Tag Archives: Dance of the Feather

Preview: Teotitlan del Valle Celebrates Village Life with Basket Parade

The fiesta in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, is an annual event, always celebrated the first week in July. This year it continues through July 9.  I’m posting the schedule below for those of you in Oaxaca.

Gathering in the church patio, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

This is a festival that honors the village church, Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Senor Jesucristo. This is a religious event primarily that also includes La Danza de la Pluma (Dance of the Feather), daily masses, an adjacent carnival next to the market (making it impossible to park), fireworks, and lots of parties with tamales and mezcal.

Out in front of the parade, children with papier-mache animals atop bamboo poles

I couldn’t imagine a better homecoming than by celebrating the kick-off event by attending the Desfile de Canastas — Parade of the Baskets — that started yesterday, July 2 at 6 p.m. from the church courtyard.

Miles to go with a heavy decorated basket on their head

All ages take part, from children, pre-teens and young adults

Young women who have never married are selected by the festival sponsors to hold ornate and heavy baskets on their heads and process about three miles through all the village neighborhoods.

Village officials go with the young women through the cobbled streets

They are solemn. This is serious respect for traditions and religious life. Even three and four-year olds participate, helped by parents. Learning the culture starts young.

My friend Danny Hernandez with his daughter

Group photos in front of the 17th century church

How do I know the distance? I clocked it on my FitBit, starting right along with the group of hundreds, including the two bands, the Feather Dancers, the Canasta walkers, church and village officials, children out in front holding whimsical animals atop poles, various relatives and volunteers.

The children are a special feature of this event, joyful and eager to take part

As the parade wound through the village streets through all the five administrative sections, up hill and down, crowds of onlookers assembled at strategic corners. In every neighborhood, I passed people I knew. Since I’ve only returned three days ago, it was an opportunity to greet people and feel welcomed.

At the corner behind the municipal building, a crowd of all ages gathers

Hand-carved amulets and rattles are held to keep evil at bay

This custom of community celebration and mutual support goes back thousands of years in Zapotec life, long before the Spanish arrived to conquer Mexico, name it New Spain, and integrate Catholic rites into already existing spiritual/mystical practice. Today, we call this blending syncretism. Zapotec tradition has very strong roots here.

Los Danzantes stop to offer homage in each neighborhood

Today, joking with the children and the crowd is one of the jester jobs

Festival Schedule

Tuesday, July 3: The Dance of the Feather will start around 5p.m. in the church courtyard accompanied by the Band, followed by an extravagant fireworks display that usually doesn’t start until 11 p.m.

Wednesday, July 4: The Dance of the Feather starts at 1 p.m. and continues until about 8 p.m.

Thursday, July 5: This is a day of rest.

Friday, July 6: At 6 p.m. there is another procession with the beautiful young women of the village wearing their traditional indigenous dress.

Saturday, July 7: At 4 p.m. the Dance of the Feather dancers meet in the church for a mass, then at 5 p.m. the Dance of the Feather resumes in the church courtyard.

Juana Gutierrez with her niece.

Sunday, July 8: At 11:30 a.m. there is a procession through the village with Los Danzantes, and at 1 p.m. there is a Dance of the Feather ceremony in the church courtyard.

Monday, July 9: The festival ends with an 8 a.m. mass in the church.

The fair (feria) is filled with rides and carnival games — open daily.

Felipe Flores is on live camera for his California family

All of this is organized and produced by village volunteers. To be a member of the community, one must make a promise to serve. This involves being part of a committee for one to three-years, including the job of village president. Because this is a traditional indigenous Usos y Costumbres village that is self-governing, this is a responsibility by men, women and families who live here.

The jester. In the conquest story, he was an Aztec spy, invisible

Committees determine priority projects and moderate conflicts, levy local taxes and make village improvements. Even the police department is based on two-year volunteer service of one week a month — a daytime or nighttime duty.

The band in reflection

Quite a marvel in today’s complex, law-driven universe.

