Oaxaca Festivals: Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle 2011

Power, movement, coordination of Los Danzantes

One of the great Oaxaca festivals is the Dance of the Feather in Teotitlan del Valle — a must-see for every Oaxaca resident and tourist.  It is a story of honor, conquest, survival and endurance. As a dance, its roots are pre-Hispanic and with most rituals and traditions in Oaxaca, it has evolved to blend both the indigenous and Catholic.

High leaps, shaking rattles and elegant headdresses

Every three years a new group forms to make the promise and commitment to honor the traditions by recounting the story of the Spanish conquest through dance.  This year is the premiere Los Danzantes de la Pluma for this new group.

El Danzante de la Pluma

I have written extensively on this blog about the meaning of the Dance of the Feather, its origins and history and cultural significance, so I am not going to go into that here.  If you are interested, use the “search” box in the upper left column.

The clown/jester distracts the crowd, attends to dancers' needs for water and headdress adjustment

This new group is larger than those in the past and has expanded the interpretation of the dance to include many more “characters” — Spanish soldiers (in the form of children dressed in military garb) dueling with Aztec warriors, and two alter-ego counterparts of La Malinche and La Dona Marina (La Llarona).

La Llarona (l) and La Malinche (r) with Moctezuma

I was at the church courtyard early waiting for the 5 p.m. Teotitlan start time.  Taurino, Eloisa’s husband, was in the bell tower waiting for the precise moment to begin the ringing that would signify the ritual beginning.  The band marched into the courtyard followed by Los Danzantes and went into the church for a blessing and a prayer.  It was cloudy and overcast, but as soon as the bells began to ring the sun appeared and the late afternoon halos were spectacular.

Dancers exhibit incredible concentration

After an hour-and-a-half, I had taken over 500 shots on my camera.  Sam Robbins, our photography expedition instructor, let me borrow her Nikkor 28-300mm lens.  I was able to capture some very fancy footwork, incredible headdresses, glittering costumes and a lot of resolve.

Sense the momentum, energy and color

Today was a relatively small gathering of locals who came to watch and encourage the group who would dance for four hours.  Village officials ringed the courtyard ready to receive tribute from the dancers.  They will toast the dancers’ strength and endurance with mescal and beer chasers followed by lime slices and gusano.

The symbolic battle between Aztecs and Spaniards

On Wednesday, July 6, 2011, hundreds will gather in the church courtyard from throughout Oaxaca.  The group will dance for about 10 hours straight from morning through the heat of the day, taking short periodic breaks for rest and refreshment.  Hopefully, the day won’t be too hot!

"Soldiers" taking a break

...and once more around the courtyard.

See my YouTube channel  for our documentary film about the Dance of the Feather.

I am shooting with a Nikon D40x camera body and 18-105 lens.  For about half of these photos, I used the telescopic 18-300 lens borrowed from Sam for the action/power shots.

Consider participating in our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition coming up this October 2011.



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