Chicago's Little Village group Xochitl-Quetzal Aztec Dance carries on more than 500-year tradition

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Their sights and sounds date back more than 5 centuries in what was once known as Tenochtitlan in ancient Mexico.

It's those same rituals and traditions that the Chicago group Xochitl-Quetzal Aztec Dance carries on across the city and suburbs.

"These dances are not choreographed, they are passed on from generation to generation. So each dance tells a story, each song literally will tell you a little bit about who we are and where we come from.," said Henry Cervantes, founder and director of Xochitl-Quetzal Aztec Dance.

The dances come from the Aztecs who flourished in Mexico. right up until the fall of their empire, exactly 500 years ago this year.

They used sahumadoras or censers for their ceremonies, along with what's known as the concha, which blended their indigenous roots with the European introduction of the guitar and gives them the name of their style of dance.

"The reason we're known as concheros is because we dance with guitars made of armadillo shells -so that's where the name comes from concheros - the con shell of the armadillo," said Cervantes.

"In the Aztec language Nahuatl, xochitl means flower, quetzal means beautiful, so our group literally means beautiful flower," said Cervantes. "Our culture is all based on expressing appreciation for nature. All of our regalia, you will see flowers on our traditional regalia because that's our symbol," Cervantes said.

The group is made up of more than two dozen multi-generational dancers, primarily from Little Village and Back of the Yards.

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"It's a lot of history, and I love the way that we dance because it has a lot of meaning, music, dance, instruments and it's something exciting for me," said dancer Hilda Garcia of Oak Lawn.

19-year-old Diana Becerra grew up in Little Village. She's practiced Mexican folkloric dances before but she says she discovered a new love and pride in her Aztec history and culture when she joined the group.

"The indigenous roots are very powerful, very strong, so for us to portray that even in this modern day society -- for us to bring a little piece of that from Mexico, it just means a lot to show from the steps, from where we just play the drums, dance and everything," said Becerra.

"We have a lot of young people in our dance group and that is very important, it's precious to us because that's where we start. We have to pass on the songs and dance to the younger people so they have that sense self-embodiment that I exist, that I have a history, I'm a descendant of this wonderful heritage and that has to be celebrated," said Cervantes.

Catch Xochitl-Quetzal Aztec Dance at one of their following peformances:

3 p.m. on Oct. 9
South Holland Library

16250 Wausau Avenue, South Holland.

6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9
Sycamore Public Library
103 E. State, Sycamore

7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11
Glenview Public Library
1930 Genview Rd., Gleview
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