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Photo by Michael DiNardo.

A different drummer

Freshman celebrates Aztec heritage with family, dance & music

Aztec drumming is something a bit out of the usual for most people. In fact, it may not be something most people have even heard of. But to freshman Cuauhtli Day it represents something way more than you would ever have imagined.

“Aztec drumming has always been a way to say thank you to God for what he has created,” he said.

Along with his father, Phil, mother, Tania, older sister, Chimali, a junior at Minnehaha, and younger brother, Yolotl, Cuauhtli performs in a traditional Aztec dance and drum ensemble called Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc. The group is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Mexica/Aztec culture, ceremonies, dance and traditions. They practice once a week at El Rio Vista recreation center on the West Side of St. Paul.

Day has been drumming ever since he could walk and hold a drumstick. He and his younger brother, Yolotl, would drum in the house together, and it only made them better.

“Sometimes at night I would have to go upstairs and tell them to stop drumming because it was time to go to bed,” said Phill, who began Aztec dancing as a young boy. “It really just shows the dedication and passion they have for the Aztec drumming.”

The group has more dancers than drummers, which doesn’t bother Cuauhtli.

“Sometimes I would be the only drummer at practice so I would have to drum and it made me better,” he said.

The group’s most recent major performance was May 5, or Cinco De Mayo. Aztec dances feature ornate feathered headdresses and beaded costumes. The high energy from the dancers matches the rhythm of the drums and the chatter of ankle rattles.

Cuauhtli’s name has ties to the Aztec culture. His full name, Mazatl Cuauhtlapan, means “the deer that drinks from the eagle’s water.”

The Aztecs, a group native to southern Mexico, had a large empire in the late 15th century and early 16th century, until they were attacked by the Spanish, who captured their capital, Tenochtitlan, and eventually renamed it Mexico City. Being Aztec is very different from being Mexican.

“In some ways they are the same, but the main difference is that the Aztecs were there before the Spaniards moved into the land,” Cuauhtli said.

The Aztec culture has a very happy, interesting and exciting life, and that’s what Cuauhtli and his group try to show with their high energy dances. The group has performances spread throughout the year.

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