Dancing on the Street: Guelaguetza Time in Oaxaca

On the last two Mondays in July the big, folkloric Guelaguetza commercial dance extravaganza takes place “under the big top” in the outdoor auditorium atop El Fortin hill.  It’s white awning can be seen from every location in the valley. Performances are scheduled twice a day and tickets cost about $56 USD each, sold online and in the city by Ticketmaster.  Guelaguetza is a big tourist attraction and many depend upon the event for their livelihood.

For two weeks before the performance there is merrymaking on the streets of colonial Oaxaca.


Guelaguetza is a Zapotec social and religious term that refers to the practice of mutual support and exchange.  The giving and receiving of gifts to honor relationships is essential to survival and continuity.  The sharing of mezcal, bread, chocolate and tortillas is symbolized through the stylized dance of the commercial Guelaguetza performance. Yet, it is part of everyday practice in the villages throughout Oaxaca.

The young man above pours mezcal into a traditional cup made of bamboo and gives it to someone in the crowd. It means welcome, acceptance, and sharing.


Fireworks and sound missiles are part of every celebration, as is the band that notifies all that the parade is near.

Some locals protest the commercialization of the village traditions and the high cost for the average local person to attend the performance.  Throughout the neighborhoods there are alternative dances and parades.  Ask around.  Maybe you can catch some dancing on the street without having to spend a huge amount of money.

Nevertheless, the Guelaguetza performance as presented under the big top is also a great experience to see all the traditional trajes (dress) of the many Oaxacan villages.  It is one other way to appreciate the culture, hard work and handmade artistry of the region.

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