I hope you come and enjoy. It’s a wonderful experience to be here.

Santiago family sisters with grandsons. Their father was a danzante 12 years ago.

After the procession returned to the church courtyard, we met for a taco at Buky’s, under the lights of the tent, watching the children racing between the rides, enjoying the chill summer air.

El Buky for hamburgers and tacos al fresco

Outdoor dining Teotitlan style

Before the rides start up there is still fun

Opposite directions; street dog in search of food

Dance of the Feather Tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Teotitlan del Valle‘s Los Danzantes are famous throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. They make a commitment to the church four years before they actually begin their three-year term to perform La Danza de la Pluma — The Dance of the Feather — at all village festivals.

The Moctezuma flanked by Doña Marina and La Malinche, Mexico’s dualities

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, on December 12 and the days leading up to it, is an important part of their agreement.

Symbols of Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dancer’s shield

On December 12, the Virgin’s Feast Day, the Dancers gathered in the church courtyard at around noon and continued with intermittent breaks until 8:00 p.m., when they went to the house of the Mayordomo Fidel Cruz for respite and supper.

Entering the festive church courtyard to watch the Dancers

These celebrations are important on many levels. They continue long-standing traditions, many of which pre-date the Spanish conquest.

Los Danzantes in the late afternoon shadows

They reinforce community, build cohesiveness among the young men and their families, they honor church and tradition, and they attract tourism — an essential part of this Zapotec rug-weaving village.

Dancers taking high leaps as shadows catch them

It is almost impossible to visit here for the first time without going home with a beautiful tapestry.

Inside the church, the altar honors Mexico’s Queen, La Reina de Mexico

The weaving culture is reflected in the dancers’ leggings and on the shields they wear. Many of them use pieces that were made by fathers and grandfathers twenty or more years ago.

Leggings are handwoven tapestry loomed wool in ancient Zapotec design

If you look closely, the weaving is fine, detailed and is a work of art.

Transluscent scarves float through afternoon light and shadow

As I stayed through the afternoon, I caught some of the long shadows as the sun set. After so many years of taking photographs of Los Danzantes leaping, shaking rattles, demonstrating their fortitude and strength, I was searching for a way to capture the scene in a different way.

Volunteer committee members pay respects

As the important village usos y costumbres committee members entered the church courtyard, many visitors, including me, moved to the periphery to give them seats of honor. As I moved around the circumference, I noticed how the shadows of the dancers became an extension of their bodies in the backlight of late afternoon.

Grandmother and grandson watching. The young ones dream of becoming dancers.

A spectacular clear day, warm in sun, chilly in shade

The band is an essential part of every fiesta

Children play atop the courtyard cross.

The Oaxaca Lending Library brought a group to watch. All visitors welcome!

Guadalupe atop canastas (baskets) for the December 10 parade

Side door entry to church from interior courtyard

A new altar adorns a niche under renovation inside church

If you visit, please make a donation for renovations

Folded chairs waiting for occupants, inside courtyard

Canastas waiting for return to storage, until the next time

Playing with shadows, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Send In The Clowns: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Dance of the Feather Distraction?

Who are these clowns? What purpose do they have in the Conquest of Mexico story? The clowns are an ever-present, necessary part of the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma — story that recreates the Moctezuma-Cortez clash that we know as The Conquest of Mexico.

The distracting Clown, with La Malinche in background.

The Dance of the Feather features all the main characters: the Moctezuma (Aztec chieftain), Cortes, the warriors on both sides, the dual personas of La Malinche and Doña Marina …

and, the Two Clowns.

Deep in conversation, the chair dance, on July 8, 2017

Little is written about these clowns. However, I have the good fortune of knowing Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras who lives in San Jeronimo Tlacochuaya, just up the road from me.


Moises is very knowledgeable about Zapotec history. At dinner yesterday, he told me the musical score to the dance probably written in the late 19th or early 20th century, when the oompahpah German music became popular in Mexico. Others attribute it to the French.

