Los Machetes - Folk Dance Fun!

One of my strategies for surviving the last month of school is to get kids moving!  The popularity of Cinco de Mayo in recent years gives me a great excuse (as if I needed one!) to teach Los Machetes, a folk dance from the Jalisco region of Mexico.

The Rhythm and Spirit of Los Machetes: 

To kick things off, let's dive into the heart of the dance – the music! I use the spirited track "Los Machetes" from the album Mariachi Mexico by Los Toritos to set the tempo and mood for our dance exploration.  It can be found in Apple Music if you search by the title.  It can also be found on Spotify here, and on YouTube.

A Glimpse into Tradition:
Before we jump into the dance steps, let's take a moment to appreciate the rich cultural heritage behind Los Machetes. Rooted in the agricultural traditions of Mexico, this dance is said to depict the rhythm and movements of sugar cane harvesting. With its origins deeply intertwined with the mastery of the machete, Los Machetes embodies the resilience and spirit of Mexican farm workers. Traditionally, real machetes are used in the dance, and can be seen in this YouTube video with professional dancers:

Here is the Safeshare link, if you would like to show this video to your class:

Another video of children performing the same dance steps:

Safeshare link:

Background Information on Los Machetes from
Jalisco is traditionally known for its Mariachi orchestra. A modern Mariachi band will include violins, trumpets, guitars, a vihuela, and a guitarron.  Lyrics, for the most part, are humorous and not to be taken seriously. The Mariachi orchestra plays the music for the of work dance, Los Machetes. 
Men usually wear a Mexican cowboy or charro outfit, which are black or brown suits with tight fitting trousers trimmed down the sides with a double row of gold or silver buttons called plata. A white shirt and rebozo, a hanging, folded tie, is also worn. A large hat or sombrero completes the outfit. Mariachi musicians have made this outfit famous. Women wear light and colorful outfits, typically with many ribbons and beautiful lace sewn onto the arms, bodice and hem of the skirt. It is an ornate adaptation of dresses typically worn during the 18th century. It is made so that the skirt will lift up to show a colorful petticoat underneath when dancing.

How I Teach Los Machetes

The dance must be a true folk dance because the directions vary from source to source!  Most of the dance directions credited below call for partners in a double circle formation.  They didn't sound that complicated, but I knew my students weren't ready for a partner dance, and their end-of-year exuberance would be a little hard to contain.  I decided to teach a different movement for each of the 3 sections of the music.  My simplified version of the dance directions is a combination of what read and what I saw in the videos above.

General Teaching Plan 
 I teach the movements while they are SITTING in their spots.  Yeah, my students are pretty wild at this time of year.  Then we stand and do the movements in our places while chanting the steady beat counts. 

Add the music at this point, and the class looks more like they are doing a line dance. Kids are smiling & counting and delighted that their claps match up with the patterns in the music. 

Some classes will not go farther than this, and that's OK! They are up, moving, keeping a steady beat, listening to world music, matching movements to that music, identifying form through movement, and identifying instruments that they recognize aurally.  There are many musical elements that a good teacher can assess right there.  And they want to do it again!

The next step is to move into a single circle formation and practice each move without bumping into one another.  Add the music and enjoy!

Specific Movement Directions  

For safety and simplicity, we turn our forearms & hands into our machetes.  Then, when students are more secure with the form and movement, we use rhythm sticks or lengths of pool noodles as our machetes.  After watching the videos, one class of second grade students suggested that the girls could have scarves in each hand instead of the sticks so they would look like the colorful skirts in the video. I love it when students come up with great, creative ideas!

Here is a graphic to display during the lesson.  Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!

A Section
Clap hands (machetes) overhead and walk 15 steps in one direction around the circle, turn.  continue clapping and walk 15 steps back to place, turn to the center of the circle.

B Section
Place one hand (machete) across waist as if you were going to take a bow.  Point the other hand (machete) at the GROUND.  Turn in a stationary, slow motion circle for 6 counts, return to original position and clap 3 times, cha-cha-cha.  Switch hands and directions and repeat.  The teaching chant sounds like this: Circle-2-3-4-5-6, cha-cha-cha, Switch-2-3-4-5-6, cha-cha-cha.  These circles are done 4 times for a total of 32 counts.  Always keep the one hand (machete) pointing at the ground.  This is an important direction if kids have seen either of the videos. The girls in the videos spin in circles, holding their skirts out wide and it looks beautiful.  My music room isn't big enough for everyone to hold their hands out wide like the girls.  We have to dance like the men with the machetes and point them at the ground!

C Section
Now comes the fun part!  The teaching chant sounds like this: over, under, over, under, front, back, cha-cha-cha.  Clap hands together, kick one leg and clap under, clap together, kick other leg and clap under, clap together in front, clap in back, clap cha-cha-cha.  Do this pattern 4 times, then repeat from the beginning.

The overall form of the music that is linked at the beginning of this post is ABCABCA.

Free Resource

I created a Google Slides Lesson Plan to make it easy to display the dance information and the teaching sequence for your students. You will find it hosted on the Members Area of this blog. If you are already a newsletter subscriber, check your latest Sally's Sea of Songs email for the password.

Need the password? By submitting your information on the newsletter sign-up form below, you are agreeing to receive my helpful newsletters which include tips, resource updates, and the password to access the free resources on the Members Area.

Why Teach Los Machetes? 

Beyond the joy of movement and music, teaching Los Machetes provides a unique opportunity for cultural exploration and appreciation. It's a chance for students to connect with Mexican traditions and celebrate diversity in our classrooms.  It can also be a great stress relief following all of this testing that is going on in the spring. 

Let's Get Moving! 
I invite you to join me in exploring the vibrant world of Los Machetes with your students. Whether it's for Cinco de Mayo festivities or simply a fun end-of-year activity, I'm confident that you and your students will love the experience.

Don't forget to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below the blog post. I can't wait to hear how Los Machetes brightened up your classroom!


  1. This is such a fun resource. I love how you've broken it down and made it so easy for me to use! Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for this post! Just what I need for this time of year with my 2nd Graders. And I just delightfully noticed that Cinco de Mayo is next week!