Sunday, June 23, 2024

The nefarious nun stood at the center of an amusement ride at the national fair in Durango, Mexico, her black veil draped, her demonic teeth gnarled.Then the rotating ride, known as a tagada, began. The rave-like rhythms of a song blaredHTML, riders screamed, and the dance moves from the nun — shoulder shimmies, hip sways, finger guns — delighted and unsettled thousands of visitors at the fair who posted videos of the eccentric show on social media.Those clips, which have garnered tens of millions of views since the summer, have turned the character into a beloved icon of horror and partying in Mexico, where she is known as “la Monja de la Feria,” or the nun of the fair.She is at the traveling fair most days, drawing hundreds to a ride that has become less about the actual mechanical swirling and more about the movements of a performer dressed as a character from the 2018 horror film “The Nun,” a spinoff of “The Conjuring.”While the back story of the person behind the mask remains mostly a mystery, her moves atop the spinning ride have brought delight to a nation long captivated by stories of ghosts and ghouls, particularly at this time of year. Mexicans observe Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, at the start of November, one of the most important celebrations to honor the spirits of loved ones who have died.One user summarized the reaction with a comment on a TikTok video of the nun, which has been viewed more than 70 million times: “Why is this so funny and so scary lol.”Some Mexican media outlets have identified the person in the costume as a 17-year-old girl who is from the state of Guanajuato. She did not respond to messages sent this week to a Facebook page that appeared to belong to her. Telephone calls and emails placed to Espectaculares García, the company that organizes the fairs, also were not returned.The teenager does not seem eager to bask in the glory. In a video interview that has been shared across TikTok, two reporters ask her how it feels to be the most popular nun in Mexico. “Well, I feel good,” she replies in Spanish, nervously clasping her hands, which are in gray and clawed costume gloves.Asked how she manages to dance and balance so well as the ride spins, she essentially says: I just do it.She appears humble and even shy without the mask, but her pride in playing the character is also evident. The inspiration for the show, she says, was a 25-year-old friend who was a hard worker and had recently died.Christina Baker, a professor of Latin American studies at Temple University who has researched theater and performance in Latin America, said she was captivated by the videos.“It’s this whirlwind of visuals and sounds and, I don’t know, it’s this otherworldly experience, frankly,” Ms. Baker said. “It’s a transformative, sensorial phenomena with a creepy nun in the middle.”Dancing well in such a bulky costume obviously requires a lot of practice. “The amount of effort that they’re putting into every one of those moves, plus to stay stationary,” Ms. Baker said, adding: “This is someone who just loves to go out and party, or maybe has some dance training.”Still, she added, “when you add a beat drop to it, you’re like — cool.”Laura G. Gutiérrez, a professor of Latino performance studies at the University of Texas at Austin who has researched Mexican performance, visual culture and feminism, said that many cultural undertones are on display, including in the song sampled in the remix.The song is “Las monjitas,” which means “The Nuns,” by Grupo Exterminador, a band that plays corridos, which are ballads born of an oral tradition of storytelling.The song tells the story of nuns who are part a group trafficking illegal drugs such as cocaine.Ms. Gutiérrez said that the demonic nun in the video is mirroring the daring quality of the nuns in the song, defying normal expectations of piety.She noted that the demonic nun dances at a public fair, an affordable, entertaining place for families. “Mexicans have such ingenuity in terms of creating their own forms of entertainment for each other,” Ms. Gutiérrez said.Ignacio Sánchez Prado, a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in Mexican culture, said the nun’s costume also underscores how Mexico is deeply influenced by American culture, particularly when it comes to films.Indeed, a movie about a demonic nun — “The Nun” in 2018 — was the ninth most-watched film in Mexico in movie theaters, according to the office of the Mexican secretary of culture. In the United States, the film ranked No. 26 that year, according to IMDB.But for many Mexicans and others who are dressing up as nuns this Halloween, the inspiration is not Hollywood but “la Monja de la Feria.”Yesenia Garcia, 31, of Pomona, Calif., said she could not stop laughing at the absurdity of the nun’s videos, so it became obvious to her what her outfit should be this year.She bought a nun costume and then built a makeshift ride out of pipes and cardboard to place around her like a skirt.Ms. Garcia said she got second place at a costume competition in her city this month, and a video showing off her outfit has more than 30 million views on TikTok.“Only in Mexico,” she said, referring to the trends that grow out of the country’s unique blend of culture. “It’s hilarious.”At the contest, Ms. Garcia said, children at first stared at her in bewilderment. But then the music started, and they jumped around her, twirling and skipping. Ms. Garcia, too, spun around and around, her eyes black and stagnant, and her smile permanently warped into a toothy growl. ¡La Monja!

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