Giving water to a thirsty Danzante

The dance is likely rooted in pre-Hispanic ritual and practice, incorporated into village feast days to celebrate the church throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca (Central Valleys) after the Conquest.

Quenching thirst is only one Clown task. Keeping the dance area clean is another.

He also explained the symbology of what the Clowns represent in the story:

What is a Nahual?

“Since the dance represents the Conquest, these clowns or “CAMPOS” represent the sorcerers Aztecs used to spy on the Spanish troops. These sorcerers developed the “Nahual” art, so while they were spying they were able to turn themselves into eagles, coyotes or snakes, and Spanish troops could not see that they were being spied upon. Because of that, their masks are not well-defined. They could pretty much represent any animal. Their function in the Dance now is to entertain, steal kisses, clear the area, help dancers etc.”

The pair of clowns, with the chair dance.

There is a prescribed sequence to the days of the Dance. Each day features a different path of the story line, until the last day, when the conquest is brought to conclusion.

Mindful of Los Danzantes’ needs, a practical task

In the end, as the story goes, Mexico thrives because of her strength in syncretism — the blending of two roots, indigenous and Spanish, the union of Cortes with La Malinche, producing a son named Martin, which defines the beginning of the modern state.

Omnipresent, and critical to the Dance of the Feather

 

 

 

Teotitlan’s Dance of the Feather: Taking Big Leaps

The Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma — is a cultural phenomenon in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca — Oaxaca’s central valleys. It’s especially true here in Teotitlan del Valle where the church feast day celebration is perfected to an art form.

Leaps and fancy footwork define Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feathers

If you are in Oaxaca now through the weekend, you will want to come out either today, July 5, or Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9, from 2 until 9 p.m. when the dancers will act out the complex story of the conquest, and the battle between the Aztecs and Spaniards.

I’m told that it’s the indigenous people who always win in this version of the story!

Dancing in front of the Moctezuma, who is flanked by Dona Marina and Malinche

Doña Marina/La Malinche represent the same woman and syncretism of modern Mexico. Yet, this is a personal story about conquest, slavery and how a woman became maligned as part of the cultural history.

Skill, athleticism, concentration for dancing

I’ve attended this annual festival almost yearly since 2006, when cousins and nephews of my host family made their three-year commitment to dance in honor of community, religion and customs. Their last dance was in 2009.

They dance this way for up to 12 hours, with few breaks.

This is the second year for the group that is dancing now. They have one more year, and then the feather headdresses are passed along to the next set of young men. This is not a performance, it is a serious act of commitment.

In the church courtyard with sacred mountain Picacho watching over us.

As I sat and then stood, and then wandered around the periphery, I was reminded how much energy goes into this endeavor. And, how energizing it is to give witness to this tradition that has gone on here for decades, maybe even centuries. The entire pueblo comes out to pay tribute and applause.

La Malinche, represents Cortez’ indigenous slave who becomes Dona Marina, convert

This is a pre-Hispanic tradition that was incorporated, like many others, into the Catholic church saint’s day celebrations. In reality, it is an oral history through dance and mime and music.

All come to watch, the abuelos (grandparents) and ninos (children)

Inside the inner church patio, the canastas (baskets) sit, ready to be stored for another year.  Young girls wearing traditional dress carried them on their heads the night before. The parade through the streets touches every neighborhood.

Canastas, with notations about neighborhood, mayordomo (sponsor), when made

Onlookers take seats under the corridor for shade

On the other side of the church wall, on the streets surrounding the permanent village market, is a different scene. It’s a carnival. Games, rides, food stands, music compete for entertainment.

Juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional life

This experience is mesmerizing for children. It’s like a circus mid-way or a Midwest USA State Fair.

The kids love it, pure fun, cotton candy, fast, fast.

Take a seat. Grab and go tacos al pastor. Win a teddy bear. Oh, yes, the pastries, ice cream and candy are divine.

This is an intricate web of bamboo scaffolding. See the Dancer, top left.

