History of the La Raspa Folk Dance

By Lydia Larkin ; Updated September 15, 2017
Bright, flowing clothing is often worn when dancing the traditional La Raspa.

La Raspa is a folk dance from eastern Mexico. This dance is often incorrectly called the Mexican Hat Dance or Jarabe Tapatio. According to Mark Pedelty. author of "Musical Ritual in Mexico City," both of the latter titles actually belong to a dance from Jalisco, which includes complicated and flirtatious movements.

In contrast to the Mexican Hat Dance, the steps for La Raspa are very simple, involving a bleking step (hopping in place with alternate heels thrust forward) for 16 counts, then a running step (while linking elbows) for another 16 counts.

Origin of the Dance

La Raspa is said to have begun in Veracruz, a state that has a major port city off the Gulf of Mexico. With shipments of trade goods also came music and dance from around the world. Modern Mexican folk dances, like La Raspa, are mixtures of Aztec, Mayan, Yaqui, African and European movements--sacred and secular--which were forged together as many cultures intermingled over the centuries.

Traditional Attire

Veracruz was strongly influenced by the Spaniards who settled there, which is noticeable in the clothing. When dancing La Raspa, the traditional garb, according to the Houston Institute often includes “white guayabera pants and shirts and red waist sash and straw hat [for men]. The women [would] wear imported white lace dresses; their hair up in buns in a comb and shawls, or rebozos, accompanied by fans.”

Etymology

The origin of the name “La Raspa” has been lost in time. The name possibly comes from the verb “Raspere”, which is an Old Germanic word meaning “to grate upon,” states the Merriam Webster Dictionary, from where we get the word “raspy.”

This could refer to the Guiro, an instrument played all over Latin America, according to Viva Quetzal, which produces a rhythmic scratching sound when a scraper is rubbed over its indentations. Scratching could also refer to the chicken-like movement the dancer uses with his legs (with arms akimbo like chicken wings) when he dances La Raspa.

La Raspa and Children

The minimalist movements of this dance are often taught to school children. Not only does it promote physical education, but, as the Ballet Folklorico Mexico notes, another purpose of doing so “is to encourage children to carry on the dances and traditions of Mexico and other cultures.”

La Raspa in the U.S.

La Raspa is popular in many countries north of the border. In addition to the dance being included in physical education curriculum (especially in the southwestern U.S.), La Raspa has enjoyed time on the silver screen.

In 1947, MGM studios released the musical "Fiesta" about a Mexican toreador (played by Ricardo Montalban) who dances La Raspa, among other folk dances. The film's dancing was a hit and helped catapult Montalban's career in the U.S.

About the Author

Lydia Larkin has written professionally since 2005. Her published works include judicial opinions written for the State Supreme Court of Mississippi and freelance classic movies articles written for social media sites. Larkin holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi.