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.
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.
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.
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.