In July 2017, when the historic Charter Oak tree outside Methacton Mennonite Church in Worcester Township, Montgomery County, fell following a storm, people of the community didn't know its cracking sound would one day reverberate as the beat of a drum.

But following Sunday's weekly worship service, a drum made from the wood of the pre-colonial-era tree — it's thought to date back to the 1630s — was part of a performance outside the church by the indigenous dance group La Danza Azteca, which shares Aztec culture with audiences around Philadelphia.

Nicolas Morales, 16, and Johnathan Morales, 13, of Souderton, stand with the drum they made from wood of the fallen white oak. Behind them is a tree planted as its replacement.
KRISTEN BALDERAS
Nicolas Morales, 16, and Johnathan Morales, 13, of Souderton, stand with the drum they made from wood of the fallen white oak. Behind them is a tree planted as its replacement.

Danza Azteca members Nicolas, 16, and Jonathan Morales, 13, of Souderton, had built the drum, or wewetl, using wood from the fallen tree. They used traditional Aztec tools for part of the process.

"After they built the drum, we asked them to come and bless the land where a new tree is growing," said Pastor Sandy Drescher-Lehman.

The dance group is familiar to Philadelphians from performances at the annual Mexican Independence Day festival at Penn's Landing, which is where the Morales boys and their father, Victor, first met Danza Azteca teacher Rubén Chico del Rosario of South Philadelphia.

Chico del Rosario has performed traditional Aztec dance in Philadelphia for more than 10 years and formed the group two years ago. It is part of the larger national organization Movimiento de la Mariposa, or "Movement of the Butterfly," that carries on ancestral practices from central Mexico.

Ramiro Cantero Galicia applies traditional Aztec paint for his wife, Mayra Morales Lozada, as they prepare to perform at Methacton Mennonite Church in Norristown with La Danza Azteca.
KRISTEN BALDERAS
Ramiro Cantero Galicia applies traditional Aztec paint for his wife, Mayra Morales Lozada, as they prepare to perform at Methacton Mennonite Church in Norristown with La Danza Azteca.

At the church last Sunday, group members dressed themselves in Aztec attire, added feathers into their crowns, and applied face paint before heading outside for their blessing.

Johnathan Morales performs a traditional Aztec dance. Jessica Deffler and Jonathan’s brother Nicolas Morales are in the foreground.
KRISTEN BALDERAS
Johnathan Morales performs a traditional Aztec dance. Jessica Deffler and Jonathan’s brother Nicolas Morales are in the foreground.

Copal incense burned to purify the dance circle, the land, and the community. The drum, which represents the beating heart, sat at the center of the group during a rotation of three dances — representing birds, mother earth, and fire.

Then La Danza Azteca returned inside the church, where the dancers shared thanks with each other.

"We have the privilege to express our culture day to day and then to dance. What else can we ask for?" said group member Ramiro Cantero Galicia, whose wife, Mayra Morales Lozada, and daughter Arlett Cantero Morales also dance with Chico del Rosario. "We are that seed, and we have to make it grow, so people can see we have a great culture."