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Dance of the Forty-One

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Title: Dance of the Forty-One  
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Subject: LGBT rights in Mexico, 41 (number)
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Dance of the Forty-One

The Dance of the Forty-One (Spanish: El baile de los cuarenta y uno) was a society scandal in early 20th-century Mexico, during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz.[1][2] The incident revolved around a police raid carried out on 18 November 1901 against a private home on Calle de la Paz (since renamed Calle Ezequiel Montes), the site of a dance attended by a group of men, of whom 19 were dressed in women's clothing. The press was keen to report the incident, in spite of the government's efforts to hush it up, since the participants belonged to the upper echelons of society. The list of the detainees was never published.[1][2]


On Sunday night, at a house on the fourth block of Calle la Paz, the police burst into a dance attended by 41 unaccompanied men wearing women's clothes. Among those individuals were some of the dandies seen every day on Calle Plateros. They were wearing elegant ladies' dresses, wigs, false breasts, earrings, embroidered slippers, and their faces were painted with highlighted eyes and rosy cheeks. When the news reached the street, all forms of comments were made and the behaviour of those individuals was subjected to censure. We refrain from giving our readers further details because they are exceedingly disgusting.
—Contemporary press report.[2]

A rumour, neither confirmed nor denied, soon emerged, claiming that there were in reality 42 participants, with the forty-second being Ignacio de la Torre, Porfirio Díaz's son-in-law, who was allowed to escape. Although the raid was illegal and completely arbitrary, the 41 were convicted and conscripted into the army and sent to Yucatán where the Caste War was still being fought:

The derelicts, petty thieves, and crossdressers sent to Yucatán are not in the battalions of the Army fighting against the Maya Indians, but have been assigned to public works in the towns retaken from the common enemy of civilization.
El Popular, 25 November 1901[1]

On 4 December 1901 there was a similar raid on a group of lesbians in Santa María, but that incident received far less attention.[3]

Impact on popular culture

As a result of the scandal, the numbers 41 and 42 were adopted by Mexican popular parlance to refer to homosexuality, with 42 reserved for passive homosexuals.[3] The incident and the numbers were spread through press reports, but also through engravings, satires, plays, literature, and paintings; in recent years, they have even appeared on television, in the historical telenovela El vuelo del águila, first broadcast by Televisa in 1994. In 1906 Eduardo A. Castrejón published a book titled Los cuarenta y uno. Novela crítico-social. José Guadalupe Posada's engravings alluding to the affair are famous, and were frequently published alongside satirical verses:[2]

Hace aún muy pocos días
Que en la calle de la Paz,
Los gendarmes atisbaron
Un gran baile singular.
Cuarenta y un lagartijos
Disfrazados la mitad
De simpáticas muchachas
Bailaban como el que más.
La otra mitad con su traje,
Es decir de masculinos,
Gozaban al estrechar
A los famosos jotitos.
Vestidos de raso y seda
Al último figurín,
Con pelucas bien peinadas
Y moviéndose con chic.

Such was the impact of the affair that the number 41 became taboo, as described by the essayist Francisco L. Urquizo in 1965:

In Mexico, the number 41 has no validity and is offensive... The influence of this tradition is so strong that even officialdom ignores the number 41. No division, regiment, or battalion of the army is given the number 41. From 40 they progress directly to 42. No payroll has a number 41. Municipal records show no houses with the number 41; if this cannot be avoided, 40 bis is used. No hotel or hospital has a room 41. Nobody celebrates their 41st birthday, going straight from 40 to 42. No vehicle is assigned a number plate with 41, and no police officer will accept a badge with that number.
—Francisco L. Urquizo[2]

See also


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