The Last Dance of the Feather

The Dance of the Feathers, or Las Danzantes de la Pluma, is a three year commitment.  The group that just finished its commitment self-assembled and went to the Teotitlan del Valle Committee (the leaders of the communitarian cummunity) and asked to be named to represent the village, making the promise to god and community that they would honor all the traditions of the village.  Six of the nine members of the last group were cousins, all part of the Santiago Arrellanas family, with whom we are connected through Federico’s wife Dolores.

Last night was special.  Although the group had formally ended its three years of dancing together in July with a huge fiesta, after they returned from dancing at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival, they were invited by the Oaxaca tourism bureau to dance in the zocalo last night accompanied by the village band.  I think this was a very emotional moment for them because they had not expected to dance together again.  Three days ago they received a call with an invitation to perform, which is an incredible honor for the village and the current Committee.  This year, Federico has been elected to the Committee for the first time, so it was a very special honor to be there (along with most of the village!) to watch and participate.

Honor is a huge part of Zapotec life and whatever I can do to understand and support the interweaving of family relationships and village life is important and valuable as I make plans to live side-by-side in this community.  It was a honor for me to be there and stand beside the family and acknowledge their accomplishments, and I honored them with my presence.

In addition to the Dance of the Feathers, a group of women and men performed a traditional wedding fiesta dance in indigenous dress, and at the end handed out sugar spun flowers and shots of mezcal to the crowd.  I have to estimate that there were two thousand people in the zocalo to watch and applause as the masters of ceremony told the story of the Dance of the Feather and the history of the village of Teotitlan del Valle in Spanish.  A new group of eighteen dancers has started its three-year commitment.  The youngest is age fifteen and the oldest is age thirty.

The crowd was slow to dissipate, and everyone took turns getting their photos taken with the dancers and the dancers were generous with their time and smiles, their gift back to the audience–a guelaguetza of sorts.  After lots of family congratulations, hugs and back pats, we went over to TerraNova cafe on the zocalo for soup, totopos and guacamole, and then headed back to the village.  My head did not get to the pillow until after 1 a.m.

All this week, during the Christmas vacation, the zocalo has been packed.  Musicians, singers and dancers have performed every evening.  Tonight, Wednesday, December 30, 2009, Susanna Harp performs.  I expect it will be every bit as crowded since she has a voice from heaven.

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