The Dance of the Feather Begins in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today is the official start of Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feather, or Danza de la Pluma. It is a perfect example of how our village celebrates community with a promise and commitment by young people to their people, their church, their history and their culture.

The celebration honors the 16th century church, Templo de la Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo and its central part of village life.

16th Church rises above Zapotec temple base. Stones used for church walls.
Sacred mountain Picacho seen from church steeple
A beautiful day from the top of the Teotitlan del Valle church

5 PM on Monday there was a convite (procession) that began at the home of the Moctezuma and went to the church courtyard. It then processed through all five sections of the village and returned to the church. Highlights included young women dressed in traditional traje (garments) holding canastas (baskets) on their heads adorned with religious images.

Corona (crown) of the Moctezuma with turkey feathers, representing Quetzalcoatl

The young men and two girls who form this new Dance of the Feather group are dressed in their plumed headdresses, carry rattles, and wear clothing that suggests the syncretism of Mexico, the mix of indigenous, Aztec and Spanish conquerors. The dance itself is a representation of the conquest from the indigenous point-of-view.

A procession around the church courtyard before entering the church for blessings.

On Tuesday (today, July 9) at around 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. (I’m told), the dancers will begin in the church courtyard. On Wednesday, they will start around noon and continue until about 8:00 p.m.. Festivities continue throughout the week with a carnival fair surrounding the market.

The Mexican ram

By luck and serendipity, several events happened before the official celebrations begin. It happened because we set out from my casita Saturday on foot instead of traveling by car. In the church courtyard, a group of musicians were forming. They invited us to join them on the church rooftop for a symphonic concert. We climbed up the narrow, winding carved stone bell-tower where they would play to mark the official start of the celebration.

360 degree views of the Tlacolula Valley and Teotitlan lands
A slice of life from the winding stone church stairwell — escalera de caracol

From the top of the church, one can see and be heard for miles. Everyone knows what these annual rituals mean. It is embedded in life here.

Traditional and ancient Zapotec flute, sounds like a clarinet … sort of

After walking down to Tierra Antigua for lunch, we made a stop at Casa Viviana before heading home. Viviana Alavez is a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, known for her ornate hand-made beeswax candles. My friend Chris wanted to buy some to take to her new home in Ajijic. The longer, thicker ones weren’t available. They are for the Danzantes celebration, we were told.

Chris and Ben at Casa Viviana candlemakers

As we were leaving, my friend Natividad appeared in the doorway with her baby daughter Esmeralda. I asked her what was going on down the street under the big tented courtyard — always a signal for a fiesta. It’s the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character/dancer for the Dance of the Feather, she said and invited us to come over. Another grand surprise, my comadre Ernestina was there with daughter Lupita, and lo and behold, Viviana was participating in the food preparation, too.

Making masa mixed with cacao for tejate — at it for five hours

We were invited to the Sunday morning mass to bless the dancers at the church and then come back to the house for breakfast. What a surprising and great day!

Breakfast is hot chocolate and sweet bread — dunk in the chocolate for yummies

This is the early part of the celebration, when the family and closest friends come together in private ceremony. The abuelas enter the altar room to offer their special benedictions to the young people — another way to carry-on tradition, handing it from generation-to-generation, in a tribute to succession and respect.

Home altar here is more important than the church for Zapotec ritual of thanksgiving and appreciation. After the church ceremony, the head of household gathers everyone in the altar room for prayer in both Spanish and Zapotec, thanking God for family, community and continuity. This is cultural preservation at its best!

The cooking fires — how food is made in Teotitlan del Valle
Amulets, rattles and feathers on the altar, an offering to God, community and church

We then sit down to a breakfast of homemade everything — in abundance: black beans seasoned with epazote, hot chocolate, bread, fresh from the comal stone-ground tortillas, salsa. Later for lunch at 5 p.m. there will be Seguesa de Pollo, a tasty stew of organic chicken mixed in a seasoned mole amarillo (yellow chile sauce) thickened with toasted and rough ground maize (corn).

It takes a village to cook for the minions, including famous Viviana (right).
Eating Seguesa de Pollo. We use tortillas for spoons here!

Let the festivities begin.

The abuelitas — the little grandmothers, friends for a lifetime
At 4 a.m. men start the toro slaughter, to become barbacoa and consumé on Wednesday
We know where our food comes from — teaching the children (Arnulfo, left, Rodolfo right)

It is an honor and privilege to live here and participate in these rituals. Tomorrow I leave to attend and volunteer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico, and meet up with long-time friends. Then, I’ll continue on to California to visit my son, sister and brother. I’ll keep you posted along the way.

Thank you for reading and following! I’ve been writing this blog for 12 years. It’s been an amazing process, always filled with new experiences to share.

Teotitlan del Valle daily market from the church steeple

22 responses to “The Dance of the Feather Begins in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

  1. Norma, I love your blog so much! Also I learned about Mexico from you and your blog a lot. Congratulations 12 years your blog. Yay! I can’t wait to see you 🙂

  2. Thank you Norma enjoyed reading very interesting. Many memories visiting this area .

  3. Oh Norma! Your post is a wonderful peek into local life! I am very excited about returning to Teotilan del Valle this October! I will be watching for Mexican rams. Safe travels,

  4. Thank you for taking these beautiful photos in the midst of all the things you were doing. I am grateful that you share these experiences with us. Safe travels north of the border.

  5. Kathleen Schonbacher

    Hola, Norma!
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your informative blog this morning about La Danza de la Pluma. I also loved seeing your beautiful pictures that showcase the customs and people of Teotitlan del Valle.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful journey with us.

  6. I visited Oaxaca for the first time a couple months ago and am interested in coming back for an extended stay and was wondering about volunteering opportunities while I am working on perfecting (ha ha) my Spanish… is it super hot there in the summer? I know not many places have cooling …
    Loved reading your blog about this ceremony- am also interested in the other dance that happens this month …
    Thanks for any information you can sharr!

    • Hi, Catherine. Yes, it is hot here in the summer (look at annual weather patterns online). It usually cools off at night. No air conditioning needed. For volunteering, check out Envia Foundation and the Oaxaca Lending Library.

  7. Always a delight to read about and see marvelous photos of Teotitlan and other places around Oaxaca. Thanks!

  8. Enjoyed your blog post. Your description was so vivid, you made me feel I was there. Enjoy Santa Fe and your California family.

  9. Yes! So amazing to be included in all these experiences. Gives a new meaning to walking to town. Wonderful photos as always. Gracias Norma!

  10. Dear Norma,
    I truly appreciate your columns. Thank you for sharing with us the beauty and richness of Mexican culture. You are a great asset and ambassador to the Indigenous cultures of Mexico. You continue to enrich my life! Next time I am in Teotitlán del Valle, I hope I can meet you. Blessings on your travels.

  11. Thank you for sharing your life in Teotitlan de Valle. What a rich and textured existence! I look forward to spending time there one day soon.
    See you in Santa Fe. Safe travels,

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