies as a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

 

Cathedral Dancers and parishioners on the final leg of the procession, making their way from State Street back toward the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.

 

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    In her honor, members of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle process with the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.
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    Enrique on when they first started learning the dances: “It was hard work; it was very good exercise. You got tired fast and your head would hurt at the end of every practice, but it was still fun because you were interacting with people, and you would learn with other people.”
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    Maria Torres, taken during a visit to her home in Jackson, February 2016.
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    Enrique displays one of his ankle rattles, also known as chachayotes and ayoyotes, an Aztec percussion instrument. The chatter of the ankle and wrist rattles represents the flow of water and, as Enrique explains, “You want the people to know that the Virgin, that the dancers for the Virgin are coming, so this is like letting them know.”

 

Community members bear flags from various Latin American countries. The American flag waves among this medley.

 

Maria and Enrique demonstrate their process of preparation for ceremonial events and performances. 

 

This Azteca dancing is from our ancestors, and we dance that dance because it's the way that we can pray [to] the Virgin of Guadalupe. Every step that we make is a prayer.  ~ Maria Torres

 

Maria and Enrique outside of their Jackson home. 
 

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Kaitlyn Berle

Kaitlyn Berle

Kaitlyn Berle is a public folklorist. An Ohio native, she currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin, where she directs the Wisconsin Arts Board’s Folk & Traditional Arts Program. In 2015-2016, she documented music and dance traditions in Central Mississippi for the Arts Commission’s Bicentennial Folklife Survey. Kaitlyn earned her MA from Western Kentucky University in 2015.