Back inside the church courtyard, the men are setting up the scaffolding and fireworks for the 10:00 p.m. show. It’s called a Castillo or castle.

It’s a complex structure of bamboo with spinning parts, explosives attached!

And the dancing continued until sunset — puesta del sol — when the church bells rang and the dancers set their headdresses down on the brick floor until the next day.

Dusk brings the snack vendors to feed the fireworks watchers

I couldn’t stay up that late! But, I watched from my rooftop in the distance.

 

A mile away, I can see the church and flags, hear the delight

Footnotes of History — Dance of the Feather

About 500 years ago the Spaniards conquered the Zapotecs of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.  Many indigenous people died, and it is said that the population was reduced by 90% during the two centuries that followed. From the stories of the battle, this beautiful dance emerged, which is carried out in certain cities in the center of Oaxaca, and is also a part of the Folkloric Festival called Guelaguetza in late July.

Dancers catch their breath, walking in a circle, rattles shaking

LA DANZA DE LA PLUMA, is originally from the town of Cuilapan de Guerrero, a municipality adjacent to the town of Zaachila and the municipality of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan.  The dance is as old as Oaxaca culture and still preserved. The main characters are a Moctezuma, a Malinche and the converted Malinche who became known as Doña Marina, plus the two jesters or mockers.

Women watch relatives from under the corridor

 

Children grab a birds-eye perch to get a better look

Balancing this heavy headdress is not easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Celebrates Her Patron Saint Today

The patron saint of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico is the Virgin of the Nativity — La Virgen de la Natividad. It is celebrated here on September 8, today.

Los Danzantes de la Pluma, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Los Danzantes de la Pluma, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

There are two days of fiestas that started on September 6 with a Parade of the Canastas, this year’s group of Las Danzantes de la Pluma (Feather Dancers), and dances and fireworks last night.

Janet Chavez Santiago in the Parade of the Baskets, Convite de las Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Janet Chavez Santiago, Parade of the Baskets, , Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today, starting at 1:00 p.m., there is a festival all day in courtyard in front of the church. The Dance of the Feathers is a spectacle, but it is also an important three-year commitment the young men make to the church, religious and cultural traditions of the Teotitlan del Valle.

Come see how high they leap, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle

Come see how high they leap, Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle

Fiesta time brings live music, traditional dancing, lots of beer and mezcal, and a chance to visit one of the most beautiful villages in the Oaxaca valley.

Unmarried young women in the Convite de las Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Unmarried young women in the Convite de las Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

The band is a very important part of the tradition

The band is a very important part of the tradition, with pre-Hispanic flute (left)

If you decide to spend the night, consider Casa Elena or Las Granadas B&B. Both offer wonderful hospitality.

Felipe Flores has a 2-year volunteer commitment on the village police force

Felipe Flores has a 2-year volunteer commitment on the village police force

Lupita Chavez joins the young women's processions this year

Lupita Chavez joins the young women’s processions this year

 

Flags blew in front of her smiling face at the perfect moment

Flags blew in front of her smiling face at the perfect moment

Holding up papier mache chickens, at the parade start

Holding up papier mache chickens, at the parade start

Clown serves as distraction for crowd and dancer cheerleader

Clown serves as distraction for crowd and dancer cheerleader

Pre-Hispanic Zapotec carvings embedded in church wall

Pre-Hispanic Zapotec carvings embedded in church wall

The conquerors of Mexico built churches atop indigenous temples, using the stones and carvings for foundations and to attract the people to the new religion.

Festival banners and balloons lead the procession

Festival banners and balloons lead the procession

Entering the staging area inside the church courtyard

Entering the staging area inside the church courtyard

Lining up to begin the procession through town

Lining up to begin the procession through town

Ana Paula Fuentes visited with other friends for lunch

Ana Paula Fuentes visited with other friends for lunch; at the fiesta

Janet Chavez Santiago in front of Teotitlan's church

Janet Chavez Santiago in front of Teotitlan’s church

Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo Church, Teotitlan del Valle

Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo Church, Teotitlan del Valle