Opening ceremonies for the Dance of the Feather in Teotitlan del Valle always begin with a 5:00 PM Monday convite starting in the plaza courtyard. Convite translates into banquet, invitation, feast. Here, it is a procession that by my definition is a Feast For the Eyes.
Today, Tuesday, July 9, Los Danzantes de la Pluma will begin their full presentation at 5:00 PM in the church courtyard. Tomorrow, on July 10, they will start at 12:00 PM noon and dance until about 8:00 PM.
When I’m here, this is a desfile that I do not want to miss. This year is special, too, because a new group of dancers begins their three-year commitment to church and community. They will dance at every community-wide celebration as part of their promise to participate.
We got back to Teotitlan from the city just in time for the festivities to begin. Young women and girls as young as three years old, dressed in traditional fiesta traje, gathered in the church plaza with their ornate decorated baskets to prepare for the parade through the streets.
We were waiting for the Danzantes to arrive. They had left the home of the Moctezuma, the head of the group, and walked behind the band for about a mile to the church. You could follow their path by the sound. In full dance regalia complete with corona (crown), rattles, amulets, and a costume that combines Spanish and pre-Hispanic symbols, they were a sight to behold.
I’ve written a lot here about the syncretism between indigenous spirituality and mysticism combined with Spanish Catholicism which comprises modern Mexico — Mestizo culture. Malinche is the slave given to Cortes who was his lover-translator. Remember, she was a slave and had no choice! Doña Marina is the same woman after being baptized in the church. The conversion is an important part of Mexican mixed identity.
My Note: The Dance of the Feather is a re-telling of the conquest story through dance. It is part of Oaxaca’s oral history. Zapotec, the native language, is not written. In traditional villages, it is part of the usos y costumbres laws and traditions. The dance has become commercialized and performed by professionals during the annual Guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s auditorium. Please don’t confuse the commercial folkloric dance, which requires expensive tickets, with its original purpose.
There were probably four hundred people assembled, including villagers who would follow the procession through the streets. Accompanying the procession were official representatives from each of Teotitlan’s five sections, each a sponsor for a group of young women, plus other patrons who provide the means to build and maintain their canasta baskets.
All along the procession path, locals assembled in front of houses and on corners to watch and to pay respects.
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
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Dance of the Feather, Danza de la Pluma, fiesta, Los Danzantes, Mexico, Oaxaca, Teotitlan del Valle, Virgin of Guadalupe