01/25/2013 07:06 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2013

Dancing The Jarabe Tapatío In Baja California (PHOTOS)

LA PAZ - With a whirl and a smile, the dance begins. Much like the colorful courtship performance of a bird of paradise, the Jarabe Tapatío, the quintessential folk dance of Mexico, is a captivating display of form and flow.

Although there are dozens of Jarabe styles seen throughout the country, the basic movements tell the story of a woman who refuses the courtship of a man but later accepts, only after he has broken out his top shelf dance moves. Because of its sexual connotations, the Jarabe Tapatío was banned by authorities in the late 1700's, but public performances returned soon after.

As with Mexican mole sauce and its immense range of 27-ingredient-infused flavors, the dance takes on varying characteristics over time. New emotions manifest themselves -- longing, passion, adoration, frustration, love, satisfaction -- and there is a playfulness, or a sweetness to it that is completely lost on modern dance. (I would love to see those old school authorities chaperone a high school prom.)

Internationally, the Jarabe Tapatío is better known as the "Mexican Hat Dance," which unfortunately sets all emotion from the beautifully choreographed performance out to wilt in the hot desert sun. Say the word "Jarabe" slowly, roll the 'r' as best you can, and you are already two steps closer to connecting with the mood of the dance.

Suffice to say, the hat does play an important role. By putting the man's hat on her head in the finale, the woman to signifies her acceptance of him as a suitor. But by no means does the hat embody the purpose of the dance, which is to show the many tumultuous twists and turns of the courtship. Life is a journey, not a hat, or so the saying goes.

-- Marc Cappelletti, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic

Dancing The Jarabe Tapatio